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Tuesday, 12 December 1911

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - Senator St. Ledger appeared to derive considerable amusement from the fact that the Government propose to secure a freehold under this motion.

Senator St Ledger - To get a freehold, and to ask for one, too.

Senator GARDINER - I have never had two opinions as to the advantage of a freehold to the investor, because, with the freehold, he secures any future increase of value. 1 am glad that, in this matter, the Government are proposing to do what any shrewd investor would do by securing a freehold, so that the people of Australia may benefit by any increase in its value in the future. That is a sound business proposition, and it is ridiculous upon such a proposal to twit honorable senators on this because of our desire to prevent private individuals securing freeholds. I think that it is the duty of the Government to prevent private speculators securing the unearned increment by investments in land and property. I do not know whether Senator St. Ledger can distinguish the difference in the two cases, but I certainly can very clearly. The honorable senator gave us to understand that he would be prepared to support a much larger expenditure than is here proposed if the Government, at the same time, decided to expend money largely in advertising Australia. I hold the opinion that at the present time Australia requires very little advertising in the Old Country. From one end of Great. Britain to the other the feeling prevails that it would be a wise thing for the people to come to a country governed by a Labour Government.

Senator Millen - Is that the reason so many are coming to Victoria?

Senator GARDINER - I am truly stating what I believe to be the feeling in the Old Country. If the present Government live up to the expectations of Labour enthusiasts, we need spend no further money in wasteful advertisement of Australia. The Government have the matter in their own hands, if they wish to secure the pick of the people leaving Great Britain. _ The chief obstacle in the way of immigration at the present moment is to be found in the wealthy capitalists and employers of Great Britain itself. I remember that on one occasion, when an Australian representative was replying very ably to the toast of the Commonwealth, he pointed out what excellent opportunities there were in Australia for men of brains, energy, and possessing a little capital. The chairman of the meeting, the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, replied most effectively by saying that there were just as many openings in Great Britain for the same class of people, and that that was where they were required. I am glad to find that the Government propose to invest Australian money safely in the purchase of this huge block of land ; but I question whether the money might not be put to better use in establishing depots in which Australian produce might be sold as such. I believe that something might be done to prevent Australian produce being; robbed, as it now is, in Great Britain of the reputation to which it is entitled. Whether it be beef, mutton, fruit, or butter, Australian produce is at the present timepurchased by men who distribute it under the names which enable them to reap themost profit from it. What are we to do when we have spent this money, in orderto house the High Commissioner in a way worthy of Australia? I think that we areall agreed that that should be done.

Senator Millen - Is it contemplated tohouse him in this building, or merely his. officers ?

Senator GARDINER - I am speaking; in a public sense, and the reference is tc« the accommodation for the High Commissioner's office. We have to consider whether the State Governments will agree that their Agents-General should occupy portions of the proposed building. If they donot agree to do so, the Government are proposing here to acquire a larger site than is necessary. In my opinion, the Trafalgar Square site would be infinitely superior tothe large site near the Strand, if we were considering merely the accommodation required for the High Commissioner's office.! If it be said that the Trafalgar Square site is not sufficiently large, the answer is, that there will be plenty of room on top, and we could easily erect a building on that sitewhich would be ample for offices for the High Commissioner.

Senator Vardon - The height of buildings is restricted in London. We could not do the same there as is done in America.

Senator GARDINER - We could find ample room for Commonwealth offices on the Trafalgar Square site without reaching the limit of height prescribed. I consider that there is no comparison between the advantages of the two positions, that the Trafalgar Square site is infinitely superior asa site for Commonwealth purposes.

Senator Millen - That site was turned down before, and if the honorable senator had heard the discussion upon it, he would probably have voted against it also.

Senator GARDINER - That may be so ; but I am honestly giving my opinion of the relative merits of the two sites. It will not be denied that there is ample and unoccupied room on the site proposed to be acquired under this motion. That should speak for itself as to the value of the site from a business point of view. Why, if it is such a great site as it is made out to be, has it been permitted to He unoccupied until the Commonwealth came along as a purchaser? lt has remained unoccupied for years, and would probably remain unoccupied for a long time yet, if the Commonwealth did not take it off the hands of the London County Council. There is not only ample room on the site proposed to be acquired, but a larger block might be taken up at the same place, if that were desired. I do not recommend that, because I do not wish the Government to enter into the business of land speculators in London, even though it should be for the purpose of housing the State Agents-General. I am not sure that, in view of the existing jealousy and rivalry between the States, their officers could all be comfortably housed in the same office. It should be borne in mind, also, that, if they were housed in the same office, it might occur to the Governments of the different States that their business could be managed by the High Commissioner. We cannot look forward with any degree of certainty to the State Governments consenting to occupy portions of the proposed building. I have seen the designs of the building, and I think the Government would do well to reconsider them. If a Commonwealth building is to be erected on this site, I think it should of itself be such as to attract attention. The present designs make provision for comfortable and substantial offices, but for nothing out of the way. If we are to spend .£500,000 in acquiring the freehold of this site, we might spend more than is proposed upon the erection of the building, because the best way in which to secure a good return from a costly investment in freehold land is to utilize it to- the utmost. I have already said that I, personally, consider the Trafalgar Square site infinitely superior to the Strand site for Commonwealth offices.- I have said that the fact lhat the Strand site is not fully occupied speaks for itself as to its value as a good situation from a business point of view, and I have also said that we might, perhaps, with greater advantage, spend double this amount of money in establishing depots for the sale of Australian produce. In this respect, I am disposed to agree with Senator St. Ledger, that, in this proposal, the Government are commencing at the wrong end. I believe that in order to make the possibilities of Australia better known, it will be the duty of the Government to have placed upon the British market its produce, and the only way to achieve that object honestly will be by doing the work themselves.

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