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Thursday, 30 October 1913

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - I think that the time has arrived for definite action to be taken, not altogether in connexion with the Federal Capital, but to test the policy of the present Government as regards their promises on the platform, and with that intention I move -

That the item, "Federal Capital- ,£285,000," be reduced by ,£5,000.

Senator Russell - Let it go.

Senator NEEDHAM - I am not going to let the item go, because my honorable friend may take a wrong view of what I intend to say. My object is to test the policy of the Government on the question of day labour labour versus the contract system. I was one of those in the Senate who strongly opposed the building of the Federal Capital at Yass-Canberra. We had a strenuous fight on two or three occasions, and as one of the vanquished, I admitted that as the National Parliament had determined to build the Capital at Canberra, I would assist its erection in every possible way. It is one of the most important undertakings on which the Commonwealth has ever ventured. The Liberal party, in season and out of season, have said that day labour was a wrong system, and that if they were returned to power they would carry out all works by the contract system. As a matter of fact, there is an announcement to that effect in the policy statement with which they met this Parliament. This afternoon several questions were put to the Leader of the Senate, but on neither occasion was a definite statement made as to the intention of the Government. Senator Millen has said that in some instances day labour is good, but in other instances it is bad. The inference to be drawn from his remarks is that in some cases contract labour is good, and in other cases it is bad. I want to challenge the Ministry on a principle of theirs. I do not think that any member of the Ministry, or any member of the party supporting them, can get away from the fact that it was their avowed principle to abolish day labour in connexion with all Commonwealth undertakings, and to substitute the contract system. As we are going to build a Capital which, I believe, will be a credit to Australia, and as the Fisher Ministry commenced the work with the system that they avowed and applauded - the day-labour system - I am submitting this amendment to test the sincerity of the Government. The Capital, I contend, can be built under the day-labour system, and I think that it ought to be so built. The replies of Senator Millen this afternoon indicate that the Government, per medium of administration, intend to abolish the system of day labour in building the Capita] if they can. We have to realize that we are getting near the end of a session. I dare say that the Ministry will get into recess; they would like to get there, and are doing their best to that end. Nothing that may happen will probably prevent them from realizing their desire. During the recess they will be- able to do anything they like under cover of administration. The Prime Minister has said, time and again, that, as regards legislation, he was hampered by the position in another place, but he was glad to say that, in the Departments, Ministers had full control. Here is an opportunity for us to test the sincerity of the Government on a principle. Senator Findley has interjected that this is not the item on which to raise the issue, but I submit that it is. I say, advisedly, that if there is going to be built a city that will do credit to Australia it can be built under the day-labour system. As the erection of the Capital was commenced under that principle, I contend that it can be continued and completed in the same way. If Senator Millen had been more definite in his replies to questions this afternoon I might not have submitted this amendment. I ask my honorable friends to assist me to carry the proposed reduction, because it is idle for honorable gentlemen who occupy responsible positions to get on the platforms and tell the electors that they are in favour of a certain principle to which they pledged themselves unless they carry out that principle when they are in power.

Senator Findley - They are not in power; they are in office.

Senator NEEDHAM - I admit that the Government are in office, and not in power, so far as legislation is concerned. But if they get into recess they will be in office and in power,-- and it is during that period that the damage will be done. No matter what attempt may be made it is quite evident that Ministers intend to cling to their positions in order to reach the haven of recess. If ever there was an opportune time to test the principle of day labour it is in connexion with the construction of the city. A Labour Ministry carried out a number of great undertakings in consonance with the principle of day labour as against the contract system. They started the great undertaking of building the Capital under that principle. Are the present Ministry going to depart from that policy? I think they are. The replies of Senator Millen this afternoon indicate they will do so. once they get into the safe haven of recess. He would not make a direct statement, because he knows his position while Parliament is in session, but once it isin recess the Government will use their administrative power to carry out their principle behind the back of Parliament.

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