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Thursday, 11 September 1958


Mr J R FRASER . - I address myself to the estimates of expenditure for the Australian Capital Territory. I regret that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall) is prevented by temporary ill health from being here. I understand his interests are being watched by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer). The estimates for the Australian Capital Territory provide for a very extensive programme of works. The total programme of works provided for the Territory, mentioned on page 140 of the Estimates, is to cost some £11,250,000, of which it is estimated that about £10,000,000 will be spent in the current financial year. There is at present, as the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts) has indicated, a very spectacular development taking place in the Australian Capital Territory.

With the advent of the National Capital Development Commission and with the voting of an adequate amount for the current financial year, it has been possible for very extensive work to be put in hand. The speed with which the work is being undertaken and brought towards completion is almost bewildering. Each day in the issues of the " Canberra Times " and in the news sessions on the radio we read or hear of new contracts being let for housing, for extensions of sewer mains, for extensions of stormwater drainage, for the erection of new schools and for all sorts of work connected with the development of this city. Hand in hand with that development by Government expenditure, there is a very considerable expenditure of private money on the erection of homes, offices, factories, shops and other buildings - notably the one referred to by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) for the Academy of Science.

I hope that the level of expenditure at present being incurred can be continued, and I hope that the amount made available for this current financial year will prove adequate for the needs of this community, but at the moment I very gravely doubt that the present rate of expenditure can be maintained within the limits of the votes provided. I think that that anxiety is shared by senior officers of the administrative and operative departments here, who are facing this problem day by day, and who have in the past faced the problem of running out of funds within the last few months of a financial year. That has happened in this territory too frequently and too recently for any one to feel complacent about maintaining the present rate of development.

It is necessary at this stage to look back over a period of years to see why it is necessary to-day, on the completion of homes, to turn the keys in the doors, lock up the homes and keep them vacant so that they will be available for the accommodation of defence personnel when they are transferred here in January of next year. Honorable members may or may not know that, consequent on the decision to transfer the defence departments and the Department of Supply here in January and June of next year, the Government has a commitment to provide homes for those of the transferees who are married and have families. Of the 500 public servants to be brought here in January, it is estimated that 300 will require to be provided with family accommodation in either houses or flats. In order to ensure that an adequate number of homes will be available at the time the transfer takes place, the Minister has recently had to issue an instruction that no further allocations of new homes will be made to people already on the list and waiting for homes here in Canberra. That decision, of course, came as a sharp slap in the face to people who were on the brink, or virtually on the brink, of securing homes - and, let me say, of securing homes for which they had waited, in some cases, a considerable number of years. Those people will now, of course, have to wait for a considerably longer period.

There will not be a complete cessation of the allocation of houses. The Minister's decision affects only houses now being constructed and completed. It will apply also to new constructions of one-bedroom and three-bedroom flats, but some two-bedroom flats will be made available to people who are already on the housing list. Perhaps I should remind the committee that the housing list at present contains over 4,600 names, and that new names are being added at the rate of something over 320 each quarter. The rate of home construction at present is round about 80 homes or flats a month, so that the rate of construction is not even keeping pace with the rate of new registrations.

In order to see why there is this present lag and why the spectacular development taking place coincides with one of the gravest housing shortages that this community has experienced, it is necessary to look back a little into history, to the plan initiated by the Chifley Government in 1947-48 for the development of Canberra. That programme, having been commenced under the Chifley Government, was carried on by the Menzies Administration in the first two or three years after it took office. The programme aimed at providing 600 homes a year. It reached its peak in the year 1952. In that calendar year, the total number of homes constructed in Canberra was 574, which was then a record figure for construction.

By a deliberate decision of the present administration, the building programme was reduced, and in 1953 the total construction was 491 housing units. By 1954, that figure had dropped to 323. That was at a time when the transfer of personnel to this place was accelerating and when the population was increasing rapidly. It was also at a time when every public body, every authority in the community, every council or committee concerned with the development of Canberra and every organ of publicity was urging on the Government the need to proceed with an accelerated building programme in this territory, aimed at providing houses at the rate of 1,000 a year. That advice was given by the chairman of the Public Service Board in his annual reports from year to year; it was given by the " Canberra Times " editorially; it was given by the Chamber of Commerce, by the Advisory Council, by the Trades and Labour Council and by every public body and committee in the town. But, in the face of that advice, this Government let the building figures drop to 323 in 1954. In 1955, the total of constructions was only 359, but there was a spectacular increase in 1956, when the total reached 622. That figure, of course, included a number of the flats for which the honorable member for Griffith expressed some keenness - a keenness which I do not share with him. In 1957, the number of houses constructed, dropped to 443 and the total so far in 1958 is 491.

What 1 want to point out in that connexion is that it would have been a very different story if the Government had heeded the advice offered to it by quite expert bodies. It was repeatedly given certain advice by the chairman of the Public Service Board in the sure knowledge that these transfers would take place. If that advice had been heeded there would have been no need for a building lag to occur. We would have had by this date an adequate number of homes to provide for all the needs of the people who are at present on the list and in Canberra awaiting homes, and could also have built in anticipation of the transfer of the defence departments. It is a tragedy that that advice was not taken, but 1 will say that under the present Administration - and particularly since the National Capital Development Commission was established - development has been taking place at a most satisfactory rate.

The commissioners have, unfortunately, to contend with the Government's failure over the years to provide adequately for the needs of the people. They are faced with the arrival next year of 1,100 public servants, many with their wives and families. The danger is that the commission, with all the goodwill in the world and against its better judgment, will be forced into makeshift decisions, and into perpetuating a form of building which has proved a failure in the past. It is a pity that the commission could not have had an opportunity to proceed with the development of this capital at a proper pace, and with adequate preparation. I fear very much that, because of the pressing need to provide homes - and they must be provided - for those who are being brought here, as well as for those who are already here, there will be a tendency once again to resort to expedients rather than to proper planning and durable development.

I do not share with the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts) the idea that 16 perches is sufficient land on which to place a house. I have held very strongly that we should not permit here the development of the narrow frontage outlook which has branded so many cities in the Commonwealth. I am pleased to see that the National Capital Development Commission shares that view and holds the opinion that the minimum frontage should be approximately 65 feet and that the minimum area of a block should be about 7,500 square feet. If we are to build a national capital of which this country can be proud - and T believe that all honorable members would wish that to happen - we cannot permit development which in the future may be abused and result in the creation of slums.

T believe that the commission is proceeding alone proper lines. T am certain that its members have been wisely chosen. I hone that they will have the full support of the Government, just as they will have the full co-operation of the people. I want to make one more plea, to emphasize that you -cannot develop a capital of the kind we want; that you cannot embark upon a programme of this kind, on annual budgeting. I think the Government will find that the commission also will be compelled to put that point of view to it. If we are to proceed with the proper, planned development of the National Capital it is essential that we budget at least five years in advance, so that the commission will be able to commit its funds and ability in advance. Only in that way can we plan and build properly.

Before I sit down I would remind you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, as a member of the Public Works Committee, that the plans of men gang aft agley. You, Sir. will recall that one decision made by the Public Works Committee and accepted by the Parliament was that the Kings-avenue bridge should be completed by 30th June, 1958. The Kings-avenue bridge has not yet been started. The expected increase in population, the development of the northern suburbs, and the completion of administration buildings for the defence services on the other side of the river will all take place while we continue to depend upon one rotten and rickety Commonwealth Bridge, which is already too narrow to carry the traffic offering. That is the kind of mistake that has been made in the past. It is the kind of mistake that should not be made in the future, and I hope that what I have said on the subject of development will be heeded by the Government.







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