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Thursday, 27 September 1906

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) (Honorary Minister) . - I can to some extent agree with the mover of the motion when he says that the terms of it are very moderate. They are moderate in their appearance. But if the Senate were to pass the motion, I think it would be very properly construed bv .people outside, and more particularly by the people of New South Wales, as tantamount to a reflection upon the action, either of the Senate or of both branches of the Legislature or of the Government.

Senator Best - Tantamount ?

Senator KEATING - It seems to me that the object of the motion is neither more nor less than to cast a reflection on somebody for inaction in the matter, and that, notwithstanding the fact that Senator Neild, in moving the motion, stated that the blame was to some extent .distributable^

Senator Col Neild - That is so.

Senator KEATING - Senator Neildhimself admitted that possibly, and perhaps actually, the blame was not whollyattributable to Federal authorities.

Senator Col Neild - Hear, hear.

Senator KEATING - If the Senatewere to accept the motion there could be only one interpretation placed upon it by members of the Legislature and others, namely, that it is a reflection on the inaction of the Federal Legislature and the Federal 'Government in not having arrived at some definite conclusion.

Senator Millen - Why was this opportunity offered ?

Senator KEATING - Speaking for myself personally, and not as a member of the Senate, I ' can say that I agree entirely with the terms of the motion. Nobody regrets - not even New South Wales representatives, in this or the other branch of the Legislature - more deeply than I do the fact that the Federal Capital Site has not yet been selected. I do not think there is any honorable senator, from New South Wales or elsewhere, who could say *hat I have shirked my responsibilities or duties in this regard. It does not matter to me whether the Melbourne Age or any other newspaper has called this " The Bush Capital." It does riot matter to me what designation the newspaper chose to fasten on any measure before Parliament - I personally, whether as Minister or private member, am not going to be moved out of the path which I consider to be correct. So far as this particular matter is concerned, I point out that the Federal Parliament in the past, after having had submitted to it by the various Governments of New South Wales, or, at any rate, one Government, a number of sites, which the Government of New South Wales put forward as available for selection, fixed finally on Dalgety. I am not for the moment certain, but I think I am correct in saying that Dalgety was one of the sites which the New South Wales Government submitted to the Federal Parliament for selection. After members of both Houses who chose to avail themselves of the opportunity had inspected the various sites, Dalgety was chosen, and, by a formal Act of this Parliament, was selected as the Federal Capital Site. Subsequent! v action was taken By the New South Wales Government. I think I can fairly and honestly say that, had it not been for the action taken by the Government of New South. Wales, subsequent to the adoption of Dalgety as the site, there would not have been the delay that is now complained of. So far as the promises made by the Federal Government in the speech read at the opening of this Parliament are concerned, I may say that they have formed the subject of correspondence between the Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales. Honorable senators and members of another place are quite well aware that during the present session investigations have proceeded in connexion with the site submitted. Who submitted those sites for the consideration of the members of the Federal Parliament? The sites were submitted by the Government of New South Wales. Even at the present time there are other sites under submission to the Federal Government. I think I cannot do better than read the correspondence which recently passed between the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth and the Premier of New South' Wales. The first letter is as follows: -

Premier's Office,

Sydney, 14th September, 1906.

Sir, -With reference to the selection of a site for the Federal Capital, and to the correspondence which has passed between us relative thereto, I have the honour to inquire whether you propose submitting the question for the consideration of the Commonwealth Legislature, in accordance with the undertaking contained in your despatch of 6th Mav last, to His Excellency the Governor-General, wherein you stated that the matter would be brought before Parliament during the ensuing session, and that ever}' effort would be made to arrive at a final determination thereon.

I understand that the subject has not been placed on the Parliamentary business paper, notwithstanding that the session is drawing to a close, and if the matter be not treated as urgent a settlement must inevitably be postponed until after another Parliament shall have been selected.

It is obvious, however, that members of the present Parliament, being in full possession of all the material facts bearing on the question, are in a position to give the matter the fullest consideration, more particularly as many senators and members of the House of Representatives have personally visited the various sites suggested.

I am heartily in accord in that regard with' the opinions and view expressed by the Premier of New South Wales- -

The question being one of the greatest interest to the people of New South Wales, and to the people of the Commonwealth generally, I think you will agree that it would be highly desirable to give immediate effect to the provisions of the Constitution with regard to the selection of a Capital, as it must be admitted that such a protracted delay in arriving at a final settlement was never anticipated.

I never anticipated it -

I can quite understand the desire of your Government to deal with various matters of public importance during the limited time at the disposal of the present Parliament, but I would nevertheless urge that the capital question be submitted to the Federal Legislature in order that finality may be arrived at before yet another election intervenes.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your obedient servant,

J.   H. Carruthers.

The Honorable the Prime Minister of the 'Commonwealth of Australia, Melbourne.

Inresponsetothat,the Prime Minister, on the 18th September, wrote as follows : -

Melbourne, 18th September, 1906.

Sir, -I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 14th September, on the subject of the Federal Capital Site, and to inform you, in reply, that it was the intention of the Government to arrive at a final determination in the matter, which would have been placed before Parliament some time ago, if it had not been that invitations were received from your Government for members to inspect other sites which had not previously been brought under notice. Until these inspections were completed, it would clearly have been premature to make any proposals to Parliament.

2.   It is but a few days since certain members desired to make a further visit for the purpose of inspecting sites which they had not previously seen.

3.   I may perhaps in this connexion remind you that it was only last week that information as to the water supply for the Canberra site, in respect of which a good deal of interest has been displayed, was received from your Government.

4.   It appears now that even if the proposals of the Government were submitted to Parliament at once, there would be no prospect of finally dealing with them before prorogation, and to introduce them under such circumstances would serve no good purpose.

5.   It is regretted that the near approach of the elections, and the crowded state of the business paper, prevent expectations, and hopes formed before the session opened from being realized, but I feel sure you will agree with me that the delays which have occurred are not due to any desire on the part of this Government, or to any action or inaction by the Commonwealth.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your most obedient servant, (Sgd.) Alfred Deakin.

The Honorable the Premier of New South Wales, Sydney.

That, I think, is a correct statement. The delay which has occurred has not been due to any desire on the part of the present Government of the Commonwealth, nor. to any inaction on the part of the Federal Parliament. Having that in mind, we should be very careful before we pass a resolution of the character proposed. As I said in my opening remarks, the motion is capable of only one kind of interpretationa reflection either on us"' as a branch of the Legislature, or a, reflection on the whole of the Federal Parliament, or a reflection on the Commonwealth Government. I feel perfectly certain that any honorable senator, who is mindful of what has occurred, and who recognises the condition of things, must in fairness and justice, say that he cannot honestly pass such a vote of censure. If any honorable senator agrees to the motion, he must recognise that he is passing a vote of censure, either on one branch of the Legislature, on both branches, or on the Executive of the day. I, therefore, with confidence, ask honorable senators, after they have discussed the matter, to refrain from supporting SenatorNeild, who has so ably placed before us the case, from the point of view of New South Wales.

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