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Thursday, 23 August 1973
Page: 294

Mr NIXON (Gippsland) - The siting of the new parliament house has a somewhat torrid history. It is a subject matter that has led to in depth studies by responsible authorities outside Parliament and by a select committee of this Parliament followed by lengthy debates in this House and the Senate. During the last debate on this matter I was Minister for the Interior and carried the responsibility for the Australian Capital Territory and the National Capital Development Commission. I was also a member of the Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House. Some honourable members will recall that in 1958 the government of the day decided that a new parliament house should be built on the site known as the lakeside site. This site had been confirmed by Lord Holford, a very distinguished British architect and planner who was commissioned by the NCDC. It should be understood that Lord Holford was constrained in his judgment because of his understanding that the site at Camp Hill was unavailable as building methods in those days could not cope with the present Parliament House, thought then to be too valuable for demolition.

In the debate of 17 October 1968 on the siting, this House rejected the lakeside site but accepted a motion I put forward recommending a fresh feasibility study to be made of the original Walter Burley Griffin site right here at Camp Hill. The Joint Parliamentary Committee was set up, took detailed evidence from a variety of sources and some members made trips around the world looking at other parliaments. The report was tabled on 30 April 1969 and debated on 13 May 1969. The report found in favour of the Camp Hill site and when the matter was debated that site was confirmed by this House in a vote of 53 to 49. This vote was not supported by the Senate. Since that time there have been 2 general elections and a great number of new members have come into the House. In fact, of the present 125 members only 54 were in the House at that time.

I hope that the new members will be given full opportunity to seek out the relevant facts on this issue before voting. The difficulty I found previously was that emotion had tended to colour judgments put forward by some speakers in the previous debates. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) has temporarily withdrawn from the chamber. I would like him to make sure that a proper education program is instituted, with all the relevant facts being put together in a committee room so that all new members will have the same opportunity to discover the facts as we had on previous occasions. Otherwise it will be impossible for new members to make the judgment that is required and desired of them on this very important matter. The Minister has now returned to the chamber. Will you set up all the relevant information in a committee room for new members to examine? I have just said to the House that only 54 of the present members were in the House at the time of the previous debates.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - You are supposed to be talking to the Chair.

Mr NIXON - I will address myself to Mr Deputy Speaker, if you wish, and follow the correct procedures. The honourable member is new but he is not doing too badly. I hope he does as well in making himself as familiar with the information about the new parliament house site as he is with Standing Orders. For some reason or other there seems to be a simple appeal in building on the highest point available and totally dominating the scene and area around. It was proved conclusively in the evidence tendered to the Joint Committee that in pure aesthetic and architectural terms Camp Hill has more attraction than Capital Hill.

But let me start at the beginning. Walter Burley Griffin reported to the Minister for Home Affairs in October 1913 on this subject. I have here a copy of the report. It contains a plan for Canberra and a site for Parliament House. Some confusion ensued in the years following the Burley Griffin plan through the use of the name Kurrajong for Capital Hill and Canberra Hill for what is now Camp Hill. However, it is perfectly clear from Griffin's papers that he had an entirely different use in prospect for Capital Hill. He pointed out:

Kurrajong . . . being the only conspicuous internal eminence that has a skyline visible from practically every portion of the city, lends itself to an architectural treatment that need comprise little more than the necessary ramps, stairs and terraces for outlook to make it by its natural bulk the dominating architectural feature.

Walter Burley Griffin proposed building on this hill a structure for popular reception and ceremonial or for housing archives and commemorating Australian achievements rather than for deliberation or counsel. He did not come to this decision without considering the possibility of placing the House of Parliament on this hill. His final words in rejecting the Kurrajong or Capital Hill site were:

Kurrajong is deemed too large and too high for a convenient working organisation of Parliament.

In his view representative government is properly stationed in a capital in an accessible but still quiet area. I submit that these considerations are still today the overriding ones. In recommending Camp Hill as the site for the parliament building he stated that the fact that Parliament is in 2 Houses is an incident in addition to the topographical situation that precludes making of that structure a focal feature. He pointed out that Camp Hill provided sufficient foreground to set off the parliament house. One of the points that concerned members in the previous debate was the area available for use by Parliament on the 2 sites of Capital Hill and Camp Hill. The area of Capital Hill contains within State Circle 135 acres and within the ring road and the commemoration gardens an extra 25 acres, or a total of 160 acres. Camp Hill between King George Terrace and Queen Victoria Terrace contains 34 acres; between Queen Victoria Terrace and State Circle 31 acres; and between State Circle and the continuation of the avenues to the summit of Camp Hill plus the commemoration gardens another 85 acres, or a total of 150 acres. So there is little difference in area available on the 2 sites.

It is quite clear that Camp Hill has more than a satisfactory area by any international comparison. One impressive factor is that Camp Hill, where we are now, is equidistant between Lake Burfey Griffin and Capital Hill. From the front steps of this building the sweep down to the lake and across to the war memorial is in almost perfect perspective. From Capital Hill taking the same view the perspective is totally lost by distance; rather one becomes conscious only of half a dozen major roads with thousands of moving motor cars and trucks sweeping to and from State Circle. I suggest that no finer view can be obtained from any parliamentary building in the world than from the front steps of this Parliament House, by day or night. The opportunity is available to build a new parliament by the means suggested by the Minister for Urban and Regional Development. It is the only practical means of overcoming the problems facing this Parliament. I suggest that no government could or would find the money to build a new parliament house in one go, which is what would be required if the Capital Hill site were used. The proposal made by the Minister is a rational, practical way of meeting a need that is becoming more and more urgent as each year goes by. Let this House confirm once again the site that was chosen by Burley Griffin, thereby maintaining the integrity of the Burley Griffin plan, and let us get on with the job. The Minister has moved an amendment to the original motion which was moved by the honourable member for Corio. I support the amendment.

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