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Thursday, 23 August 1973
Page: 302

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) -! prefer the amendment to the motion. I think that the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) has made a point when he says - I think rightly - that there is no reason that a new parliament house cannot be constructed in stages. After all, it is not only buildings in Canberra that have been successfully built in stages. I think of most of the great buildings of the world - in Europe, Asia and the United Kingdom. Most of them - not all - whether they be cathedrals, palaces or colleges have, in fact, been built in stages. I am not keen about either the motion or the amendment because in my view the need for a new parliament house has been grossly exaggerated. I know that the present building is not adequate. There are some things to which every member is entitled and to which the Parliament as a whole is entitled. Every member is entitled to a separate room. I think that we all agree that the kitchens are quite inadequate, that the refreshments room facilities are inadequate and that there are not enough dining rooms. We lack perhaps a proper dining hall for ceremonial occasions. I think we all regret the fact that the Parliamentary Library is inadequate and that some sections of it - the statistical research section for example - are not located in this building at all. I know that the Press is inadequately housed and there is a natural resentment on the part of members of the Press for the lack of facilities which they endure.

Yet, having said all these things, this building is a building which can be extended. It does not need very much more to make it adequate and the talk that we have heard today about if falling down, leaking and so on, although there is some truth in some parts of it, is very much exaggerated and the defects could be made good. I feel that this building - not good enough in its present stage - can be made good enough and should stand and be adequate for some generations at least. It does have two advantages. 'First, it has an historic connotation. I am one who believes that even these walls, which have been here since only 1927, have acquired some kind of aura of history. There is a tradition about this place already. Are we to scrap it entirely? The fact that it is here, that it is accepted and that it is probably the best known building in Australia are things which should not be lightly discarded, lt is easy to be grandiose and say: 'We want to build something which will be memorable for all time'. If there were such a plan, if there were this upsurge, perhaps one could feel something for it.

Are we not, in considering this motion, in the position of people who are talking about spending a tremendous amount of money on a frame without having conceived the picture that is to go inside it. The frame is the parliament house - the facilities - but the Parliament is the members. The Parliament is the parliamentary tradition. The Parliament is the institution. I believe that we would lose something if we scrapped this building entirely, even though its historical roots only go back to 1927. It is still the building in which nearly all of the traditions of he Commonwealth of Australia as a Parliament have been made. Who . of us - certainly I do not - in Australia would think of the building in Melbourne, where until 1927 this Parliament met, as having any historical connection with the Commonwealth? The Commonwealth has become an entity. The Commonwealth in the last 30, 40 or SO years has come to mean something, and that meaning is attached to this building. I do not believe that we should lightly scrap it.

Secondly, and this is something which inclines me to prefer the amendment to the motion although I like neither of them, I believe that this is the best site in the whole of Canberra. It may be that it can be incorporated to some extent with the slope of Camp Hill behind, but this is not an opinion which I have held unreservedly. My opinion has perhaps changed in regard to it. But thinking it over this is, I think, the best site in Canberra. Elevation does not add dignity. The elevation of the hill takes away from scale and the building here on this site is occupying the strategic point in the whole of the concept. The view - as mentioned by an honourable member earlier in this debate - from the front steps, whether by day or night, is probably the best from any parliament house in the world. That view will not be improved by elevating on stilts or on a hill. The view itself is dependent to a large extent on the elevation being small.

I do not think we want to have too many pretensions about ourselves. An honourable member earlier in the debate - it was the Minister for Housing (Mr Les Johnson), if I remember rightly - spoke of how we need research space and how we need to have people around us. I believe that there is some modicum of truth in this. As I have said, I believe that the Library facilities could be expanded, and could be expanded within the confines of this building. However, I do not believe in the added efficiency of Parliament being derived from the multiplicity of parlimentary staffs. A member should be here because he has some merit, not because he can be a mouthpiece for what a staff feeds to him. Some research, yes, but there is no end to the multiplication of committees and research and very often all that happens is that initiative, proper thinking and logic are lost in the multitude of details. I think that members who have had experience of what has been happening around here in the last couple of years would know what I mean.

In my view the efficiency of parliamentary work has not been improved but has to some extent been impaired by the multiplication of committees, the divergence of interests and the lack of focus. We are doing less because, perhaps, each of us is trying to do too much and, because we are expanding our interests over many fields, we fail to put an effective light of research and logic onto the focussed fields which are necessary if there is to be any progress. Perhaps I can quote - or misquote - Shakespeare by saying that the fault lies not in our staffs, dear Speaker, but in ourselves that we are underlings. If there is any fault, it is not because we lack these grandiose facilities. It is because we ourselves either do not work effectively or dissipate our energies over too wide a field.

I think we all know the way in which an institution can bog itself down in committees and sub-committees and bury itself in its own activities so that nothing gets done because all its energies are consumed in its own internal affairs. Let the Parliament beware of developing along those lines. It seemed to me that in some of the speeches that have been made here today there was a grandiose concept that members will be much more efficient if they all have their research staffs to feed in infor mation to them. I think that in that multiplicity of counsel there may be in the end only confusion. Mr Deputy Speaker, this may seem to you to be irrelevant, but I think that it is germane to this whole concept. Do we really need this tremendous new parliament house at the present moment?

Mr Keogh - Yes.

Mr WENTWORTH - Yes, I think that most members feel like that. I do not. I believe that the dignity and prestige of Parliament does not necessarily require this kind of great edifice to give to it some kind of phoney authority. Surely there is in this place a real authority. Surely we should not entirely divorce ourselves from the historical connections, recent though they be. We are building them; do not let us cut off even the newest roots which we, as custodians of our parliamentary tradition, may require.

I prefer the amendment to the motion but I have no keenness for either because I believe that we are being carried away too much by our pretensions and we are losing the reality of the parliamentary authority which, whether we like it or not, is here in our hands. Our authority is real only if we believe it to be real. We have the real policy making power in this place. Let us believe in ourselves.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Order!The time allotted for precedence to General Business has expired. The honourable member for Mackellar will have leave to continue his speech when the debate is resumed. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day under General Business for the next sitting.

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