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Thursday, 23 August 1973
Page: 289

Mr DRURY (Ryan) - I would like to join with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Bryant) in complimenting the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) in bringing this very important matter before the House today. There are one or two aspects that concern me. One is the use of the word forthwith' in sub-paragraph (a) of the motion. I have in mind the fact that we have in this Parliament today many new members on both sides of the chamber who are not familiar with all the arguments, all the pros and cons, in relation to the projected sites, one of course being Capital Hill and the other Camp Hill. There was an earlier suggested site that we debated at great length, and that was the lakeside site. I would hate to see a decision made forthwith by a body of members, some of whom are not fully informed on all the various aspects and all the arguments in favour of the various sites.

I speak on this matter with some feeling as one who had the privilege to serve for 5 years on the Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House and like the Minister. I was fortunate to be one of the delegation chosen to go overseas to inspect parliament buildings in other countries. We learnt a great deal from that exercise. I am most anxious that we do not make any mistake. This is a matter of national significance. While it is very important that we treat it, as the honourable member for Corio said, with some degree of urgency, I would not like to see us rush into a decision without taking full account of all the various aspects that are involved. I say again that I have in mind particularly the new members of the Parliament who do not have the advantage that we older members have had, having been through this exercise in other years.

Generally the concept as outlined by the honourable member for Corio, I believe, deserves our support. I have done a little collating for the purpose of trying to put in a few words in a few minutes some of the main arguments in favour of Camp Hill and some of the main arguments in relation to Capital Hill. I must say that when I started thinking about this I was basing my thoughts on the wording of the motion as originally put forward and as it has been standing on the notice paper since last May in the name of the honourable member for Corio. At the beginning of the concept of Canberra Walter Burley Griffin had some definite views about the siting of the permanent parliament house. He said:

I am emphatically of the opinion that the permanent structure should be on Camp Hill. I consider that to have been one of the earliest decisions, on which everything else was shaped.

In another passage he said in relation to Capital Hill that he considered it too large and too high for a convenient working organisation of Parliament. It is equally true that he opposed most strenuously the building of the present provisional Parliament House on the site on which it stands. In the light of events he was obviously perfectly right in his forethought. He said that the building of a provisional parliament house on this site would tend to preclude a proper decision in relation to the building of a permanent parliament building on this site, in other words, on the Camp Hill site, which, as he said quite clearly, was the focal point, the starting point from which he drew and planned the whole design of Canberra. It is worth recording that in very few and only in minor instances have Griffin's original plans been departed from over the years in the development of Canberra. I would think it a very great pity indeed if we departed from his scheme, which was well thought out and which was selected after a world-wide competition, simply because we are not so fully informed of the facts as we ought to be.

During the course of the years 1965-1970 when the Joint Select Committee was very active we were all very enthusiastic and we all became extremely interested and very involved indeed in this whole subject and made a great study of it. It was quite clear from the witnesses who appeared before us that the Camp Hill site was regarded as the apex of the parliamentary triangle and was clearly preferred by the great majority of the very eminent and highly qualified professional men who gave evidence before the Committee. A point that has been made many times is that it would be easier and cheaper to construct a first rate quality building on Camp Hill capable of continuing expansion than would be the case on Capital Hill, where there would "be far more architectural problems. I am not saying, and the evidence did not suggest it, that it was entirely impossible to build a satisfactory structure on Capital Hill. I merely say that the tremendous weight of evidence was in favour of building the permanent parliament house on Camp Hill. Camp Hill has the advantage of the symbolism of association and yet at the same time it is sufficiently prominent to provide a site for the major building in the national capital which, of course, is and always will be the Parliament building, because that is why Canberra exists.

In considering this whole subject there are 3 very important considerations that I think we all must have in mind. One is the functional aspect, having regard particularly to the fact that we are so cramped in this present building. As the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs said, we were advised everywhere we went overseas to think big, to project our minds as many decades as we could into the future and then add more. This was the general advice given to us overseas. Then there is the functional aspect I mentioned. Of course we must pay regard to the aesthetic aspects and also the symbolic aspect. I quote a second significant passage from Griffin. Reporting on the Camp Hill site he said this:

The parliamentary edifice has thus a lofty setting stopping the long axis of the reservoir, crowned by the lofty Capital Hill-

It was originally known as Kurrajong Hill- behind it, and supported on the flanks by the lower departmental buildings.

Speaking of the Capital Hill site, this is what Griffin said on another occasion:

The fact that Parliament is in 1 Houses is an incident in addition to the topographical situation that precludes the making of that structure a focal feature.

Much play has been made in previous debates on the fact that Griffin spoke about this 2- chamber building that would need to be placed on Capital Hill, but he said clearly in the passage I have just quoted that he regarded this as only an incident, and it was mainly on topographical and other grounds that he made his decision in favour of Camp Hill. So substantially the whole of the expert advice that was given to the Committee over the S years that I mentioned was against the Capital Hill site and in favour of the Camp Hill site.

Travelling along Kings Avenue towards Capital Hill, it is clear to anyone who observes that Capital Hill is way out to the left of the parliamentary triangle. On the other hand when one is coming along Commonwealth Avenue it is way out to the right and it appears to be irrelevant to the parliamentary triangle. I think the parliamentary triangle is something we must keep in the foremost of our minds in debating and considering all the aspects of the matter. To me the vista is very important. The vista from Camp Hill clearly was the vista chosen by Walter Burley Griffin as the most suitable, the most spectacular and the most desirable. The parliamentary triangle and the lake form the setting for Parliament, as was pointed out in the feasibility study which was kindly circulated to members by the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren). I greatly appreciated receiving his letter and also a copy of the feasibility study, which I have read most carefully and which I think represents a sound and practical approach to this big problem about which we are all concerned.

There is one thing on which we all agree and that is that the parliament house should be in a dominant position. That would be the case if it were on Camp Hill. It would also be in a dominant position - I would say a predominant position - if it were on Capital Hill. But it is the view of many experts that it should not be on a predominant site but rather on a dominant and readily accessible site, one which forms part of the parliamentary triangle and one from which there is this exquisite vista.

Much has been said in previous debates also about the desirability of providing a better building than this present one. All kinds of adjectives can and have been used to describe it. It is only a provisional building, lt is 46 years old. As we know, it was originally projected to have a life of only 50 years. It is true that externally it has quite a fine appearance but internally, as we all know and as one' independent writer has described it, it is a rabbit warren. Much of it is obsolete. Conditions are cramped for members, the Executive, parliamentary staff, the Press and visitors in the galleries. More committee rooms are needed because committees have become and are becoming more and more an ancillary part of the parliamentary system. Some of the ancillary services unfortunately have to be housed elsewhere. This does not make for efficiency. In fact efficient work is inevitably impaired under the existing situation.

Other independent observers have described the existing accommodation as hopelessly inadequate. Those of us who have to work in the building, and that includes members of the staff, would agree with that description. It was brought home to us by expert witnesses before the Committee that the maintenance costs in relation to this old building are extremely heavy and that the magnitude of them is increasing year by year. There has been much damage, through water penetration, in the plumbing and electrical systems, and full air conditioning will soon be needed. I think it is generally agreed that extensions are only a temporary palliative; they are not a solution to the problem.

One point that has not been mentioned but which I think should be mentioned is that, as we all know, in this country we are in a position of inflation. It needs to be borne in mind that there would be no cash outlay involved in relation to a new and permanent parliamentary building, even if the decision were made this year, until 1976-77 and then it would not by any means be of major proportions. As I recall it, the figure put forward in the feasibility study was $6m over a period of 4 years dating from 1976-77 and by 1979, at the end of this decade, even if a decision were made today, we would have reached only the first stage of development of the new structure. If it were to mean a substantial capital outlay this year in an inflationary situation I do not think that any of us would be happy about making an early decision to go ahead with this plan. But the fact is - this needs to be brought home quite strongly - that no cash outlay will be involved in making a decision this year. As I said, it will not be until 3 or 4 years time when any major outlay will have to be made.

Having regard to all the circumstances, many of which have already been outlined by previous speakers and gone into and traversed time and again in previous debates in this Parliament, I believe that we should support the honourable member for Corio because there is a degree of urgency involved, as he says. I am not happy about the word forthwith' if it means making a decision today or tomorrow. I think that the new members of Parliament must have time to consider thoroughly the pros and cons of the alternative sites. I have a firm conviction in my mind that Camp Hill is the best site. That is related to the expert evidence given to the Committee in which it was stated that that is the focal and central point from which Burley Griffin himself began the design of Canberra. I believe that the Government should call for designs. It should have a nationwide competition. The matter has been shelved for far to long. In the past there have been differences between the Senate and this House. I think that the suggestion put forward by the honourable member for Corio in relation to a joint sitting is a sensible and constructive approach. We have plenty of talent in Australia; let us use it in the design of a new parliament house.

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