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Thursday, 28 August 1980
Page: 970


Mr Barry Jones (LALOR, VICTORIA) - I am glad to have an opportunity to take part in this historic debate in which the Parliament gives its approval to the construction of the new and permanent parliament house. I have some reservations about the selection procedures in the competition. I am particularly concerned that members of Parliament were excluded from having any direct knowledge of the nature and range of the entries in the competition. This is not to make any criticism whatever of the two members of Parliament who served as our representatives on the panel of assessors, Mr Barry Simon, the Liberal member for McMillan and Senator Gareth Evans, Labor, Victoria. They were intelligent, diligent and devoted, and they gave vast amounts of time and energy to their task. I am sure that they chose the best of the final designs. I am not advocating that the House, and least of all the Senate, should have taken a collective role in the judging. I am a democrat but not a populist in matters of aesthetic judgment. Nevertheless, we were not just kept at arms length. The whole assessing process occurred behind locked doors and the members of Parliament were entirely in the dark. I can understand some of the reasons for this. For example, the competitors included people of international reputation who, in a sense, put their reputations on the line when they enter an international competition. They obviously want to avoid a situation where they have taken the risk of entering the competition and they are judged as coming 456 out of a whole series of other competitors. That would be very damaging to them. I think it would have been possible to contrive a situation where members were able to inform themselves about the range of entries that were available without necessarily knowing the identities of the people who ultimately, as approved, would have been among the unsuccessful contestants. Symbolically, I feel uneasy when the Parliament is told that it is not entitled to the fullest disclosure of the procedures by which a choice is to be made about how it is to be housed and that appropriate decisions should be left to experts. The Parliament is composed of generalists and we are elected by other generalists to represent them. I feel some concern when we are told that vital and complex subjects are so technical that they must be left to be resolved by technical experts.

If the technocrat displaces the generalist then the whole moral basis of democracy and representative government is undermined. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals I think that architecture is far too important to be left to the architects. There have been some recent architectural disasters in public buildings in Canberra of which the ghastly new High Court building is a good example. At lunchtime today somebody remarked: 'Looked at from the side it really does look like the backside of a modern hospital- the laundry part'. I note in the Bulletin the criticism of Harry Seidler but the views that he puts forward have to be taken into account even though it is conceivable that he would be accused of 'sag rapes', as Afferbeck Lauder used to say, as one of the unsuccessful contestants. Nevertheless, I think the criticism that he made needs to be examined and, if there is some validity in the criticism, I hope that some adjustments can be made. I might say - I hope that my electors do not hold it against me - that the cost does not particularly worry me.

I hope that by 1988 the Parliament will have so risen in stature that people will see it is an absolutely fitting place for this edifice. I think it would be appalling if the Parliament's historic role contracts over the next eight years, and we are seen to be occupying a comparatively modest role in what will be a great national showplace. It would be tragic if that were the case. I thought there was a certain irony in what was said by the honourable member for Cook (Mr Dobie) when he talked with enthusiasm about the parliament buildings of Brasilia and how magnificent they were. That makes the point precisely. The building is somewhat more magnificent than what goes on inside the parliament in Brazil. I hope that that is not to be taken as a parable to be applied here in Australia. I wish the whole construction very well and all I hope is that by 1988 we have a building that is worthy of the Parliament and a Parliament that is worthy of the building.

Question resolved in the affirmative.







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