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Thursday, 23 August 1973
Page: 299

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - I join the debate to support the question that is before the Chair at the moment. I am rather surprised that so much of the time of this debate should be taken up with talking about the location of the proposed new parliament house. It seems to me that that is not the question that this Parliament ought to be considering at the moment. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) seemed to indicate that my colleague the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) changed his motion at the last moment because he did not believe that the numbers existed in the House of Representatives in favour of Capital Hill, whereas at a joint meeting of Parliament there might be a sufficient number in agreement with that proposal. I am most surprised that the Minister should make that comment about my colleague. The Minister acknowledged in his amendment that this matter will be determined by a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and the Senate. It is because of that fact that i am disappointed that the debate today should have devolved around the site. I would have expected the proposition put to this 1House by my colleague the honourable member for Corio to be debated in its context. The motion recognises that the decision ultimately will be taken by the 2 Houses sitting together. That is recognised also by the amendment. If the Senate and the House of Representatives agree to the 2 Houses sitting together, we will listen then to the merits and demerits of Camp Hill, Capital Hill, a lake side site or even building an island in the middle of the lake - if somebody should come up with that sort of proposition.

One matter that has been overlooked, with the greatest of respect to my parliamentary colleagues who have been here much longer than I, is that when the Parliament carries a decision the decision remains until the Parliament changes it.

Mr Nixon - That is right.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - The honourable member for Gippsland, who is seated at the table, says 'that is right'. I would draw the honourable member's mind back to a time when he was a member of Parliament and I was not. He would know that this chamber carried a proposition that the Parliament should be sited on Camp Hill. He would know further that the Senate, at approximately the same time, did not agree with that decision. The Senate's idea was that the new parliament house should be located on Capital Hill. I respectfully put to the House that what has happened is that the 'House of Representatives has taken a decision and that decision still stands. The Senate has taken a decision and that decision still stands. The 2 Houses are in conflict and therefore there is no decision. I would put it further to honourable members that the question ought to be resolved in the terms of the proposition put by the honourable member for Corio 'and that the concurrence of the Senate ought to be sought for both Houses to sit conjointly so that the matter can be resolved. That having been done and a joint meeting convened, it would then be open for members to canvass their particular favoured locations - Capital Hill or Camp Hill - and in that way the matter will be resolved. If the question at present being considered is not carried but is negated in any way at all it seems that we will be right back to square 1. We have submitted to procrastination in the past and delayed any start on a new and permanent parliament house.

I doubt very much that any honourable member or any other person in the Commonwealth could say with any justification that the existing Parliament House - a temporary building constructed in 1927 - meets the needs of a very vigorous government and, I trust, a vigorous Parliament of 1973. As time goes on that position will worsen. Surely if the proposition now before us is negated there will be further procrastination. Again we would start with a roundabout of the Senate debating a measure carried by the House of Representatives and perhaps determining a different view from the House of Representatives. A joint meeting would then be convened and the matter would then be discussed again. I support the motion moved by my colleague the honourable member for Corio which proposes that corners, red-tape and procrastination be cut and that this House seek the concurrence of the Senate to sit jointly with it. The various adherents to the particular sites could canvass their opinions at that meeting which would be deliberative.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - This will start a family feud.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - 1 am sorry about that, cousin. I am sorry if I have upset my unrelated fellow-named honourable member for Hughes and Minister for Housing (Mr Les Johnson). I make a strong appeal to the House to bring this matter to a vote today. The House should determine that a vote be taken on the question today and not let the debate spill over to another time when, with the greatest of respect, we will be back on the merry-go-round and honourable members will be debating the merits or non-merits of particular sites. I have deliberately chosen not to mention a site during the time that I have spoken because the original proposition does not mention a site. All that the original proposition asks is for the House to make up its mind that the matter is urgent. It states:

(1)   That this House is of the opinion that:

(a)   the site for the New and Permanent Parliament House should be determined forthwith.

I take 'forthwith' to mean as soon as is humanly possible. The motion continues:

(b)   a joint meeting of the Senate and the House of Representatives should be convened to determine the matter, and

(c)   planning for the new House should commence immediately.

(2)   That a message be sent to the Senate acquainting it with this resolution and requesting its concurrence.

If the House agrees with that proposition and it goes to the Senate and the Senate, at an early date, concurs in the opinion of the House of Representatives, surely we have cut the corners then; surely we have carved through the red tape; surely we have got to a position where with 1 85 of us sitting jointly a decision could be taken which ought to carry a lot of weight with the Government. Ultimately it has to be recognised that it is to be the Government's decision as to where the site will be. But the Government is entitled to the best advice it can possibly get and surely the best advice available to the Government is the view of the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The sheer duplication of this debate, as obviously will occur, is a factor towards procrastination in the whole matter. The inadequacies of this House are obvious. One feels almost ashamed when people from one's electorate come to this House and after the business has been conducted they are taken around the place and it is shown to them. One must ask them not to step in certain places for fear that they will go through the floor because it is very unsafe in places. If on the top floor of the building and being of some bulk myself, I sometimes wonder how secure the building is.

The building is not only inadequate for those who have to work in it, but as I understand from expert advice, it is also structurally unsound. It has had something like $6m spent on it in most recent years and still has not been improved to any great extent to do the job which it is expected to do. So let us have no more discussion or argument about where the site ought to be. Let us be sincere about it. Let this House of Representatives in all sincerity say: 'We want to get on with the job. We believe that there is a need for a new and permanent parliament house. We want to get on with the job, so therefore we want our friends and colleagues in the Senate to sit with us so that we can take a decision. We will canvas the locations at that meeting and then a decision will be made and we will be able to do what must be done'. But to take the matter through the debate on the site again in my view is only procrastination.

I am not sure that any future construction ought to be a staged construction. Obviously buildings are not built overnight. Nobody in our community can wave a magic wand and do that. It obviously will take some time to construct, but I believe that this Parliament would be dodging its responsibilities if it were to say: 'We will put up a few corrugated iron sheds this year. That will placate the electorate. We will put up a few more the year after and that will placate it even more. If we did that we would be in no better position in 25 years from now than we are at present'.

Those honourable members who have lived in Melbourne will know that in 1945 a railway station made of corrugated iron was pulled down at Spencer Street. It was put there in 1915 as a temporary railway station. If that sort of attitude is to be adopted in building the new and permanent parliament house exactly the same sort of situation will be reached. The building does not have to be funded immediately. It could be funded over the planning period so that there would be considerable money available to build it when it was ready to be built without plundering the public purse. But the initial decision - I must come back to this - I believe and I hope, but I rather doubt, should be taken today, and that is that we get on, that we start, that we take a decision that we do need a new and permanent parliament house, that we call our colleagues in the Senate to sit with us, and that we take a decision at that meeting. At that meeting we may canvass the sites and come to a decision. Then it is up to the Government to act on that decision.

So I strongly urge members of the House of Representatives today to demand that this matter come to a vote. I demand that this matter should come to a vote today so that there should be no further spill-off where in this House we are considering sites, which at the moment is a premature action. We can save that debate until the 2 Houses sit together and a deliberative decision can be taken.

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