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Tuesday, 19 December 1905

Mr WEBSTER (Gwydir) - I, like the honorable and learned member for Illawarra, do not intend to delay the House at any great length in discussing this very important question, because I do not wish to repeat my detailed statements as to the relative merits of the' sites which were submitted to us last session. I intend to deal with a new matter, which has come to light since I last spoke on the question. As honorable members know, I expressed, very decidedly, my preference for the Tooma site, and I do not go back on what I then said. I believe that, there is no better site in New South Wales, and it is a site which might well be selected by all who are actuated by the spirit of patriotism, and desire the welfare of the whole Commonwealth. But, since the matter was last discussed, the right honorable member for East Sydney and others have placed new facts before us, in the light of which I cannot accept the interpretation placed by the Attorney-General on the arrangement come to by the Premiers of the States. Much as I should like to stand by my original vote, I feel that we are strictly bound by the promise made to the people of New South Wales, and,. for my own part, I intend to do what I can to have it carried into effect, just as if it were a. promise made by myself. I cannot say that I have changed my opinion with any great degree of pleasure as to how I should act on this question ; but I cannot escape doing my duty in regard to it. and the interpretation that has been placedby the right honorable member for East Sydney on the agreement of the Premiers seems to me to be the right one. while the statement which he made last night as to the determination of the Victorian representatives, that the Capital should not be within 200 miles of Sydney, clinches the argument. I feel bound, under these circumstances, to endeavour to obtain strict compliance with the agreement; though I regret that the important facts which have caused me to somewhat alter my attitude were not brought to light earlier. To my mind, the right honorable member for East Sydney has committed a serious offence in hot referring before to the facts which were mentioned last night. He surely will not urge that matters of such moment have escaped his memory, though that is the most favorable interpretation to place on his conduct. The delay in the settlement of the question lies largely at his door, because of the incomprehensible manner in which he has allowed these important facts to remain unknown.

Mr Reid - The honorable member for North Sydney quoted every word of the agreement between the Premiers in the debate on the Capital Site question last year.

Mr WEBSTER - The right honorable gentleman knows, as well as I do, that it is impossible for any honorable member to listen to all the speeches that are delivered here upon any given subject. I did not hear the statement of the honorable member for North Sydney, and I rarely have time to read Hansard in order to find out what honorable members have said during my absence. If the right honorable member for East Sydney had made a similar statement, it would have riveted the attention of the House, and we should have long before this realized clearly the position in which we stood1. I have not changed my opinion of Tooma, but I realize that we must honour the bond entered into with New South Wales. Now it appears that some compromise is likely to be arrived at. I am not prepared to vote, at this juncture, in favour of Lake George, because I do not know sufficient about it. I have read the reports which have been compiled withregard to that and' other sites, but I desire further information.

Mr Mauger - When we visited the site, there was no water in the lake.

Mr Reid - That was a most exceptional occurrence.

Mr WEBSTER - The fact mentioned by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports and others which have come under my notice, make me hesitate to cast a vote in favour of Lake George. Ido not favour Lyndhurst, and, if I found that the feeling of honorable members ran in favour of that site, I should be placed in a very awkward position. I should have to fight against its selection, on the ground of unsuitability, whilst at the s.ame time I should feel compelled' to respect the terms of the compact. I pay no regard to the arguments of the Premier of New South Wales, who seems to me to have stultified himself by offering to grant a site at Tumut, which is even further , removed from Sydney than is Dalgety. I do not look for guidance to the State Parliament. I regard Mr. Carruthers' action as merely a piece of political pyrotechnics - a class of exhibition in which that gentleman is an expert. He has engaged in a political manoeuvre with the idea of diverting the attention of the public from more serious matters, and of escaping the censure which might be attached to him, owing to his action in connexion with them. I shall not be guided by the prejudices of the people of New South Wales, nor by the inclinations of honorable members of this House. I shall be influenced by the Constitution and the terms of the arrangement entered into between the Premiers,, and I shall have to withhold my final judgment until more information is available with regard to Lake George. If the selection is postponed until the next session I shall be pleased to visit the proposed site, and to assimilate all the information that can be obtained regarding it. I think the Government should secure from the Government of New South Wales the fullest possible data with regard to water supply, particularly in respect to the possibilities outlined by the honorable member for Bland', who has indicated that an abundant supply can be derived from two sources, and conveyed into Lake George by means of cuttings or tunnels. We should have authentic information as to the distance over which the water will have to be conveyed, as to the pressure obtainable, and the cost of carrying out a gravitation scheme. I should like to know, further, whether the rivers mentioned by the honorable member for Bland are permanent streams. We mav dispense with many things ; we may deny ourselves the pleasure of gazing upon a beautiful landscape, and submit to many inconveniences, but we cannot do without a thoroughly reliable supply of pure water. The Attorney-General has argued the matter in a very able speech. He applied his logical whip without mercy to the back of the right honorable member for East Sydney. No such castigation has ever before been administered to any honorable member in this House. He exposed the right honorable gentleman's inconsistency, lack of attention to duty, and want of appreciation of the higher responsibilities of public life. But whilst I admired his speech very much, I cannot agree with his interpretation of the Constitution, and of the arrangement arrived at between the Premiers of the States.

Mr Reid - The honorable member's law is better than that of the AttorneyGeneral.

Mr WEBSTER - -This is not a matter of law, but one of common sense. When honorable^ and learned members begin to argue matters from a legal stand-point, it is the duty of others to immediately apply, the rules of common sense. Lawyers, do not argue according to the principles of logic or common sense, but seek to exhibit their keenness in, putting forward legal technicalities. The duel between the right honorable member for East Sydney and the AttorneyGeneral was most entertaining, viewed from that stand-point. But I am forced to reject the interpretation of the Minister, and to do what I conceive to be necessary in order to abide by the compact entered into with New South Wales. I shall withhold my decision until I am satisfied that a suitable site can be obtained apart from Dalgety, which does not appeal to me as a desirable home for the Commonwealth Government.'

Mr McLean - The honorable member should read his own glowing description of last session.

Mr WEBSTER - I have not changed my position one jot. I stated that the Snowy River was the main attraction at Dalgety. The water supply possibilities of that site excel those of all others, but when that has been said nothing more can be urged in favour of Dalgety. It may have its charms of landscape, but it has drawbacks in the shape of unfavorable climatic conditions, and otherwise, which place it entirely out of my consideration. I am not committed to any site, but my desire is to locate the Capital in the most suitable place consistent with adherence to the compact entered into with New South Wales. I think that during the recess honorable members should be afforded an opportunity to visit those sites other than Lyndhurst which would be included in an amended compact. If 'that be done I am satisfied that when we re-assemble next session we shall be able to arrive at a compromise which will be satisfactory alike to the Commonwealth and to New South Wales.

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