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Thursday, 24 October 1974
Page: 1985

Senator BUTTON (Victoria) -As honourable senators have indicated, this is a very important matter for this Parliament and the Senate and perhaps a more important matter for the future of the city of Canberra. I believe that it is important that this Senate arrive at a decision based on mature considerations of the practical problems involved in the siting of the new Parliament House, on aesthetic considerations and the visual well-being, if I may call it that, of the future residents of Canberra. There is a history associated with this legislation. There was a previous Senate vote and a recent House of Representatives vote which, I suggest to the Senate, was largely based on the view which the had earlier expressed on the proper site of a parliament house. The Senate is now called on to consider the matter again. I remind honourable senators that it is a different Senate from the Senate which considered the matter last time. It is a very different Senate and there are 1 5 new senators taking part in the vote on this matter. As one of the new senators I felt it my solemn duty to examine both sites which have been suggested for the new Parliament House. I refer to Capital Hill and Camp Hill. I have inspected those sites on 2 occasions, each at 7.30 in the morning, on the last 4 days.

Senator Baume -At 7.30?

Senator BUTTON -At 7.30 a.m., in my track suit, I am reminded by Senator Baume. I should indicate some observations which 1 have made in the course of what I regard as my duty as a senator, in the course of those excursions early in the morning. Capital Hill is a pleasant hill shaped like a nubile breast which has been nibbled at by male chauvinist pigs. I refer, of course, to the genus mankind, which has cut all sorts of horrible gouges out of the side of Capital Hill and destroyed its essential symmetry. It is part of the perennial conflict between man and nature that this sort of thing happens. I should say to the Australian Country Party senators that my observations reveal that at this time the whole of Capital Hill is covered with first class strawberry clover. I am sure that members of the Country Party will be interested in that. However, let me come to the fact of this issue and consider the preservation of Capital Hill as a hill.

Senator McLaren - Is there any bulldust up there?

Senator BUTTON -I do not know whether you have been there recently, Senator McLaren, but if you have that is possible. I have also visited Camp Hill, which is a pleasant undulating rise sloping gently down to the limpid waters of Lake Burley Griffin. I have made these observations about the 2 sites, essentially agricultural as they are, because I believe they are vitally relevant to the profound convictions which I hold in regard to this matter. I think we should ask ourselves what sort of building we want as a new parliament house, what it is supposed to symbolise and what it will do in a functional sense. All honourable senators must ask themselves those questions. Surely the answer in general terms is that we want a parliament house which expresses the aspirations of the Australian people but which is at the same time dignified and in harmony with its environment.

I want to turn now to an analysis of what might be called the colline theory of architecture. The word 'colline' is taken from the latin word collis' meaning 'a hill'. I use that adjective with a latin root because it is not only the colline theory of architecture but it is also a medieval theory of architecture. If one examines the history of architecture from Roman times onwards one finds that the main buildings that have been erected on hills have been castles and churches. Castles have been erected on hills in order basically to protect medieval barons from the people and churches have been erected on hills to make man aspire to the kingdom of Heaven. Indeed, in the last Senate vote which took place on this question last year there were 4 honourable senators at least present in this House who certainly aspired to the kingdom of Heaven with greater vigour than perhaps I do and who voted in favour of the Capital Hill site. One of those honourable senators, admittedly, finished up in Ireland. Perhaps on leaving here he did not attain the kingdom of Heaven but, as any Irishman would tell the Senate, he went very close.

These considerations should not deter honourable senators from changing their minds about the new site of the national Parliament. They should not deter honourable senators from a reconsideration of this matter because, as I said before, this as a new Senate. In erecting a new parliament house we should not use the criteria of medieval barons, of distinguishing ourselves and defending ourselves from the people, nor should be use the criteria of medieval churchmen. We must as honest Australian parliamentarians act with integrity and render under Caesar the things which are Caesar's and to God the things which are God 's. I am sure that there is no honourable senator who at this moment in this debate would be prepared to say that, having regard to the performance of this House in the last 3 months, we were anywhere near to erecting a kingdom of God when we created a new parliament.

I ask: What sort of parliament building do we want? Again the question arises: Do we want one which symbolises the aspirations of the people as they are 'on the level' of people or do we want one which symbolises the aspirations of politicians? Surely there is no quarrel with the proposition that one cannot make statesmen out of politicians by putting them in a castle or by putting them in a prominent parliament house which dominates the capital city of Australia rather than being sympathetic with it. I remind honourable senators of what happened to the residents of the tower of Babel and many other residents of edifices constructed upon hills in the way in which the symbolic view of Capital Hill is expressed.

Senator Baume - They did not drown in the floods, senator.

Senator BUTTON - That is true. There were others who did. Is the honourable senator suggesting the lake as a possible site for parliament house? I take it that, from what I have said, honourable senators may now begin to suspect that I am opposed to the Capital Hill site. When I talk about a house of parliament which expresses the aspirations of the Australian people I urge honourable senators not to go back to the medieval view of architecture- to the idea of a building which dominates a city rather than harmonises with it- but to go to a building which is in harmony with both the city in which it exists and with what I respectfully suggest are the true aspirations of the people of Australia.

One might ask, for example, what groups in our community identify with the suggestion of a parliament house erected on a site like Capital Hill. There are numerous groups in our community which might well identify with Camp Hill. Let me give some examples which spring readily to mind: The Outward Bound Movement, the Boy Scouts Association, the Returned Services League, the Association of Manufacturers of Canvas Goods, the Girl Guides, Gay Liberation and the Aboriginal Advancement League. Those 7 groups immediately appear to me to have some logical identification with a site such as Camp Hill. I turn to some practical considerations with which all honourable senators should be concerned. It is quite clear that if a new parliament is to be erected on Capital Hill the construction will be a long and very difficult process. The site of Capital Hill is, by all architectural considerations and by all planning considerations, a very difficult site on which to erect a building. It is a site which is restricted by the very structure of the hill itself, by the roadworks which surround it and so on.

Senator Sir Magnus Cormack - What do you think the roadworks were put there for? They were put there to stop parliament house being built on Capital Hill.

Senator BUTTON - I have received considerable advice from my colleagues as to why roads were built around Capital Hill. I appreciate all that advice but the fact is that those roads are there and any architects or planners who have considered the Capital Hill site have all come to the unanimous conclusion that it is a difficult site upon which to erect a building of this kind. If one looks at the other side of the problem one realises that it is a pleasant hill. I put to honourable senators that there is something to be said for a pleasant hill uncontaminated, as it were, by the works of man.

Senator Sir Magnus Cormack - That is not the plan they have for it. They are going to put all sorts of things on top of it.

Senator BUTTON - I would certainly support any Bill which Senator Sir Magnus Cormack introduced into this House to stop anything being erected on the site of Capital Hill because I think that, as it relates to the other hills in the city of Canberra, it is much better as a natural object without any human edifice on it at all. The great practical advantage of Camp Hill as against Capital Hill is that a building could be erected on that site relatively quickly. It is a site which relates in physical building terms to the present parliament building. For example, there is no reason why a building should not be built on the Camp Hill site in stages. Certain facilities now provided in the present parliament building could be transferred to the Camp Hill site as the building progressed. A building or buildings could be erected there which related directly to the present parliament building. As the process of building went on the transfer could be made, in a very practical way, from the present Parliament House to the new building. Honourable senators are fully aware of the very grave disabilities we suffer in terms of accommodation. We suffer difficulties in terms of all sorts of physical facilities which just are not properly provided in the present building.

We, as the 1970 decade members of the Senate, have no prospect of ever occupying a building which would be erected on Capital Hill. In saying that I am not predicting any dire election results in the foreseeable future; I am talking about this in terms of man's longevity. Very few people in this building could ever expect to take part in any deliberations in a parliament building erected on Capital Hill. We should realise as a matter of practical consideration that this present building is a temporary structure. It was erected as a temporary structure. If it is to remain as a permanent structure, it will be a continual source of expenditure as long as it remains here. That cause of expenditure will remain even while a Capital Hill building is being erected. So 1 put it, as a very practical matter, that the Camp Hill site should commend itself to members of the Senate for the very reasons which I have expressed, namely, that it can be the site for a building which is related physically to this building and with which there can be a natural human ebb and flow.

But, talking in the Senate, I would not raise practical matters as the prime consideration. More importantly, we surely should consider the aesthetic considerations which go with both sites which have been suggested. I have made some comments about the theory of architecture which sees it as desirable for buildings to be erected on a hill in some sort of symbolic gesture, as some sort of suggestion of superiority instead of a suggestion of sympathy with other buildings. The great and overwhelming aesthetic and practical disadvantage of the Capital Hill site is simply this: Since this matter was first debated Lake Burley Griffin has been filled. It is now an important feature of the landscape of Canberra. The building in which we are now situated and any building erected on Camp Hill have a natural relationship with Lake Burley Griffin. Any honourable senator who has walked out the front door of this building on a fine, sunny day such as today knows that he can walk with comfort down to the Lake which, as I say, has a natural relationship with this building. This building is erected on a gentle slope which slopes down to the shores of the Lake, there is a very natural relationship between Camp Hill and Lake Burley Griffin.

There is also a relationship between this site, Camp Hill and the other buildings which are either erected or in the course of erection in what is known as the Parliamentary Triangle. There is now a relationship not only of distance but also of scale between this building and the National Library. Parliament House is slightly elevated above the National Library. There is a relationship of scale with the site of the proposed High Court building as the Parliament building is slightly elevated above that site. I put it to the honourable senators that it is very natural that buildings should have a balance, one with the other, and that there should not be an overwhelming emphasis on one building above every other building in the tiers of Government which are represented in the capital city of Australia. Of course, significantly, Camp Hill was the site suggested for the national parliament building by the great architect after whom Lake Burley Griffin is named. In making that suggestion in the early days Griffin drew attention to some of the considerations which I have raised in the Senate tonight. He had plans- which, I put it to the Senate, were really plans of the 1920s- for the erection of some great public building on Capital Hill. But one does not have to adopt Griffin's view of what should be done with Capital Hill if the parliament building remains in this area. As I put to the Senate before, obviously Capital Hill should be left as a hill, relating as it does to the other hills of Canberra. What I am putting on the aesthetic matter and on the scale of buildings is really, by analogy, important for honourable senators opposite who espouse a theory of federalism. What I am putting is that the parliament building should relate to the High Court building and to the other government buildings in a proper way and not in a way which symbolises perhaps the aspirations of Mussolini rather than the aspirations of Gough Whitlam or Bill Snedden.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What about John Button?

Senator BUTTON -Or Senator JamesMcClelland.

Senator Sir MAGNUS CORMACK (VICTORIA) - What about the aspirations of Sir Robert Gordon Menzies?

Senator BUTTON -I do not want to enter into a debate with Senator Sir Magnus Cormack about the aspirations of Sir Robert Gordon Menzies.

Sir Magnus Cormack - He wanted it down at the lakeside.

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