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Thursday, 30 October 1913

Senator RUSSELL (Victoria) .- I feel very much tempted to take some definite action in regard to this. item. The attitude which I took up in regard to the selection of Yass-Canberra is well known. I fought it vigorously, because I did not regard the site as the best available one. Now, as the result of the deliberate vote of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, it is proposed to expend £285,000 upon that site. I have recently returned from a keenly-contested election campaign, and on every conceivable occasion - after having voted for the selection of this site - Senator McColl has urged that we should refrain from spending money on Yass-Canberra. He declared his belief that the time is inopportune to incur such expenditure. Yet we are now asked to vote £285,000 for the purpose of undertaking certain works at the Federal Capital.

Senator Guthrie - But things have changed.

Senator RUSSELL - Yes. To-day the Honorary Minister very ably pointed out that, in his opinion, our revenue had reached the high-water mark. Judging by the way in which his remarks were received, I take it that that is the consensus of opinion in this Chamber. What I really think we ought to know in connexion with this matter is where we are going, and to what will the expenditure of this £285,000 commit us ? Probably it will commit the next Government to an expenditure of many millions upon the Federal Capital. Will it commit us to an expenditure from time to time of £200,000, £300,000, £400,000, or £500,000? We ought to have some explanation of it from the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who, during the recent election campaign, practically preached throughout the country that the late Government were extravagant, and that one feature of their extravagance was their expenditure upon the Federal Capital. If the late Minister of Home Affairs was guilty of extravagance by spending £147,000 upon the Capital, surely the present Government must be extremely extravagant, seeing that they propose to spend £285,000 upon the same project. If Senator Clemons be right in his prophecy that our revenue has now reached high-water mark, we shall either have to continue to spend money upon the Capital because we are committed to it, or we shall have to abandon the work of building the city, or borrow money for the purpose.

Senator Bakhap - What Government started the work?

Senator RUSSELL - The Fisher Government. But members of the present Ministry opposed that expenditure, and especially did the Vice-President of the Executive Council. It was amusing to listen to the contradictory statements of two Ministers to-night. Senator Millen has said that it may be expedient for the Government from time to time to undertake works by means of day labour, but that it is distinctly the policy of the Government, where they can get a clean start, to have resort to the contract system. That is a peculiar admission, because, on more than one occasion, Senator McColl has stated that, where adequate supervision can be obtained, the day-labour system is far the better. In discussing the Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Bill last year, the honorable gentleman - as will be seen by reference to Hansard, page 2402 - said -

I have made no charges against " the man on the job." My opinion was that we required information. I therefore asked for a return in connexion with a particular work. When the expenditure is known it can be checked, and we shall be able to see whether the work is costing more than it ought to cost. I believe that, given honest inspectors and honest workmen, the day-labour system is by far the best..

Of course, if -you have not honest inspectors and workmen, you will not get good work done under any system.

If that be the opinion of the VicePresident of the Executive Council, I wish to know why he has abandoned it? Is he prepared to maintain that it is impossible to get honest inspectors, or does he mean to reflect upon the workers of this country by declaring that they are dishonest? If not, surely the Government ought to be prepared to support the day-labour system. Is the renunciation of the one pet hobby of the Vice-President of the Executive Council the price of a seat in the Cabinet? It is certainly significant that, after all his denunciation of the Federal Capital, and Mr. O'Malley's expenditure upon it, he should submit for our consideration an item which doubles that expenditure. I shall vote for the item, because I do not wish to be regarded as taking up a parochial attitude on this matter. But at an early opportunity we should be given a reasonable idea of the extent to which we are committing this Parliament to expenditure there. I am prepared to vote for the expenditure of any reasonable sum, because I believe that the work should be proceeded with. If we continue to expend £300,000 a year for twenty years, we shall simply be wasting the money if the works constructed are permitted to lie idle. But I believe that the day is not far distant when the Federal Capital will be more than self-supporting. If that be so, we ought to have a settled policy as to whether the Capital is to be constructed in five or ten years, and not merely spend from time to time a small sum on the works, and then allow the expenditure to remain idle, earning nothing, practically, for a considerable number of years.

Senator Bakhap - That is an argument for very heavy expenditure at once.

Senator RUSSELL - I am not particular about that. What I want to see is a definite policy. If there is a chance that by opening up the Capital in five years it may become revenue-producing I am prepared to support the expenditure. I am not even going to say that I would not support to that extent a borrowing policy, because I believe that the Commonwealth will get a wonderfully good asset there. I think it is a waste of time to play with the question by merely, from time to time, throwing a certain amount of money, so to speak, into the sea. I do hope that at the earliest possible opportunity we shall have a definite announcement as to when the Government expect to have the Capital constructed and ready for Parliament to meet in, and what our total commitments are likely to be.

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