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Friday, 29 June 1906

Mr GROOM (Darling Downs) (Minis ter of Home Affairs) . - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

When the Appropriation Bill came before the Senate last year, dissatisfaction was expressed that provision was made for the upkeep of two residences for the Governor-General. It was then pointed out that the Senate was not afforded a fair opportunity of considering the advisability of providing two residences for the Governor-General. The Minister then promised that a Bill would be introduced during the next session in such a form as to enable both Houses to. deal specifically with the question of maintaining a residence for the Governor- General in Sydney, and in order to permit of the fullest and freest discussion, the Bill takes its present form. Honorable members will see that it is merely an enabling measure. It provides that the Governor-General may enter into an arrangement with the Government of the State of Victoria for the use and occupation by the Commonwealth for a period not exceeding five years of Government House, Melbourne, as a residence for the Governor-General, and that he may also make a similar arrangement with respect to Government House, Sydney. So far as Victoria is concerned, an agreement has practically been approved of for the continuance of the occupation of Government House, Melbourne, an the terms hitherto existing. No rent is to be paid, but the Commonwealth are liable for upkeep and maintenance, and at the expiration of the agreement the residence and the articles therein contained are to be handed over to the State authorities in the same good order and condition as when taken over from the State. So far as New South Wales is concerned, the original agreement has expired, and after the end of this year we shall be merely, as it were, tenants on sufferance. An appropriation has been made covering the expenditure up to the end of the financial year, and since then temporary provision has been made in Supply, pending further arrangement.

Mr Frazer - Can the Minister tell us the cost of the upkeep and maintenance of the Governor- General's residence in Melbourne ?

Mr GROOM - I shall furnish that information presently. We desired to enter into negotiations, subject to the approval of Parliament, with a view to continuing in occupation of Government House, Sydney, on the same terms as formerly. The Premier of New South Wales then pointed out to us that the tenancy of the residence now occupied by the State Governor was about to expire, and that it would be necessary to make fresh arrangements for the accommodation of His Excellency. They asked that an agreement should be entered into - subject, of course, to the ratification of Parliament - for a certain definite term. Five years is suggested in the Bill because it is confidently hoped that bv the end of that time some definite steps will have been taken to establish the Federal Capital. The Premier of New South Wales asked for an assurance that an agreement would be entered into for a certain definite term, which would justify the New South Wales Government in acquiring a residence for the State Governor. That seems to us to be a most reasonable request. We must remember that in connexion with both these Government Houses the States concerned have been treating us with the greatest generosity. We have had handed over to us these magnificent buildings, without being called upon to pay a single penny in the way of rent. All that we are required to do is to maintain them, and to hand them over practically in the same order of preservation that they were in when we received them. When, f herefore, the Commonwealth was established, we found ourselves in possession of Government House, Melbourne, and Government House, Sydney. At a Conference of States Premiers, held before Federation was established, it was agreed by a majority that two residences should be provided for the Governor-General - that during the sittings of Parliament the Governor-General should reside in Melbourne and that during the recess he should reside in Sydney.

Mr Wilks - What does the Minister mean by a majority pf the Premiers - can he give their names?

Mr GROOM - I am using the expression contained in a telegram forwarded bv the honorable member for Gippsland, who was then Premier of Victoria, to the Premier of New South Wales. He said -

Referring to your telegram of the 8th May . . the majority agree to residence of the Governor-General New South' Wales during recess, but consider that he should visit other Colonies.

Mr Wilks - Has the Minister any record of the proceedings of that Conference ?

Mr GROOM - No; that telegram is the only official record of the decision that we have. On the strength of the representations that were made, and the agreement arrived at before Federation, .communications took place with the Imperial Government, and the proposal of the States was acquiesced in. The people of New South Wales justly and fairly believed that these proposals would be carried out, and on the strength of that parliamentary action was taken.

Mr Henry Willis - New South Wales spent a large sum of money.

Mr GROOM - Yes. New South Wales spent a very large sum of money, and I think that they behaved in a spirit that was well worthy of the Federation. They made the most liberal provision for the celebration of the inauguration of the Commonwealth, in a manner befitting the occasion. We entered into an agreement with the States Governments of New South Wales and Victoria that we should continue in occupation- of their respective Government Houses for a period of three years, with a right of renewal for a further period of two years1 - in other words, for a term of five years altogether. Of course, it was provided that we should be liable for the maintenance and upkeep of the houses, and hand them over at the expiration of the term in good order and condition.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is the Minister able to say whether any fixed term was agreed upon in the first instance?

Mr GROOM - Yes. The term of three years, with a right of renewal for a further two years. The terms of that agreement were to- be embodied in a draft lease, which took some time in preparation, and is in existence to-day. We are now holding these properties upon the original terms, with the exception that, as regards the State of Victoria, we have practically agreed to continue in occupation of Government House, Melbourne, for an indefinite period, subject to twelve months' notice of termination on either side. That agreement was practically concluded at the close of last year, and a copy was immediately transmitted to New South Wales. At the same time, a discussion took place in the Senate, and a desire was expressed that the two residences should foe dealt with separately. On the strength of that debate, and the promise made to the Senate, negotiations had to be again opened up with New South Wales, and it was then agreed that we should submit to Parliament a Bill which would enable us to make a contract for a period of five years.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - At whose suggestion is the term fixed?

Mr GROOM - At the suggestion of the State of New South Wales. It was pointed out that the New South Wales Government desired to enter into a new arrangement to provide a residence for the State Governor, and naturally they wished " the Commonwealth authorities to give them some guarantee that they would continue in the occupation of Government House, Sydney, for a term, because, if this Parliament refused at any time to make the necessary appropriation they might have the two establishments thrown upon their hands.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Government contemplates entering into an agreement for a definite period with the Government of New South Wales?

Mr GROOM - We contemplate entering into an agreement for five years. The arrangement with Victoria is subject to twelve months' notice on either side. Of course, it may be that the Premier of New South Wales will assent to the same conditions.

Mr Frazer - Has he not done so up till now?

Mr GROOM - What is asked for is that the Commonwealth shall enter into an arrangement for a period of five years, and for the reason which I have given. That reason seems to me fair and reasonable.

Mr Frazer - Does the New South Wales Premier ask the Commonwealth Government to defray the cost of providing another residence for its State Governor?

Mr GROOM - No; the State Government provide that. All that we are asked to do, and all that we propose, is to continue the existing lease upon exactly the same terms as have hitherto operated. We are not asking this Parliament to appropriate a single additional penny of expenditure for the upkeep of these two viceregal establishments. We shall not ask for an increase in the amount of the appropriation when the Estimates are under review. Honorable members will doubtless recollect that some time ago a discussion took place in this House as to what constituted a fair and reasonable amount to allow for the maintenance and upkeep of t?he two establishments occupied by the Governor-General. Accordingly a return was prepared in which it was shown that £5,500 was absolutely the bed-rock expenditure. It was pointed out that that estimate had been made in the absence of any experience other than that provided by the short period during which the Commonwealth had been in occupation of the two Government Houses, but it was believed that their maintenance could be provided for upon that basis. Ever since then the expenditure has been kept down absolutely to bed-rock, and it has been found, with the exercise of care and economy, that the amount indicated will very nearly cover all necessary demands. Of course, there are certain amounts for non-recurring expenditure - expenditure due to the fact that we are required to keep the buildings and their contents in good order and condition. But in some instances we have been able to provide for the upkeep of the fabrics themselves out of the sum appropriated for maintenance.

Mr Frazer - The Minister has not yet told us what is the respective cost of the upkeep of the two Government Houses?

Mr GROOM - I have said that .£5.500 is considered the bed-rock expenditure for the upkeep of both establishments.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The amount °f £s>15° was suggested.

Mr GROOM - But £5,500 was the sum agreed to as the minimum. It was stated that that was the lowest possible expenditure which could be incurred for the maintenance of the establishments.

Mr Frazer - Does that represent the cost of the upkeep of each ?

Mr GROOM - No; it represents the cost of the upkeep of both. If the honorable member will turn to the Estimates he will see that the total expenditure last year was £5,868, so that we have kept very closely to bed-rock. As I have already pointed out, a certain amount must be provided for non-recurring expenditure for which we are liable, because we are bound to hand over the buildings in good order and condition, and to replace certain things which are liable to wear and tear. If honorable members will refer to the past expenditure by the States they will find, in some instances, that the amounts which they have appropriated for. the upkeep of their Government Houses are in excess of the sum I have mentioned. We are not asking for any additional expenditure in pursuance of the agreement embodied in this Bill. We are simply continuing the existing arrangement, and there will be_ no expense incurred under it other than that of which we have had experience during the past five years. We ask the House to agree to the Bill, because we think that it is a just thing that we should provide for the upkeep of two Government Houses, one in Sydney, and the other in Melbourne.

Mr Mcwilliams - At whose request has this arrangement been made?

Mr GROOM - The Premier of Victoria requested the Commonwealth Government to consider the question of whether it should not pay rent for the accommodation provided in Melbourne for the GovernorGeneral j but since then, he has practically concluded an agreement with us under which no rent shall be charged, and we shall continue in possession of the Melbourne establishment just as we have done hitherto. I think that the States are treating us generously in this matter, and I ask the House to give us the authority to carry out the agreements contemplated bv the Bill.

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