10th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. J. Newlands) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate is it a fact -
Federal Parliament were practically ignored; and will he see that this elected representatives of the Australian people get fair recognition during the forthcoming. Royal visit!
– It is not the practice of the Government to answer questions relating to the business of the Cabinet, or its sub-committees ; and, therefore, that portion of the honorable member’s question will not be answered. If he will place the other questions on the noticepaper, I shall obtain the desired information.
– Is the Leader of the Government in a position to reply to the question which I asked on the 8th July, relating to the number of boards, commissions, &c., which have been appointed by the Government?
– I made inquiries, and ascertained that the necessary information was not quite complete. I expect to have it to-morrow.
– Has the Minister yet received an answer to the question I recently submitted regarding the construction of single line tunnels on the Kyogle to South Brisbane railway?
– The information is not yet available.
The following papers were presented : -
Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 82.
Customs Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 88.
Meteorological Bureau- Report of Commonwealth Meteorologist for year 1924-25.
New Guinea - Ordinances of 1926 -
No. 14. - Public Service.
No. 16. - Police Offences.
No. 16. - District Courts.
No. 17.- Public Service (No. 2).
Ports of North and North-Western Australia -Report, dated 30th April, 1926, by Sir George Buchanan, K.C.I.E.
Public Service Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 95.
– I move -
That in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-1921, leave be granted to that committee to meet whilst the Senate is sitting in connexion with the investigation and report on the proposed work of the erection of houses at Canberra.
As honorable senators are probably aware the opinion of the Crown law authorities is to the effect that the contract entered into by the Federal Capital Commission for the construction of a number of houses at Canberra should be inquired into by the Public Works Committee, as is the case in connexion with all works, the estimated cost of which exceeds £25,000. It is, therefore, considered necessary to permit the committee to meet while the Senate is sitting, to enable the inquiry to be speedily completed, and the construction of the houses expedited.
– The Senate should not agree to the motion submitted by the Minister for Home and Territories (Senator Glasgow) without giving the matter careful consideration. When the Seat of Government Administration Bill was before this Chamber, a few days ago, honorable senators on this side ;of the Chamber directed attention to the fact that the Federal Capital Commission had let a contract for the construction of certain houses at Canberra before the proposed work had been investigated by the Public Works Committee, but our protests in that regard were ridiculed. We said that if the action of the commission was not a violation, it was certainly an evasion of the Public Works Committee Act. I understand that the Crown law authorities have now advised the Government that this work should be inquired into by the Public Works Committee. Whilst I recognize that the proposed work should have been investigated by the committee before any action was taken by the Federal Capital Commission, I do not know whether the Senate should permit the committee to meet while the Senate is sitting. On the last occasion when a similar motion was submitted to this Parliament, the matter was urgent, but I do not think that can be said in this in stance. If we- agree to the motion we shall be establishing a very bad precedent. The Public Works Committee and the Public Accounts Committee can sit on days when Parliament meets, but not while either House is actually sitting. The Minister should have stated why there is any urgency.
– The honorable senator is aware that Parliament is to meet at Canberra on the 9th May of next year.
– Yes, and I am also aware that the Public Works Committee will have approximately ten months in which to complete its investigation and submit a report. At present the committee is sitting frequently, and if the session ends as is anticipated early next month, there will then be. at least nine months in which it can carry out its investigations. Possibly the Minister may say that the committee’s report will have to be submitted to Parliament before we adjourn, but if that is the case, we should have been so informed. Unless the work is very urgent, the procedure suggested in this instance is dangerous.
.- I cannot see that there is any danger in the Senate agreeing to the motion submitted by the Minister for Home and Territories (Senator Glasgow). The Public Works Committee has been requested to inquire into the construction of homes at Canberra, and I understand it is the desire of the Government that the report of the committee shall be presented to Parliament before the adjournment. Members of the committee intend to visit Adelaide this week-end to investigate and take evidence concerning the housing schemes -in that city. They may not be able to return to Melbourne on Tuesday, and’ as the House of Representatives meets on that day, members of that chamber will be seriously inconvenienced if they have to return earlier. It is desirable that an extra day should be available for the inquiry. The adoption of the motion will not affect, members of the Senate, because this chamber does not meet until Wednesday. The committee hopes to be able to present an interim report before Parliament adjourns. The object of the motion is to facilitate public business.
Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW (Queensland - Minister for Home and
Territories) [3.22]. -As the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) is aware, the legality of the action of the Federal Capital Commission in calling tenders for the erection of cottages at Canberra was challenged in the debate on the Seat of Government Administration Bill. It was urged then that this work should have been referred to the Public Works Committee for investigation and report, and it was stated that the matter had been referred to the Crown law authorities for opinion. This opinion, which has since been received, confirms the view of those who contended that the subject should first have been referred to the Public Works Committee. That has now been done. The matter is urgent, because Parliament will meet at Canberra on the 9th May next, and it is essential that there should be no delay in the construction of the hundreds of houses that will be required for public servants to be transferred. The urgency is so obvious that I did not think it was necessary to mention it. The Government is anxious to push on with the work as rapidly as possible.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 16th July (vide page 4283), on motion by Senator Pearce -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The object of this bill is to provide pensions for justices of the High Court on their retirement. It will be opposed by honorable senators on this side of the chamber. We took a similar objection to the bill for the amendment of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which was before the Senate a week or two ago. That measure provided for the reconstitution of the court, and also for the payment of pensions to judges after a certain period of service. It must not be assumed, however, that the party to which I belong is opposed to the principle of pensions. The
Labour party was responsible for the passing of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. We should like to see the payment of pensions universally adopted so that every citizen in Australia, irrespective of his or her financial position, would, on reaching a certain age be entitled to a pension. Every citizen contributes in one way or another to the development of the Commonwealth. We realize, however, that it is not yet possible to put that principle into operation. The pension of £1 a week, payable to our aged poor, is not enough, especially as the great majority of those who qualify for pensions are men and women who, during their lifetime were on the bread line and,, therefore, could not make anything likeadequate provision for the eventide of life. But the pension does enable them to obtain some little of the comforts of civilization. A great deal of water has run under the bridge since 1908, when that act was passed, and although Australian workers are receiving higher wages today than they were at that time, still it is impossible for those in receipt of the basic wage adequately to provide for the evening of their days. It must be admitted that when a man who is on the basic wage pays for the rearing, the clothing, and the education of his family, and his weekly rent to the landlord, he. has very little left with which to make provision for the day when he is no longer able to work.
– He is then thrown on the industrial scrap-heap.
– As Senator Graham has so aptly interjected, it frequently happens that before he reaches the age at which he is entitled to claim a pension, he is told by his employer “You are too old to work; you must go.’’ We, on this side, regard the invalid and old-age pensions not as charity, but as a right. I have frequently given that advice to persons who have sought my aid in their application for a pension. This bill now proposes that a pension shall be given to gentlemen who, for many years, have been in receipt of a fairly munificent salary. I ask the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) if the poor man in this country has not the same rights as aro possessed by the rich man? We have been told that he has; but when it comes to a practical demonstration of the assertion, the two are treated very differently. I remember the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) on one occasion saying that this Government was a friend of the workers. During the period that it has held office, I have not seen in any of its acts a particular friendship for the workers of Australia.
– Did not this Government increase the old-age “pension?
– Admitting that it did, under pressure, it was a belated increase.
– The Labour Government granted an increase of only 2s. 6d. when it was in office.
– It is ten years since the Labour party was in power. Had it occupied the Treasury bench during the last ten years, pensioners would now be receiving more than £1 a week.
– It would have been up against the money problem.
– Whenever war breaks out money can be found to spill human blood; but when we ask for money to assist those who have helped to build up Australia, we are always told that there is a scarcity of it.
– The honorable senator must admit that the Labour Governments that are in power in the States have found that they cannot do all that they promised they would do.
– I remind my young and enthusiastic friend, Senator Chapman, that the Labour party in the Federal and State arenas has always fulfilled its promises. Honorable senators like Senator Chapman become very much afraid when a Labour Government seeks to fulfil its pledges and put its policy into operation. With all due deference to the members of the High Court, I regard them as Commonwealth public servants. They arc just as much the servants of the Commonwealth as is any other public servant. “ They are paid a salary for the work which they do. I do not say that that salary is sufficient. But other members of the Commonwealth public service are compelled to contribute to a superannuation fund so that they may be entitled to a pension after their retirement from the service. Why should not the justices of the High Court contribute out of their salary a certain amount towards a superannuation fund so that something may be set aside for them when they retire? The pension of the ordinary public servant is a very meagre one compared with the amount that he contributes to the fund. There is another phase of this question. Members of the High Court Bench have a security of tenure which is not possessed by any other employee in the Commonwealth or State public services, or in private employment. They hold their positions for life. I do not quibble at that. The gentlemen who occupy such an exalted position should have that security of tenure, sothat they shall be placed beyond’ suspicion of lack of integrity. There are men and women in Australia who are rearing families of varying numbers on a wage of £4 or £5 a week. They have no security of tenure. They may be employed for 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 months in the year, and be idle for the remainder of the year. When they reach the age of 65 years they are not only liable to be thrown on the industrial scrap-heap, but are also forced to subsist on a pension of £1 a week. The Chief Justice of the High Court receives a salary of £3,500 per annum, and the other justices £3,000 per annum. Those salaries work out at approximately £60 or £70 a week. Surely those gentlemen cannot be said to be engaged in a struggle for existence? No one can say that they are on the bread line, or that they have not a chance of making provision for the time when they voluntarily retire from the honorable, arduous and exacting duties that they perform. The Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), speaking in another place on a different bill said, in effect, that those whom the Commonwealth appointed to those high and responsible positions must be safeguarded from financial worry and anxiety by having large tensions provided for them. I think that Senator Pearce endorsed that statement in this Chamber. Men who are called upon to fill those positions ought not to be spoken of in that way. It. would seem as if justices of the High Court before accepting positions had to be assured that they would have large pensions on their retirement. I do not for one moment underestimate the work of the gentlemen who have for so long held the position of justices of the High Court of Australia. I know the importance of their work, and the honour and integrity of each man who occupies or has occupied a position on the bench. Furthermore, I feel confident that no one will be appointed to that bench unless he is a man of honour, ability, and integrity. It does not require a man of legal training to realize the importance of the work done by the justices of the High Court. They are the interpreters of our Constitution ; they have to decide matters of vital importance to Australia, and they should always be,’ as I know they always will be, above suspicion and beyond reproach. But I see no equity in a proposal to pay them on their retirement the pensions provided for in this bill - half the salary they are receiving during their occupancy of the bench. I have already said that if we had a statute providing for a scheme of universal pensions, under which all citizens would get a pension at a certain age, I should not have raised my voice in opposition to the bill. As a Parliament it is our duty to look after every part of the governmental machine of this country, but there are small but essential cogs in that machine which are not receiving the attention devoted to other and more prominent parts of it. Men in humble positions should be looked after just as well as men occupying higher and more prominent positions, but it strikes me that this Government is looking after the latter, and entirely ignoring the former. According to the bill the justices of the High Court will retire at the age of 70 years.
– The honorable senator is rather impetuous. I was about to say that if they do not retire at the age of 70 years their pension will diminish by 10 per cent. each year, so that a justice who retires at the age of 80 will have no pension at all. I want to direct the attention of the Senate, and particularly that of my learned friends Senator McLachlan and Senator Barwell, to the question of whether or not that provision which was inserted in the bill in another place does not violate the Constitution.
– I am inclined to think that it does.
– It certainly is a device for circumventing the Constitution.
– I have already indicated my opposition to the payment of pensions to the justices of the High Court, and I want now to ask the Senate to consider whether it is right to insert in the bill a provision stipulating that the pension of a justice of the High Court who remains on the bench after reaching the age of 70 years will diminish so much each year until, at the age of 80 years, it disappears altogether. The High Court is notcreated merely by a Commonwealth statute; it is part of the Constitution itself. This Parliament cannot amend the Constitution. It can merely pass a bill for an amendment of the Constitution, but before that bill becomes law it must receive the approval of the people at a referendum, and until that approval is given no alteration of the Constitution can be effected. As a humble layman I submit that the provision in this bill to which I have referred is, if not a violation of the Constitution, at least an evasion of it.
– It is not a direct violation of the Constitution, but it is an evasion of it.
– I heard the honorable senator say just now that it was a circumvention of the Constitution, and I suppose that a circumvention may be described as an evasion. The provisions of the Constitution dealing with the appointment of a High Court and the life tenure of the justices of the High Court are as follow : -
The justices of the High Court and of the other courts created by the Parliament -
Thus it will be seen that the Constitution itself gives life tenure to a justice of the High Court. When this bill was origi- nally introduced in another place the pension was to be payable irrespective of the age of retirement. However, an amendment was moved, and accepted by the Attorney-General, providing that a justice who retires at 70 years of age shall be entitled to the full pension, but that for every year that he remains on the bench after reaching 70 years of age the pension shall diminish by one- tenth. If that means anything at all, it means a direction from this Parliament that justices of the High Court must retire at 70 years of age.
– There is no compulsion about it. The bill does not say that the justices of the High Court must retire at 70 years of age, but it holds out an inducement to them to do so.
– A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse. Were Senator Barwell a member of the High Court bench he would, on attaining the venerable age of 70 years, retire rather than remain in office and see his pension diminish. Like Johnny Walker, he might still be “ going strong “ at 80 years of age; but if he continued to hold office till then, he might, after having received a salary of £3,500 per annum for, say, 20 years, be found applying for the old-age pension. There is another aspect of this question. A few days ago we passed a bill to amend the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. That bill provided that judges of the Arbitration Court, after not less than fifteen years’ service, shall be entitled to a pension. We are placing the personnel of a subordinate -court in a better position, so far as pensions are concerned, than that of the justices of the High Court.
– That is an entirely wrong principle.
– One of the gentlemen who will constitute the Arbitration bench is now 62 years of age. Should he hold office for fifteen years, he will then have attained the age of 77 years, and be entitled to retire on a full pension. I hope that the judges of the Arbitration Court will, for many years, continue to enjoy good health and to retain all their faculties; but it is wrong to legislate for them to hold office until they have reached the age of 77 years, and thento retire without their pension rights being affected, while justices of the High Court, to whom is entrusted very responsible work, including the in terpretation of the Constitution, must retire at 70 years of age if they are to enjoy a full pension on retirement. To that aspect of the question I trust that the Leader of the Government, as well as Senators Barwell and McLachlan, will direct their attention. I speak as a layman; but I consider’ such legislation to be ultra vires. I shall vote against the second reading. Should the bill reach the committee stage, I hope that it will there be moulded on right lines.
Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL (South Australia) [3.56]. - For reasons which will appear later, I do not intend to traverse the whole of the ground covered by Senator Needham. Every one will agree that it is important that the standard of the High Court bench should be kept as high as possible, and that whatever steps are necessary to attain that end ought to be taken. That necessarily involves a consideration of the emoluments of the office of justice of the High Court. Those emoluments should be commensurate with the duties and responsibilities of the office. Moreover, it should be sufficient to attract to the High Court bench the best talent that we have at the Australian bar. The salaries now paid to the justices of the High Court are inadequate, a statement with which I think Senator Needham will agree. Talented men may be willing to accept appointment to the High Court bench at the salaries now paid; but they will not do so because the salary attracts them. Every leader of the bar in Australia is receiving an income which is considerably in excess of the salary paid to the Chief Justice of the High Court. We can not be certain that leaders of the bar will always be prepared to make the sacrifice which would necessarily be associated with their appointment to the High Court bench. The position of a justice of the High Court is certainly a high and honorable one; but in accepting it a leader of the Australian bar must be prepared to sacrifice more than income. A member of the High Court bench is, to a certain extent, cut off from his fellow men; he leads a life apart. Moreover, the duties of the office are onerous, and involve a great deal of travelling in all parts of Australia. The salaries now paid to the members of the High Court bench are inadequate ; but I realize that that is not the question before us. If we were asked to agree to a reasonable increase of their remuneration I should favour the proposal. But this bill does not propose that; it deals with pensions to justices of the High Court on their retirement. Senator Needham said that the Labour party is not opposed on principle to the payment of pensions, but he endeavoured to compare the position of a justice of the High Court with that of a man on the bread line. It is true that the former is not in that position, but these pensions are not given because he may be on the bread line. If we are to get for the High Court bench the highest talent in Australia, we must make the positions sufficiently attractive. We must either increase the salaries attaching to the positions or give some other inducement to attract the leaders of the bar. This bill holds out the inducement of pensions. While pensions are certainly a great attraction, to be effective they must be adequate. The pension payable to a justice of the High Court should be sufficient to enable him to retire on attaining an age at which he cannot give that full service which his office demands of him. We cannot determine what that age should be. Some men may be in full possession of their faculties at 70 or 75 years of age. In rare cases men may do efficient work on the bench at 80 years of age. ‘However, the Constitution provides that justices of the High Court shall hold office for life. When the present occupants of the High Court bench accepted appointment there was virtually a bargain to that effect. I agree with Senator Needham that the object of diminishing or vanishing pensions is to induce the occupants of the High Court bench to retire when they attain the age of 70 years. The clause is a trick to circumvent the provisions of the Constitution ; it is objectionable from every point of view. Any attempt to alter their life tenure of office, either directly or indirectly, is equivalent to a repudiation of the contract entered into with them when they were appointed. It is a mean and paltry trick, altogether unworthy of this Parliament. The clause even applies to the present occupants of the High Court bench, with whom a contract providing for life tenure of office has been entered into. Another aspect of this question which was not referred to by Senator Needham, and which appears to have escaped the attention of those responsible for the inclusion of this provision when the bill was before another place, is that this clause will fail to accomplish the purpose for which it has been inserted. I go further, and say that it is likely to have an entirely opposite effect to that intended. Let us consider the position of a member of the High Court Bench who has attained the age of 70 years. He may be physically and mentally fit and able to carry out his duties efficiently. Under the provision relating to diminishing pensions he would probably say, “ I am physically and mentally fit, and there is no reason why I should retire. At any rate if I can carry on for another five years I shall draw in salary during that period ae much as I would receive in the form of a pension if I retired and lived to 80.” He may decide to continue, but when he reaches the age of 75, he may consider that his mental faculties are not what they were, and that he should retire. In such circumstances his pension would be only one-fourth of what his salary would be if he continued, and he would probably say, “ although I recognize that I should retire, I shall carry on until I die.” In these circumstances the object which the originator of this diminishing provision had in view will be defeated. So far as I know there is no precedent within the Empire, and perhaps not in the world, for such a provision. Supposing the clause accomplished the object which the originator had in view, a judge who retired at 70 years might - possibly be mentally and physically fit to efficiently perform his duties. Some judges at 70, by reason of their dignity, long experience, and mental alertness, are better fitted for the position they occupy than are many leaders at the bar who to-day may be twenty years younger. If a justice of the High Court at the age of 70 years, who is in every way fitted to carry out his duties, retired as the result of such a provision as this, it would be most unfair. In the first place, the Commonwealth would lose the services of an experienced person in every way fitted for the important position he was occupying, and also £1,500 a year, because another judge would have to be appointed at £3,000 a year, and the justice himself would lose £1,500 a year. This unjust provision is inconsistent with the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act recently passed by this chamber in which provision is made for the payment of certain pensions to judges of the Arbitration Court. One of the judges just appointed to the Arbitration Court, as mentioned in the press, is now 62 years of age. On the completion of fifteen years of service that gentleman will be entitled at 77 to draw a pension equivalent to 50 per cent, of his salary for the remainder of his life.’ The ages of the two other judges appointed to the Arbitration Court bench are, I believe, 57 years and 58 years respectively, so that one will qualify for a pension at 72 and the other at 73, and in each case they will be entitled to pensions equivalent to 50 per cent, of their total salary. The provision in this bill is not only inconsistent with the amending Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, as the Leader of the Opposition suggested, but is derogatory of the High Court, as the position of a judge of the Arbitration Court will be more attractive to members of the bar than a judgeship of the High Court. I understand that any proposed alteration of the measure can be made only by submitting a request to the other House-
– Amendments^ nan be moved in this Chamber.
– I do not think so, as the effect of the request which I intend to submit would be to increase the amount which will be payable out of the Consolidated Revenue.
– It would increase a proposed charge or burden on the people.
– But we must adhere to our intention.
– Yes, but I am merely mentioning the proper procedure. If ,a request such as I. have mentioned is not agreed to in another place, I shall feel inclined to oppose the passage of the bill, as I consider it a disgrace to Parliament to pass the measure in this form. With these reservations, I intend to support the second reading of the bill with the intention of submitting certain requests when the measure is in committee.
– I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) upon the tone of his speech. I wish to deal briefly with the ques tion of judicial pensions, and to endeavour to distinguish them from those to ‘which the honorable senator has referred. Great Britain and the dominions have reason to be proud of their judicial system, which is the envy of other countries. The parliaments and the people have at all times supported its absolute independence. The judiciary has always been on a separate plane, but it became the fashion a few years ago to endeavour to ignore, in the matter of pensions, the distinction between the judiciary and the ordinary individual - a policy I have always regarded as unsound. Parliament has decided that the judiciary should be removed from the ordinary sphere of activity to the higher plane which I hope it will always occupy. The members of the judiciary are unable to augment their incomes outside their profession as do the members of the bar. On that ground alone the system of judicial pensions stands on an entirely different basis from that of any other pensions system. I approve of what the Leader of the Opposition said concerning the desirability of pensions being provided on a contributory basis, but that system has never been suggested in the case of judges who, because of the exalted positions they occupy in every British community, are on a higher plane. Apart altogether from the cogent reasons submitted by the Leader of the Opposition and Senator Barwell for the exclusion of the limitation of 70 years, there is another very important reason why we should not lay down any hard and fast rule in determining the age at which a judge should retire. The history of the British and Australian judiciaries shows that some of the finest judgments evergiven were those of justices of 70 years of age or over. Some of the finest judgments and clearest possible expositions of the law were delivered by Lord Halsbury after he had attained that age. He retained his mental and physical faculties in an inordinate way for a long time, and there are many other striking instances which could also be quoted. In discussing this subject it is difficult for one, particularly a member of the profession, to mention specific cases, but I think it will be admitted that, frequently judges have retained a wonderful grasp of the law which they have interpreted in a most illuminating way after reaching the allotted span of three score years and ten. On the other hand, I could cite cases where judges have remained on the bench after their periods of usefulness have passed owing largely to the fact that no provision has been made for the payment of pensions on their retirement. In these circumstances the bill as originally introduced in another place was preferable to the form in which it is now before the Senate.
– Can the honorable senator recall many instances where judges have remained in office in the circumstances he mentions?
– I know of one or two such cases. The position will not be remedied by the provision inserted in another place. The bill, as originally introduced, is more desirable from the viewpoint of the Commonwealth than as presented for the acceptance of the Senate. Whilst I think that the honorable gentleman who submitted the amendments referred to had no unworthy motive, and repudiates altogether the suggestion that any violation of the Constitution was intended, nevertheless, the result is the same. His. purpose was to ensure the retirement of justices of the High Court willy-nilly, when they reached the age of 70 years. As Senator Needham has pointed out, that cannot be done under the Constitution, and obviously if the provision is retained, the constitutionality of the bill may be challenged. It seems to me desirable that we should, if possible, get back to the position that existed when the bill was introduced in another place, and, with this object in view, when the bill reaches the committee stage, I shall move certain requests, which I hope honorable senators will agree to and stand by, to restore the measure to its original form. My proposal is to delete the words, “ subject to the next following subsection”, in proposed new sub-section 48
Al; to delete proposed new sub-section 2, and the words “ before reaching the age of 70 years” in proposed new subsection 3.
– I take it that the honorable senators wishes to eliminate those provisions which, if retained, ‘would defeat the real object of the bill?
– That is so. They were inserted as amendments in another place to ensure the earlier re tirement of justices of the High Court without regard to their ability to continue on the Bench, and apparently 70 years was fixed upon as the age at which justices should retire. But, as has been shown, those provisions violate the spirit of the Constitution, and are selfdestructive, because, if a justice remained on the Bench until he reached the age of 75 years, he would receive a pension of only £750 a year instead of £1,500 a year, to which he would be entitled if he retired at 70 years. I trust that the suggested amendments which I have indicated will be accepted by the Leader of the Opposition and other members of the committee.
– I am opposed to the bill in toto.
– I can understand the reason for the honorable senator’s attitude; it is political rather than mental, if I may say so. I am confident, however, that the bill trill pass its second reading, and therefore I hope that the honorable senator will support my requests.
– Since the Government has a substantial majority in both this Chamber and another place, the passage of any measure that it elects to submit appears to be a foregone conclusion, regardless of arguments that may be advanced against it by honorable senators on this side. It is quite true, as has been stated, that according to the provisions of section 71 of the Constitution, justices of the High Court are appointed for life, but section 72 contains provision for their removal if Parliament so desires. Justices of the High Court knew very well, when they accepted the appointments offered, that they would not receive a pension upon retirement. It is true that a departure was made in the case of the late Chief Justice, and of late years there seems to be a fixed determination to pass measures to provide very substantial pensions for members of the judiciary.
– Is the honorable senator opposed to pensions to senators?
– Senator Greene seems to be developing sound common sense. There would be something to commend a proposal to provide members of Parliament with a pension after serving, say, three years. If Senator Greene had the courage to introduce such a proposal it would receive almost unanimous approval of members, if not the approval of the electors. I fail to see why members of the judiciary cannot invest their hard-earned salaries just the same as other people do in recognized public companies, or become bondholders in any of the numerous loans that have been floated by the Commonwealth and the States. I have no doubt that many of them do this. If a company in which they are interested became involved in litigation, justices of the High Court would, I am sure, deem . it desirable not to adjudicate. Even if they did, I have sufficient confidence in their integrity to believe that in any circumstances they would do what they believe to be the right thing. Why should they be singled out for pensions on such a generous scale as is contemplated ? We all have complete confidence in the Commonwealth and State Judiciaries, but it is not many years since the Queensland Government deemed it necessary to instruct the late Mr. T. J. Ryan to conduct several appeals against Supreme Court judgments before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. As a result, six or seven decisions of the Supreme Court of Queensland were set aside, and there is every reason to believe that if a number of other decisions were submitted to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council a tribunal for which I have the highest respect, they also would be upset. Since members of the judiciary are at liberty to invest their savings, I fail to understand why they should be provided with pensions. Notwithstanding the increase in the cost of living, due in my opinion to our policy of protection, it cannot by any stretch of imagination be urged that our judges are anywhere near the bread-line. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens are in that position, and all they can look for when they become too old to work is an old-age pension of £1 a week. I shall oppose the second reading of the bill.
– The discussion is rather interesting, because it has brought out a number of contradictory view-points. The bill provides for the payment of pensions to justices of the High Court within certain limits. It contains what appear to be two principles. Under one set of circumstances a justice of the High Court will be entitled to a pension; under another set of circumstances he will be entitled to a pension of a smaller amount, or, if he remains on the Bench for a certain stated term, no pension at all. Curiously enough, associated with those who may be regarded as the sponsors of the latter view, are honorable senators who for many years, in season and out of season, have proclaimed their firm belief in the principle of pensions for all. Their attitude towards this bill is not consistent, or in keeping with the modern spirit of democracy. I believe that the pension system is perfectly sound, and that it has the support of a very old tradition. It was never intended that any member of society should be flung upon the scrap heap when his period of usefulness came to an end. Pensions, therefore, have their roots deeply embedded in the practice of the past, and rightly have the backing of tradition. Where is the consistency of - those honorable senators who, whilst claiming that old-age pensions are a right, and that any one who objects to them has no generosity in his soul nor any of the elements of modern democracy in his being, yet at the same time would deny that right to the members of the highest court in the land ! It has been admitted over and over again that, in accepting a call to the High Court bench, a man suffers a good deal of pecuniary loss. Having accepted the call to this honoured office, and made that sacrifice, why should he be further penalized ? In my judgment the High Court has not been treated generously. It was constituted in the early days of federation, at a period when the Commonwealth was experiencing one of those curious visitations that sweep through every community, namely, an insane and unintelligible craze for economy. The Kyabram movement in this State is well remembered. This particular institution was brought into being, cradled, and nurtured in that atmosphere, which was calculated to cut expenditure to the bone, and withhold from the court any dignity that would be likely to cost money. It is well known that those who were called to the bench would have been very much better off financially if they had continued at their profession. Twenty years have elapsed since the court was created. Every other section of the community has, in a material sense, moved forward, but the court has stood still. - Is that right or just? I am astounded that opposition should be offered to the views which have been expressed from this side of the Senate. If honorable senators opposite are prepared to adopt a spirit of fair play towards one section of the community, let them display that quality towards every other section. If it is right to pay oldage pensions, it is equally right to make provision for pensions for the members of the High Court bench.
– Their salaries have not now the purchasing power that they possessed at the time of their appointment.
– That is quite true; the purchasing power is now approximately one-half of what it formerly was. Although every other section of society has in various ways substantially improved its position through the action of this Parliament, it is argued that the High Court should be singled out for differential treatment. That is not fair. There is another point to be considered. The pension is to be assessed upon an emolument that now possesses only one-half of its original value. That is further injustice. Senator Barwell quite justifiably used, the phrase “ circumventing the Constitution “ in relation. to the proposal that’ the pension should be reduced by a certain amount for every year that a High Court justice remained on the bench after he had- attained the age of 70 years. It is a well-known maxim that you cannot do indirectly what cannot be done directly.. The Commonwealth Constitution provides that High Court judges shall hold office during their natural life. Under this, measure they are virtually to be told that unless they vacate their office at a certain age they will suffer pecuniarily. Human nature, being what it is, how can we expect these gentlemen to submit tamely to treatment that up to the present neither this nor any other government or “parliament has. ventured to suggest that any other section of society should accept? The proposal is so lopsided, so unsymmetrical, that I cannot find an atom of justification for it. When the High Court was constituted, the members of this Parliament received a salary of £400- per annum. They are now on. a very much higher salary, but the justices of the high Court have remained at their original level. Yet some persons contend that they are well treated ! They are not. The bushel by which we measure our interests should be the bushel by which we measure the interests of the members of the High Court bench. I agree with Senator Barwell that this proposal aims at circumventing the Constitution. It might even have applied to it that burning phrase which was uttered by the late Chief Justice, Sir Samuel Griffith, who for so long adorned the High Court Bench, “ a fraud on the Constitution.” This is a circuitous’ method of doing what cannot be done in a direct way. It is a subterfuge. We ought not to deal in a paltry manner with a court whose decisions have cast such a luminous light upon our laws, and which has proved to be the grand palladium of our liberties. Its decisions have reflected infinite wisdom.
– Sometimes it has told this Parliament that it did not know how to make laws.
– Its latest decision showed its’ transparent impartiality. It has attracted to itself men who have been most skilled in legal lore. We should, therefore, treat it handsomely. My answer to those who compare it with other’ branches of the Public Service is that it is quite apart from any other .department of government. We should see that it1 is so exalted that, it will attract the brightest brains in this young and vibrating nation. Our system of education is now a great deal freer than it was when, the High- Court was established. Under i’t the brilliant, moneyless youth can proceed by steady stages until he achieves, the highest distinction. No longer is the legal profession the close preserve of the wealthy classes that it was in days gone by. To-day, under our more enlightened system of education, the brilliant youth, can, by dint of his own innate qualities, fit himself for a position on the bench of this, the highest, court in- the land. That being so-, we should make it more attractive than it is to-day, so that our youths will be imbued with a spirit of rivalry, and they will .give to the utmost of their capabilities. I support those honorable- senators who say that the amendment which the other place inserted in the measure, providing for the decrease of the pension, should be ‘ removed. An endeavour was made- in the other place, to. have a similar provision inserted in the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, but it failed by one vote. We have thus the anomalous position that the members of a subordinate branch of the Commonwealth judiciary are to enjoy privileges that are to be denied to the justices of the High Court! How can we defend such a proposal as that? It will not mean a saving of the taxpayers’ money. Supposing that the 70th birthday of a justice of the High Court were to fall to-morrow, and his mental faculties were as keen as they were when he was 60 years, 50 years, or even 40 years of age.
– He would have more experience.
– Quite so. If he were asked to retire, and the people were thus denied the benefit of his vast store of knowledge, it would be a retrograde step. If there is one thing in the polity of this or any other country that is most pernicious and destructive of progress, it is the tendency to prevent a person from giving his best when he has the power to do so. Here we are saying to a justice who reaches the age of 70, “ Get aside.” By an arbitrary decision we say, “ No longer are you capable of continuing to perform your duties.” What perfect nonsense! Instances can be cited of men who are not at the pinnacle of their mental and physical perfection until they have reached the age of 70. Lord Halsbury, who wrote a great standard work, to which every lawyer refers, was still in harness when over 90 years of age ; but under this law he would have been told to stand aside at 70 years of age. Disraeli did not come into power until he was 70. Mr. Gladstone was in power when he was over 70. I could quote a long list of men of whom it might be said that the flower of their innate perfection did not reach full bloom until they were over 70 years of age. Yet in this progressive age we are asked to tell men in high and honoured positions that at 70 they have come to an end of their mental capacity, and should give way to younger men. We are not treating our High Court judges as they should be treated. If it is a High Court it should not be put on a low plane of national consideration. Therefore, as a humble member of this Senate I intend to support Senator Barwell in his proposal to place the justices of the High Court in a position of independence and dignity in keeping with the high importance of the offices they hold.
Question - That the bill be now read a second time - put. The Senate divided.
Majority . . . . 17
Question so resolved in. the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 -
After section forty-eight of the principal act, the following heading and section are inserted: - “Pensions of Justices. “48a. - (1) Where a justice of the High
Courthas served in that office for not less than fifteen years, he shall, on retiring,be entitled, subject to the next following sub-section, to an annual pension at the rate of one-half of his salary.
In the case of a justice who retires after attaining the age of seventy years, the annual pension to which heis entitled shall be at a rate less than the rate specified in the last preceding sub-section by one-tenth for each year or part of a year of his age, in excess of seventy years, at the time of his retirement:
Provided that in the case of a justice who at the commencement of this act is more than seventy years of age, the annual pension to which he is entitled on retirement shall be at a rate less than the rate specified in thelnst preceding sub-section by one-tenth for each year or part of a year, after one year from the commencement of this act, that elapses before his retirement.
If a justice of the High Court- retires on permanent disability or infirmity before reaching the age of seventy years, he shall, if he has served in that office for not less than five years, be entitled, on retiring, to an annual pension at the rate of twenty one-hundredths of his salary and at the additional rate of three one-hundredths of his salary for each complete year of his service after the expiration of the said five years to the date of his retirement, but so that the rate of his pension shall not exceed one-half of his salary.
– I move -
That the House of Representatives bc requested to omit the words “ subject to the next following sub-section,” proposed subsection (1).
If the committee agrees to this, I propose that we should then ask the House of Representatives to omit the whole of proposed sub-section 2 and the words “ before reaching the age of seventy years,” which appear in proposed sub-section 3. I neednot elaborate reasons which have already been given fully. The main purpose of my proposal is to omit the proposed subsection 2, which reads as follows : -
Provided that in the case of a justice who at the commencement of this act is more than seventy years of age, the annual pension to which he is entitled on retirement shall be at a rate less than the rate specified in the last preceding sub-section by one-tenth for each year or part of a year, after one year from the commencement of this act, that elapses before his retirement.
The other requests would be consequential on the omission of this’ subsection; but for the purpose of testing the whole question I am asking the committee to agree to the request which I have already moved.
– Why is the honorable senator submitting a request, and not an amendment?
– I understand that if the Senate seeks to amend this bill it must do so by way of request. This is confirmed by authorities which I have consulted. I should be glad to move a straight-out’ amendment.
– At this stage I wish to raise the point whether or not this committee can amend the bill. I do not know what authorities Senator McLachlan has consulted.
– I consulted a publication by Mr. Boydell, setting out the practice adopted by the Senate in regard to money bills.
*An honorable senator would be quite in order in moving a direct amendment provided that its purpose was not to increase the charge on the Consolidated Revenue.
– That is not the point I am raising. I want to know whether Senator McLachlan is taking the right course of action in moving by way of request. I suggest that he should submit a direct amendment.
– (He cannot do so, because his purpose is to increase the proposed expenditure.
– I ask you, Mr. Chairman, if it is your ruling that Senator McLachlan must move by way of request ?
– Tes; that is my ruling*.
– Then I must dissent from your ruling.
– The honorable senator will submit his dissent in writing.
In the Senate:
THE CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).I have to report that, in committee, Senator McLachlan submitted a request for an amendment of the Judiciary Bill. Senator Needham, who raised the ‘ point that the Senate itself was entitled to make the amendment, has dissented from my ruling that the procedure must be by way of request, on the ground that there is no such provision in our Standing Orders, and that I quoted no authority for my ruling.
– In dissenting from the ruling of the chairman, I was. not in any way desirous of coming into conflict with the chair. The question to be determined is whether any proposal for an alteration of this bill should be in the form of a request or an amendment. All honorable senators are jealous of the rights of the Senate. I, for one, do not desire to see those rights carelessly or indifferently set aside. It would be as well for us to determine, where we stand in this matter, so that we may have a ruling for future guidance. In committee Senator McLachlan moved -
That the House of Representatives be requested to omit the following words - “ Subject to the next following sub-section.”
I contend that Senator McLachlan should have moved a direct amendment to that effect.’ When I asked him why he did not move for the omission of these words by way of an amendment, rather than by way of a request, he replied that he could not submit his proposal by way of an amendment, . since it would involve increased expenditure; it would increase a proposed charge or burden on the people. He quoted Boydell on the practice of the Senate in regard to money bills. I am not satisfied with that authority; I want the Senate to give a decision. Let us consider the provisions of the Constitution in relation to the powers of the Senate regarding bills which it may, or may not, amend. Section 53 of the Constitution reads -
Proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys, or imposing taxation, shall not originate in the Senate. But a proposed law shall not be taken to appropriate revenue or moneys, or to impose taxation, by reason only of its containing provisions for the imposition or appropriation of fines, or other pecuniary penalties, or for the demand or payment or appropriation of fees for licences, or fees for services under the proposed law.
The Senate may not amend proposed laws imposing taxation or proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys for the ordinary an,nual services of the Government.
Hie Senate may not amend any proposed law so as to increase any proposed charge or burden’ on the people.
I have already said that there is no Standing Order to guide us in this matter. Standing Order 189 reads -
Except as to bills which the Senate may not amend, the question “ That this bill be now read a first time” shall be put by the President immediately after the same has been received, and shall be determined without amendment or debate.
I desire to know whether any honorable senator would have been in order in attempting to debate the first reading of this bill. My opinion is that he would not have been in order in doing so, as this is a bill which the Senate can amend.
– That begs the question. We must decide whether we can, or cannot, amend it.
– Standing order 190 reads -
In bills which the Senate may not amend, the question “ That this bill be now read a first time “ may be debated, and the debate need not be relevant to the subject-matter of such bill.
If honorable senators were to study Hansard, they would find that bills to- amend the law relating to invalid and old-age pensions had been debated, and amendments, not requests, moved. I see nothing in this bill to provide for an appropriation of money. There is no standing order to guide us, and the Chairman of Committees quoted no authority other than the late Mr. Boydell. I should like to obtain finality in this matter, as I believe a similar position has arisen before. I am anxious to preserve the rights and powers of the Senate. If we can amend bills, we should amend them, and not make requests to another place. I hope, sir, that your ruling will be that we can move amendments.
– It is well that this question has been raised. In looking through the precedents and rulings I find that this point has not yet been determined. Rulings which have been given in matters similar to, but not on all fours with this one, do, however, serve as a guide. I take it that the requests outlined by Senator McLachlan should not be judged merely by their terminology. They all aim at accomplishing the same result in respect to this bill. It is merely incidental that the question is that certain words be omitted. The proposal really is to strike out of the clause the provision for a diminishing scale of pensions in a given set of circumstances. Section 53 of the Constitution has a far wider application than that mentioned by Senator Needham. It deals with two classes of bills. First, it deals with bills appropriating revenue or moneys, such as Appropriation ‘ or Supply Bills. The honorable senator has said that there can be a discussion on the first reading of such a bill. That is quite true, and the discussion need not be relevant to the bill itself; but if the honorable senator had attempted to discuss this bill on the first ‘ reading he would have been promptly called to order. Therefore, the honorable senator’s argument has nothing to do with the question we are now considering.. Thu only part of section 53 of the Constitution with which we need concern ourselves is sub-section 3, which reads -
The Senate may not ‘ amend any proposed law so as to increase any proposed charge or burden on the people.
The position could not be more clearly stated.
– Are there not certain provisos?
– There are certain explanations as to the procedure to be adopted in dealing with requests, but there are no qualifications. The question is, therefore, a very simple one. AH we have to decide is whether Senator McLachlan’s proposal would increase a proposed charge or burden on the people. That is the only test that has to be applied.
– We have moved amendments to bills dealing with invalid and old-age pensions.
– I do not think so. In reality this measure provides for two sets of pensions - the one on the higher scale and the other on a lower and diminishing scale. Senator McLachlan’s proposal is to delete the provision for the payment of pensions on the lower and diminishing scale, and it is obvious that if that were adopted the proposed charge or burden on the people would be greater. Sub-clause 5 of clause 3 reads -
The pensions of the justices of the High Court shall be a charge on and paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
It will, therefore, be seen that under this bill a charge is made upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund. I submit that if the lower rates of pensions are deleted the charge or burden on the people must be increased, since in either case the same number of persons - the same number of justices - are involved. If my reasoning is correct the committee must, therefore, proceed by way of requests for amendments of the bill. I am as jealous as is the Leader of the Opposition that the full privileges of this chamber shall be retained, but at the same time, when it is proposed to amend a bill of this kind, we need to be very careful that, in amending it, we shall be acting constitutionally. If we were not we should only weaken the position of the Senate. It will be admitted that the procedure of submitting requests for amendments to another place in the past has been as effective as if the amendments had been made by the Senate itself. We have to consider whether we should ‘be on safe ground in submitting a direct amendment. The question for your consideration I sub mit, sir, is whether in making the amendment we should be increasing a proposed charge or burden on the people. To do that would be to impinge upon section 53 of the Constitution.
– Arising out of the dissent from the ruling of the chairman two questions have really been submitted for my determination. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) has asked whether it would not have been competent for an honorable senator to discuss the motion for the first reading of this measure. My ruling is that, having regard to the provisions of section 53 of the Constitution, the honorable senator would not have been in order in so doing. I am not acquainted with the exact wording of the request submitted by Senator McLachlan upon which the ruling given by the Chairman has been dissented from; but, as I anticipated that a question of this description might be raised, I took the precaution, before the bill reached the committee stage, to examine the rulings given by my predecessors. While there is nothing in the Standing Orders directly bearing on the question raised, the Constitution is very clear on the point. It provides that -
The Senate may not amend any proposed law so as to increase any proposed charge or burden on the people.
That is quite definite. On matters in respect of which there are no Standing Orders governing the procedure to be followed, it is customary to be guided by precedent. That has been done by my predecessors, and rulings based on precedent have become as well established as the Standing Orders themselves. The rulings relating to money bills compiled by the late Mr. Boydell have not, as the Vice-President of the Executive Council said, any direct bearing upon this question. I do not know that an exactly similar point has ever been raised. There is no doubt, however, that if the amendment were made the proposed charge or burden on the people would be increased. The money to meet the cost of the pensions for which the bill provides has to be provided out of the Consolidated Revenue, and if pensions on the lower scale were deleted those on the higher scale would become operative. That being so, the amendment would add to a proposed charge or burden on the people. I, therefore, uphold the ruling of the Chairman, that the correct procedure in this instance is by way of request. In common with the VicePresident of the Executive Council, and honorable senators generally, I am jealous of the rights and privileges of the Senate, and I intend, as far as I can, always to protect them ; but I have no hesitation in upholding the ruling of the Chairman that in this case the proposed amendment should be put in the form of a request.
– If I supported the request submitted by Senator McLachlan, I should commit myself to a pension scheme for justices of the High Court. In opposing his request I shall be consistent, since during my secondreading speech I stated that the provision inserted in another place was an attempt to evade the Constitution. I remind Senator Lynch that honorable senators on this side of the chamber are not at all suspicious of the High Court Bench, but we believe that the salaries paid to the justices of that court should be sufficiently high to enable them to retire at 70 without pensions. I understand that Senator McLachlan’s proposal is to delete the proviso in sub-clause 2, which reads -
Provided that in the case of a justice who at the commencement of this act is more than 70 years of age, the annual pension to which he is entitled on retirement shall be at a rate less than the rate specified in the last preceding sub-section by one-tenth for each year or part of a year, after one year from the commencement of this act, that elapses before his retirement.
That proviso suggests a differentiation, as the justices of the High Court are not all of the same age.
– Senator McLachlan has indicated that he wishes that provision to be deleted.
– The way in which the proviso is drafted suggests a differentiation between the justices. In my second-reading speech I pointed out that an attempt was being made to violate the spirit of the Constitution.
– When these provisions which Senator McLachlan now desires to delete were before another place the Govern ment stated that the amendment would be regarded as an open question. That is the position now, but members of the Government in this Chamber intend to support Senator McLachlan’s request. I regret that we shall not have the support of the Leader of the Opposition. In his second-reading speech this afternoon, he directed attention to this objectionable feature of the bill, and whilst listening to his remarks just now, I could not help thinking how oft the promise of the bud has perished in the flower. I trust however, that the honorable senator will reconsider his decision and vote for Senator McLachlan’s request.
Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL (South Australia) [5.37].- I followed Senator Needham in the second-reading debate, and remarked that after his speech we might hope for his support for a request which I indicated and which my friend Senator McLachlan also had in mind and has now moved. Senator Needham really anticipated the arguments which I had intended to use. As a matter of fact, he made out a stronger case than I had intended to put before the Senate against the provisions. Now he tells us that since he is opposed to the payment of pensions to justices of the High Court he would be inconsistent if he voted for Senator McLachlan’s request. May I put it to the honorable senator that since the Senate was against him on the second reading, and has decided on pensions for justices of the High Court, he will be inconsistent if he does not vote for Senator McLachlan’s request, which seeks to eliminate those objectionable provisions to which he directed attention on the second reading. It is only a few minutes since he declared his hostility to the provisions referred to. Nevertheless, he proposes now to vote against Senator McLachlan’s request, the purpose of which is to remove those objectionable provisions.
– His attitude is quite logical.
– If it represents the attitude of the Labour party then I shall have nothing further to say on the matter.
– My attitude is quite consistent. I know what I am doing. In my second-reading speech I directed attention to the possibility of the constitutionality of the bill being challenged. I said I was against the payment of pensions to any justice of the High Court of Australia.
– But the honorable senator was beaten on that issue.
– Does Senator Barwell say that when he is beaten on a particular issue at the second-reading stage of a bill, he will not carry his convictions into the committee stage ?
– I should try to improve the bill in committee.
– If I voted for Senator McLachlan’s request my action would be tantamount to acquiescence in the principle of pensions for justices of the High Court.
– In other words, the honorable senator’s action might be used against him?
– I am not concerned about that. I am opposed to the payment of pensions to justices of the High Court. This proposal to retire justices when they reach the age of 70 years is an attempt to evade the Constitution. If I voted for Senator McLachlan’s request I should be voting for pensions for the justices of the High Court. I do not intend to do that.
– I have an idea that the provisions which were inserted in another place will be eliminated in this committee, and that Senator McLachlan, . Senator Barwell, and other honorable senators would like to place honorable senators on this side of the Chamber in the position of having to support the requests. We do not propose to do that. We are opposed to the payment of pensions as laid down in the bill originally, or as it was amended in another place. I submit that our attitude is absolutely consistent.
Question - That the request be agreed to - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Request agreed to.
Request (by Senator McLachlan) proposed
That the proposed new sub-section 2 be left out.
Question put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Request agreed to.
Motion (by Senator McLachlan) proposed -
That the House of Representatives be requested to leave out the words “ before reaching the age of 70 years,” sub-clause 3
Question put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 12
The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).I did not see the honorable senator leave his seat. If he did so, I ask him to return to it.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Request agreed to.
Question - That the clause be agreed to, subject to requests- put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to, subject to requests.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported, with requests.
Assent to the following bills reported : -
Excise Tariff Bill.
Development and Migration Bill.
Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Bill 1926-27.
Debate resumed from . 16th July (vide page 4285), on motion by Senator Pearce -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– In this bill we are asked, among other things, to provide for a loan of £2,000,000 to the Federal Capital Commission. It is most remarkable that, almost every week, Parliament is asked to do something or other in connexion with some board or commission. About a fortnight ago I requested the right honorable the Leader of the Senate (Senate Pearce) to let me know the number and cost of the boards and commissions in existence appointed by the Government of which he is a member. ‘So far the information has not been made available.
– It would take days to count the number of boards and commissions.
– And it would take longer to estimate their cost. I have myself counted up to 26 boards and commissions, and goodness knows how many more there are. I realize that certain boards and commissions are necessary, but I do not believe in appointing them by the dozen. We are now asked to lend £2,000,000 to the Federal Capital Commission, and Parliament will have no voice in the expenditure of that amount of money. It is all very well to borrow money at a certain rate of interest, provided Parliament retains control over it, and knows exactly how it is spent.
– Did not Parliament approve of the bill which brought the commission into existence?
– Yes ; but that does not alter the fact that it is now proposed to hand. £2,000,000 to a commission to spend as it likes. We have already had an example of what the
Federal Capital Commission has done in defiance of an act of Parliament. The Government seems to act like a frightened child in running away from its responsibilities. Instead of shouldering them, it places them on boards or commissions. The Federal Capital Commission is one of its latest fads. There was no necessity for its appointment. The spade work had already been done at the capital either by the Department of Home and Territories or by the Department of Works and Railways, and all that the commission could do was to put in the decorative work. I understand that the Crown Law Department has given its opinion that the commission had no right to let contracts for the erection of 300 cottages. To-day the Senate has determined that the Public Works Committee shall be given a special opportunity to investigate the whole matter, but no inquiry by that committee can invalidate the contracts already entered into by the commission. It seems to me that the 300 cottages will be built at the prices arranged for, and this Parliament will be liable if any attempt is made to cancel these contracts. The experience we have gained in this matter is only further proof of the contention urged time and time again in the Senate, that the present Government is continuously shirking its responsibilities. Instead of doing its own work, it is almost daily appointing some other body to carry on its activities. One of its most recent fads, the Federal Capital Commission, is spending a lot of money that should not have been spent on cottages that could have been built at much lower cost in other parts of Australia. It has been established beyond a shadow of doubt that these cottages are not only uncomfortable, but also too costly. Houses can be built in South Australia at half the cost. I think that the commission should furnish the Minister for Home and Territories with a regular account of the manner in which the £2,000,000 is spent, and with a detailed statement of the buildings erected. That is the only feature of the bill I wish to criticize. I could have spoken at greater length upon this subject, but we have recently had several opportunities of referring to the work of the Federal Capital Commission. It is, I pre sume, useless to try to prevent the passage of the bill, because I see arrayed against honorable members of the Opposition a big majority. Honorable senators opposite might think it offensive on my part if I were to describe their majority as servile; but, no matter what arguments are adduced by honorable senators on this side, they are apparently prepared to support the Government at any cost.
– I should like to hear some argument against the passing of this bill.
– I am not advancing any argument against the passage of the bill itself, because I realize the necessity for it. I am merely singling out the item relating to the Federal Capital Commission in order to draw the attention of honorable senators to the fact that the commission has been found wanting. Since we know that the Crown Law authorities have given the opinion that the commission has been flouting a Commonwealth act, we have every reason for keeping a vigilant eye on everything done by it. I hope, therefore, that the Government, in making available £2,000,000 to be spent by that body will see that it is spent wisely and well.
.- In view of the fact that the Public Works Committee is taking steps to investigate the cost of building houses at the Federal Capital, I think it is appropriate that honorable senators should have something to say on the subject. I am very apprehensive about the way in which we are pouring out an unlimited stream of money on the erection of buildings atthe Federal Capital, while at the . same time we are entirely ignorant of their cost. I am told that the volume of work done by the various tradesmen engaged at the Federal Capital is considerably less than it ought to be. I have heard that the number of bricks laid per workman is about 316 a day. Parliament ought to know the cost of bricklaying there, also the cost of plastering, wood work, and excavating. I have heard that the removal of soft earth costs 12s. or 14s. a yard, and that very often it takes a week to do what is really a day’s work. These rumours are very disquieting. I think Parliament ought to know if there is any truth in them. It appears to me that the Federal Capital Commission has lost control in some respects. . A Hobart plasterer, a good tradesman, went to Canberra recently, but the overseer in charge said that, although he badly needed plasterers, it was impossible to employ this man unless he first went to Sydney and obtained the permission of the trades union there 1 That is a scandalous state of affairs. The trade unions must be managing the Federal Capital. I cannot altogether blame the Commission, because Parliament is rushing it. The representatives of New South Wales have so indecently pushed the construction of the Federal Capital that no doubt the commission feels that it must surrender to these ridiculous demands made by the trade unions. As is well known, I am not an opponent of trade unions or an advocate of low wages. I believe in having the very best working conditions, but I like a fair return for money spent. I believe that the Federal Capital Commission should get the very best return for its enormous expenditure. I should prefer to shut down the work rather than submit to the ridiculous demands of the trade unions.
– The chairman of the commission must be satisfied, or he would not allow these things to continue.
– He is probably not to blame, because his hands are being forced by those who are rushing to get to Canberra. I have not opposed the transfer of the Seat of Government to Canberra, but we should see that every penny expended there is judiciously expended, even if it means remaining in Melbourne another ten years. Under existing conditions hundreds of thousands of pounds are being wasted at Canberra. I have watched the construction of the homes there, and I sympathize with those public servants who will have to occupy them. I do not know how they will be able to pay the excessive costs which they are asked to meet. For buildings of the type of those being constructed, the cost is altogether too high. An ordinary fiveroom ed house, the architectural qualities of which leave much to be desired, will cost a public servant £1,500 or £1,600. The rooms are very small, and there are not sufficient of £hem; there are no corridors or passages^ the houses are badly supplied with those comforts to which every public servant ought to be entitled on his compulsory removal to Canberra. “We have no right to ask’ public servants to make financial sacrifices to go there. They should not be asked to pay £2 10s. a week for a five-roomed house in Canberra, together with interest on the cost of construction, ground rent, &c, when a similar house in Melbourne costs only 30s. a week. As a member of this Parliament, I want to know whether there is any poa.siblity of reducing the high cost of building construction at Canberra. The excessive cost is not justified. The commission is making its own bricks at Canberra, and it should be possible to construct buildings there as cheaply as in Melbourne.
– Labour costs more in Canberra.
– I do not think so. I know that a plasterer at Canberra gets about £9 a week, but in these days a plasterer is a privileged individual. In any case he would receive not much less than £9 a week in Melbourne. We ought to know the reason for these h’igh costs. If they are due to insufficient labour being available, or to high rates of wages, we should be told. I hope that the Public Works Committee will give this matter very careful consideration, and inform us of the reason for these high charges.
.- Having recently returned from a visit, to the Federal Capital I agree with much that Senator Ogden has said regarding the high cost of buildings there. Probably the commission is not entirely to blame in this matter. The rates charged for the carriage of goods by the New South Wales railways are excessive. I was told by a man in Canberra that he paid £70 freight on a consignment of coal from Newcastle which cost him £60. It would be well for the Public Works Committee to inquire into that phase of the question. Many factors contribute to the excessive cost of building at Canberra. While the high wages paid to workmen tend to increase the cost of buildings, we must recognize in this connexion that men cannot be expected to lea*© their homes in Melbourne or Sydney to work in Canberra unless special inducements are offered to them to do so. Moreover, the fact that the work is being rushed has the effect of increasing the cost. The Federal Capital Commission is, as it were, between the devil and the deep sea. It has received instructions to have everything ready for the opening of Parliament at Canberra on the 9th
May next. In order to do that, workmen must be obtained, and the commission is practically forced to pay them what they demand.
– The difference between the wages paid to workmen in Canberra and in Sydney or Melbourne does not account for there being a difference of £1,000 between the cost of a house in Canberra and a similar house in Melbourne.
– I do not know that houses of the type of those being built at Canberra have been built in Melbourne for £1,000 less than they cost in Canberra. In the early days of Canberra a number of cottages of four or five rooms were built by day labour at a cost which has not yet been ascertained, but which, it is currently believed there, amounted to £1,400 or £1,500 each. Those houses are now occupied by employees of the commission at rentals ranging from 25s. to 30s a week. They are surrounded by gardens which are maintained by the commission’s employees. “Were any municipality to conduct its affairs on the same lines, it would soon become bankrupt. The man who designed the Federal Capital learned his profession in San Francisco, where he was accustomed to seeing the homes of millionaires surrounded by beautiful gardens. Imbued with those ideas, and imagining that the Commonwealth Government was blessed with something in the nature of the purse of Fortunatus, he designed the capital city on similar lines, providing for houses without fences, but surrounded by beautiful gardens. That is where the money is going.
– If the honorable senator refers to Mr. Griffin, the designer of the Federal Capital city, I can inform him that Mr. Griffin did not design one house.
– He designed the city, and provided that the houses should be surrounded by beautiful gardens. In the industrial suburbs of Melbourne, the average man on wages builds his house on a block of land with a frontage of 30 or 40 feet; whereas the public servants who will reside in Canberra will have their houses set in the middle of a block with 100 feet frontage.
– Does the honorable senator think that a frontage of 30 feet is sufficient for any man’s home?
– Wider frontages can be given only by pouring out money. If each workman is given a block of half an acre, he, or the Government, must employ a gardener to keep it in order. We should be reasonable in these matters.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
– As the commission is saddled with an almost impossible task, the Minister should interview its members to see if some practical steps cannot be taken to improve the position. I was courteously received by the Chief Commissioner, Mr. Butters, with whom I frankly discussed the whole problem. He admitted that a person earning £5 or £6 a week could not possibly hope to establish a home at Canberra, but. would have to live in Queanbeyan, as a great many of the workmen are at present doing, and travel to Canberra by the workmen’s train. In the industrial suburbs of the larger cities workmen occupy houses, which are usually close to the street, on allotments with a frontage of 50 feet or less; but in Canberra many of the blocks have a frontage of 100 feet and a depth of 150 feet or more. As the houses are some distance from the boundaries, the sewerage connexions cannot be economically made, and in place of the separate weatherboard conveniences usually provided with a cheaper type of home, the sanitary arrangements, which are of substantial construction, are under the same roof, and consequently the cost is greater. In this and other ways the prices of houses are increased until the total cost of a complete dwelling is astonishing. The Chief Commissioner told me frankly that, unless the idea of a garden city is definitely scrapped, only those receiving comparatively large incomes will be able to afford to live in the Federal Capital.. Obviously a person occupying a house on a half-acre block will not have sufficient time to keep the garden in order, and if he employs a gardener he will have to pay him at least 20s. a day.
– Does the honorable senator suggestthat workmen’s cottages are being built on one-acreblocks?
– The allotments in most cases are too large, and as the land is leased they cannot be subdivided.
– Does the honorable senator suggest terraces of houses?
– That would be one means of reducing the cost. It is time the Government definitely decided whether Canberra is to be a city in which only those receiving high salaries can live, or whether accommodation is to be provided for persons of ordinary means. Drastic building conditions in the civic centre have to be complied with, as if the city had reached the stage of development which Melbourne had reached, say, 20 years ago. The type of buildings which have to be erected in the civic centre will cost thousands of pounds, and the persons who have to conduct their businesses in them must necessarily charge excessive prices in order to obtain a fair return on their capital. In Queanbeyan, a few miles away from Canberra, people who are living free from any of these restrictions, pick up a wagon load of weatherboards and construct a building of small dimensions, and compete with those attempting to observe the conditions prevailing in the Federal Capital Territory. In the suburban areas where small shops are permitted, flourishing little businesses are springing up. I found that the Commonwealth Bank, which has leased an important site in the civic centre on which it would be required under the building regulations to erect most elaborate banking premises, has also purchased the lease of another block in order to construct a less pretentious building. Thinking that the Government had been smitten by some form of madness, I went to Sydney and interviewed the representative of the Commonwealth Bank in that city, who informed me that to build a bank of the dimensions required in the civic centre would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. He said that the banking chamber had to be 60 feet by 60 feet, and that it would be occupied by only a manager and two clerks, who in winter time would be frozen. The original proposal was therefore dropped, and the Commonwealth Bank in open competition obtained another site. The site on which the permanent Parliament House is to be constructed is an imposing one, but another site has been selected for the erection of a temporary building for pre cisely the same reason. We could not live up to the magnificent conceptions of Mr. Griffin. There is a general sliding away from the general intention, but it has not yet developed sufficiently to enable private investors faced with the problem of constructing monumental buildings to successfully carry on business. Although a certain quantity of bricks has accumulated on some of the sites which have been leased, a single pick has not been put into the ground, albeit that at the end of this year building operations must commence. Possibly, when that time arrives, foundation trenches will be taken out and a few bricks laid, but even if the construction of some buildings is completed, the lessees will be faced with the almost impossible task of obtaining an adequate return to cover the capital cost.
– Has not the commission power to alter the design of the city?
– That was settled before the commission was appointed, but if the Government were to authorize a change the commission would be glad.
– Has not the commission power under its own act?
– It cannot at present interfere with the general scheme.
– The purchasers of the leases were aware of the conditions.
– Many of them bought blindly.
– That is their fault.
– Yes, but if the conditions are enforced, and monumental buildings are erected, the rents will be prohibitive.
– The leases can be surrendered.
– In that case the land would remain unoccupied. The prospective purchaser of a business site is informed that all the leases are sold, although there is vacant land on every hand. If further inquiries are made, one is requested to interview a firm of land agents, which is quoting certain blocks at a premium of from £200 to £1,500 for the goodwill of the lease, on which from £15 to £20 has been paid for the first year’s rent. If more land were made available, its value could be determined, and a selection made. In the present circumstances a prospective purchaser has to pay whatever is demanded or go without.
– As the area is limited, buyers have to pay the prices asked in open competition.
– If accommodation, say, in Collins-street, Melbourne, is too expensive, one can obtain it somewhere else, but that is not the case at Canberra.
– The leases were sold in open competition.
– Not of all the land. A great deal was sold at the upset price. Now the levels have been taken, 4 feet of overburden has in many instances to be removed before building operations can be commenced. This is checking the development of Canberra.
– What does the hon-. orable senator suggest should be done?
– The first step should be to arrange for the disposal of more land.
– The real remedy is the more frequent appraisement of the rents.
– That could not be done . The position to-day is difficult enough without re-appraisement of rental values. Another great handicap to the development of the city is the adoption of the leasehold tenure.
– The real handicap is the twenty years’ term without reappraisement, and the honorable senator knows it.
– That is not so. The trouble is with the leasehold tenure. The Commonwealth Bank is the only institution that will finance building operations under that system of tenure, and the bank will only do so on very onerous terms. It advances up to 60 per cent. of the estimated value of a building, but it makes the most minute inquiries into the financial standing of the owner of the lease before it entertains any proposal. I can see no solution of the difficulty unless the Government authorizes a very radical alteration of the plan upon which the city is being built. It is all very well to have this idea of a wonderful garden city. We have to realize that if the city is to be developed on the original plan we shall have to pay for it.
– Is it not a fact that the holders of the leases have to build on the land within a specified time?
– Yes; they undertake to commence building within two years, and to complete a building within three years.
– Those conditions do not make for the shepherding of the leases.
– They have been responsible for a delay of nearly two years already. The first land sale was held in December, 1924. I presume that if the holders of the leases cut a few trenches and have a few bricks laid before December next, they will be complying with the terms of the contract, although, as I have said, they have not yet shown any serious intention of building. Other people who want to establish businesses there are prepared to go on these blocks and commence building at once, but of course they are shut out. If the freehold had been sold, these men who have been speculating in leaseholds would have been prevented from operating, because they would have been obliged to arrange for the total of the purchase money, whereas most of them can find £20 a year with which to speculate in leaseholds on the chance of making a profit. It is possible that, as time goes on, and as we get nearer the end of the year, some of these people will be prepared to sell their leases for a much lower figure than they are asking at present, because they know that they will have to start building. At present, they are holding up development.
– I suppose they are within their rights. I suppose, also, that the commission will see to it that eventually they carry out their obligations.
– No doubt, but my complaint is that people who are genuinely desirous of building are not permitted to build on any blocks other than those that were made available at the auction sales. For example, they cannot go round the corner and select another block. They must build within a certain specified area. The whole business is open to corruption. There is room for the suspicion that friends of the commission have become entrenched in these areas. I am not suggesting that that has occurred in any way, but there is grave danger of abuses of this sort creeping in unless something is done to make other land available to bona fide applicants. I know of no other city that is being held up in this way. It is obvious, of course, that if wo force people to build in specified areas as at Canberra, and if they are obliged to erect monumental buildings, the people who live there will have to pay more for their goods. In course of time we shall have a demand for the erection of toll gates on the road, from Queanbeyan to keep Queanbeyan business people out of the Federal Capital territory and prevent them from reaping benefits resulting from trade with public servants at Canberra. This is not a matter that can be treated lightly. The position should be thoroughly inquired into by some competent authority. 1 appeal to the Minister for Home and Territories not to allow the business, of developing the Federal Capital to drift in this fashion. I appeal also to honorable senators to visit Canberra so that they may appreciate the difficulties under which the Federal Capital Commission is working. The commission has been severely criticised for having accepted tenders for the erection of 500 houses. The chairman of the commission, Mr. Butters, informed me that he made representations to the former chairman of the Public Works Committee asking if it was desired to have the contracts for cottages referred to the committee. His communication was ignored, but after writing again he received a reply informing him that the committee was not concerned with the building of those cottages. As to the design of the cottages, which are to be sold to public servants at about £2,100, I am of opinion that if the price included the freehold, which I understand is estimated by the commission at £300 for leasehold purposes, he would be about right. I am afraid that residential sites in that locality, being not far distant from the Capital, and on the same alinement as the Prime Minister’s residence, will prove too great a burden for the average public servant. It will be necessary for him, if he attempts to keep a block in good order, to employ a gardener and possibly a chauffeur, too, because a garage is provided for each house. The task will be beyond him unless we are prepared to give him a salary of over £1,000 a year.
– I have seen garages attached to three-roomed houses in St. Kilda.
– Those houses are occupied by men who use cars for their businesses. It is unreasonable to expect public servants to keep such large residential areas in first class order. Unless they are granted a substantial increase in salary they will be unable to live in those houses and maintain the grounds as they will be required to maintain them.
– It is interesting to hear Senator Elliott express himself so forcibly with regard to the development of the Federal Capital. I disagree entirely with his conclusions. Apparently he does not know what the real trouble is at Canberra. He complains very bitterly about certain people holding blocks of land out of use in the civic centre. He tells us that they have placed these blocks in the hands of local agents who are asking a premium of several hundreds of pounds from prospective new comers. If Senator Elliott wil] give the matter two or three moments’ intelligent consideration he will realize that the only remedy for this state of affairs is the more frequent re-appraisement of land values. In nearly every municipality throughout the Commonwealth, property is valued every twelve months, or three years at the outside, and taxes are paid by the owners in accordance with ,the last valuation made. Although I protested against the Government’s proposal to have the first reappraisement at the end of 20 years, the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce), who was then Minister for Home and Territories, and all Government supporters were against me. It is quite true that regulations have been made requiring purchasers of leases to commence building within a specified time, but it appears now that hundreds of blocks of land are being deliberately held out of use, the holders of the lease waiting for a rise in values. They have joined what is known as the “ great nursing brigade “ - nursing blocks of land for a rise.
– They cannot hold them much longer without building on them.
– They have already held them long enough. One man, so we have been informed by Senator Elliott, has offered as much as £1,500 for the right to build on one block, sold nearly two years ago, and the rent for which has been fixed for the next 20 years. If the commission had the right to re-appraise the value of blocks in the civic centre every twelve months, and if it increased the rentals, these people who are now holding land there for a rise in value would have to build on them or dispose of the leases.
– If the rent were too high, no one would buy the leases.
– The honorable senator is quite wrong.
– The proper remedy is to make other blocks available.
– That is not the remedy. Unless there is frequent reappraisement, what the honorable senator is complaining of will take place, and he knows it. . It is probable that if the commission made other land available, the value of certain blocks that are now being held for speculative purposes, would diminish, but the true remedy is to reappraise the blocks once a year.
– How would the more frequent re-appraisement of rents cause buildings to be erected ?
– No person would purchase the lease of a block unless he intended to build upon it.
– Therefore the blocks would immediately drop in value.
– Certainly ; and those who were prepared to build upon them would be able to obtain’ them at a cheap price. At the present time this Parliament is standing behind the “ shrewdies “ who got in first, and are demanding a premium of upwards of £1,500 before they will allow a brick to be laid on their allotments. The sooner that fact is realized, the better. Senator Elliott talked about granting freeholds. As a member of the legal profession, he knows very well that there are’ hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of vacant building sites in the capital cities of the Commonwealth, and that they are being held by the “ great nursing brigade “ in the hope of obtaining a higher price for them.
– They are not to be found in Collins-street.
– Even in Collinsstreet some blocks are not being fully utilized.
– There is one that has been vacant for years.
– They are to be found everywhere. When you tax in dustry as it is taxed in Melbourne, nothing else can be expected. There is the same foolish system of taxation in Hobart, Adelaide, and Perth; but it is not to be found in Sydney.
– Order! The honorable senator will not be in order in proceeding along those lines.
– I consider that I am perfectly in order.
– Order ! The honorable senator is not in order in discussing the values of land in other cities of the Commonwealth, to which this bill does not apply.
– If you, sir, rule that I cannot refer to land values in Sydney, I shall quickly take the necessary steps . to dissent from your ruling.
– Order ! The honorable senator may not threaten the Chair. I point out to him that he is departing from the bill, and I ask him to return to it. I offer no objection to his making a passing reference to the matter of land values. He was proceeding to discuss them at length, and that I cannot permit.
– I am glad that I am permitted to make a passing reference, and by way of illustration, to show the practice that exists in other cities. It is rather difficult to keep on repeating a statement regarding Canberra unless one can give illustrations.
– I shall take care that the honorable senator does not repeat a statement too often.
– In the city of Sydney the land is valued every year, and the taxation is fixed in accordance with that valuation. Unfortunately, however, the rental, value does not go into the coffers of the city, as it does at Canberra; it goes to private owners, because the title is freehold. Does Senator Elliott not know that in all the cities of the Commonwealth the root of every trouble is the enormous . prices that have to be paid for home sites? South Australian senators who are acquainted with the history of Adelaide know that some magnificent blocks in King William-street were sold for practically nothing, and today they are worth the best part of £250,000. If the city of Adelaide collected the rent of the whole of the land in its area it would receive more revenue than it would know what to do with. The other day Mr. Butters, or some one else in authority, made the statement that in the very near future Canberra would be one of the best assets that the Commonwealth possesses. It must be remembered that the commission is the landlord, and collects the rent. Unfortunately, it has so far been hamstrung by the Government, which deliberately fixed the period of re-appraisement at twenty years. For what reason was that action taken?
– To encourage building, and to induce people to go there.
– The honorable senator knows better than that. He surely has not forgotten what he learned in his younger days, although he has no doubt become contaminated by his association with the Minister (Senator Pearce). The periods of re-appraisement were deliberately fixed at twenty years and ten years spectively so that as far as possible settlement at Canberra would be prevented. If the Government had been at all anxious to increase settlement, one of its first actions many years ago would have been to make blocks available for settlement, and to fix the period of re-appraisement at three years, or even twelve months.
– Why should reappraisement at more frequent intervals encourage building ?
– However clever the members of the building trades at Canberra may be - and I understand that they are experts in many directions - they have not yet acquired the ability to construct a house unless a site for it is first provided. If sites are cheap in price they become plentiful. The object of the Government is to keep the prices enormously high, and make them scarce, and so far it has succeeded in doing so. The most certain way to prevent progress is to insist that a man shall build a house costing £2,100. Where on earth will the average public servant get £2,100 to enable him to build a home at Canberra? Only in a very limited number of cases is it possible in Melbourne. When a man secures the lease of a block in Canberra he ought to be permitted to build whatever house suits him, so long as it is not an undesirable type. If he is compelled to spend £2,100 he will be saddled with heavy payments, and will have a millstone round his neck during the whole of his life. That is not the way to ensure the progress of Canberra. Similar conditions do not obtain in Melbourne or its suburbs. It is, of course, desirable to have certain regulations; but the fewer they are at Canberra the better. The obsolete, mischievous, ‘ disastrous proposal that we should have terraces of houses for the ordinary workers should receive the condemnation of every person. Imagine the impudence of an honorable senator suggesting that the ordinary working man, who does the real work of the country, should be obliged to live in a terrace in a country like Australia, which has an area of 3,000,000 square- miles! The minimum measurement of a home site should be not less than 100 feet by 150 feet. Many workmen are to-day living in Queanbeyan instead of Canberra.
– It is a more attractive place in which to live.
– There are no hotels in Canberra.
– That is why it is a failure.
– It will be a dry area. That is the right policy to follow. It has been argued that the idea of having a garden city at Canberra should be scrapped. That is the very idea that ought to be encouraged. Microscopic allotments are a disgrace to every municipality in the Commonwealth, and are the cause of a good deal of disease. If we want healthy people we must provide them with healthy surroundings. I agree with Senator Elliott that the conditions which have been foisted upon the commissioners make their task a very difficult one. I am hopeful that the discussions which have taken place here, and those which will take place in Canberra, when we get there next year, will show the unwisdom of having pocket-handkerchief allotments with narrow frontages and shallow depths. Senator Elliott has the brilliant idea that a poll tax should be levied on those who travel between Queanbeyan and Canberra, something on the lines of that which Tasmanians levy on mainland residents who go to Launceston or Burnie. I am sure that that will not meet with any one’s approval. It is an idea that ought to be buried with the petrol tax, about which we are hearing so much. I do not wonder that some single men live in tents upon blocks 10 feet by 12 feet in Queanbeyan. If they choose to live in that fashion it is their business, not ours. Everybody with whom I am acquainted is desirous of getting the best house he can, in the most favorable surroundings. I do not know any one who would live in a slum area if he could obtain a home in the most favoured residential situation. But the conditions laid down by the commission under the direction and with the concurrence of the Minister of the day, are such as to effectively block progress at Canberra. I have no hesitation in saying that it has been the intention of the Government all along to block progress there, and it has succeeded admirably in doing so. The only remedy for this business is an instalment of the Henry George system of lands values taxation by a frequent revaluation of the blocks, so that the commission, instead of speculators, will annex the whole of the rental value of the land.
– Would the honor able senator compensate those people who have already purchased leases?
– I should not disturb those people who have already got in on the ground floor, and secured allotments at Canberra for 20 years at a nominal rent, but I should make all blocks sold in future subject to re-appraisement every three years in order to make quite sure that the Commonwealth would completely eliminate all speculation in land, and, through the commission, collect the full rental value of the blocks. When a lands value tax is imposed, you are really taking from the public and giving to the public something which the public itself has created, you are not taking from any man something which he has himself created, you are simply taking for communal use a value which the community has given to land. On more than one occasion I have challenged regulations and ordinances framed under the Seat of Government Administration Act, and in particular that regulation which gives speculators 20 years in which to fleece newcomers at Canberra. I hope’ this discussion will have the effect of compelling the Ministry to amend the regulations in such a way as to provide that all future leases will be subject to re-appraisement every three years, or which would be much better, every twelve months. If that were done, the conditions at Canberra, so ably described by Senator Elliott, would be a thing of the past.
I think the Commonwealth is paying about £7,000,000 a year to returned soldiers, and the widows and dependants of soldiers. It is no doubt a very substantial sum, but it is not too much for the valuable services rendered by our soldiers during the war. Some returned soldiers or their dependents may be drawing a little more money than they are legally entitled to receive - I do not know of any - but on the other hand there is a considerable number of people who are receiving less than they ought to get. A case came under my notice the other day that is typical of many others. A widow whose son was killed in the early stages of the war was advised to make application for a pension for a widowed mother, whose son was a private, which she understood he was at the time of his death. But he was actually a corporal, as she learned only a few days ago, when some eight years after his death, she was advised by the department that there was more money due to her, and she was paid in a lump sum the difference between the amount she was drawing, as a widowed mother of a private, and the amount she should have drawn as the widowed mother of a corporal. It is quite likely that there are many other women who are entitled to receive fairly substantial payments from the Department of Repatriation for a similar reason, and I think the Minister, in fairness to them, should issue a circular drawing the attention of widowed mothers to the fact that a higher pension is payable to those whose sons were of higher rank than that of private.
It was my intention to refer at considerable length to the Grafton to South Brisbane railway, but I shall avail myself of the opportunity to do so when the bill dealing with that railway comes before us for consideration. In the meantime, I give the Government notice that I shall ask whether it is intended to build tunnels for a single or a double line of rails.
I should like to know how many more payments are due for the redemption of loans raised by the Government of South Australia on account of the Port Augusta to Oodnadatta railway. I regret there is not much time at our disposal to deal with all the items in the schedule to this bill. I am of opinion that we frequently vote large sums of money to be expended by the Government without devoting to them the care and attention they should be given.
There is in the bill an item of £50,000 for a subscription to the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. Under that item we could have a full discussion on the petrol tax, but as we shall have another bill before us dealing with that matter I shall not attempt to get into conflict with the Chair by discussing it now.
Out of the thousands of pounds we are providing for expenditure by the Administrator in New Guinea, I am told that he has spent about £2,000 in effecting improvements to the old H.S.A.G. store at Rabaul, which in the opinion of those on the spot are absolutely unjustified, and that although there is at Kaevieng an excellent messroom, £1,500 has been spent in building a new messroom. If that is the way in which money provided for administrative purposes at Rabaul is spent, it is time the matter was referred to the Public Accounts Committee for a report. I am assured by those who are on the spot that this expenditure is quite unjustified. It is also stated that many of the old and experienced overseers on the stations have been displaced by men with little or no experience in handling plantations. I should like to know if the Minister has any information as to the accuracy of that statement.
– Senator Grant seems to me to be getting into a most unfortunate mental condition, because as soon as he rises to his feet he suffers not from a rush of blood to the brain, but from a rush of what one might call “ Henry Georgeism.” He has only one idea in his head when be rises, and that is Henry George and what he advocated. I listened with a great deal of interest to the honorable senator’s remarks. With some of them I agree. It is impossible for an honorable senator to deliver a speech of the duration of that just delivered by Senator Grant without saying something with which others can agree. On the other hand, with a great deal of what the honorable senator said I entirely disagree. The principles he has advocated for settling Canberra would no doubt “ settle “ it very quickly, but not in the way we want. The honorable sena tor wants buildings to be erected, and he would tax the people into erecting them. He wants the land at Canberra to be taken up, but he would impose conditions that would make that impossible.
– I rise to a point of order. 1 ask whether you, sir, regard the statements of Senator Duncan as fair comment. In my opinion, he has, with malice aforethought, misrepresented my remarks. I ask that he be no longer permitted to do so with impunity. I feel keenly on this question.
– If the honorable senator takes exception to any statement by Senator Duncan, he will be in order in asking for its withdrawal. I have not considered Senator Duncan’s remarks to be offensive, and, therefore, I have not called him to order.
– On this occasion, I shall not ask the honorable senator to withdraw any of his remarks.
– I have no desire to hurt the feelings of the honorable senator, and if I have said anything which he regards as unfair comment upon his speech, I am very sorry. I feel sure, however, that honorable senators on this side agree with my interpretation of his remarks. I listened carefully to them, and if I misunderstood them, I am sorry. That, however, is not my fault, but his. The honorable senator is, at times, difficult to understand. I was speaking of the system of land taxation which the honorable senator advocates as a means of securing the erection of buildings upon the land at Canberra which has already been sold on the leasehold principle. The honorable senator made it clear that, in his opinion, the reason why buildings were not being erected on that land was that there was not sufficient re-appraisements. He would have re-appraisement, take place at least every three years, or, preferably, every twelve months, or even at shorter intervals. The only inference to be drawn from the honorable senator’s remarks is that if the persons who have acquired blocks at Canberra are taxed heavily enough, and often enough, they will erect buildings upon them. Senator Elliott stated that many of the purchasers of blocks at Canberra were men without capital. If they have no money now with which to erect buildings, how will heavier taxation make it possible for them to commence building operations?
– They would be compelled to dispose of their blocks to other, people who would build upon them..
– Senators Grant and Elliott evidently do not realize that difficulties now exist, and must continue to exist for a number of years, in connexion with Canberra. ^Senator Elliott’s previous speeches regarding Canberra were very different from that which he has delivered to-night. Previously, he referred to Canberra as a wilderness, where no one with any sense would desire to go; a place without water, and occupied chiefly by rabbits and lunatics. Now, for the first time, he has. visited Canberra, and, as a result, he has returned with altered views regarding it.
– He is angry now because he cannot get some land there.
– Senator Elliott . found Canberra so beautiful, so Edenlike, that he rushed from one agent to another in his endeavours to secure a block, or half a dozen blocks, of land for himself. Because he was unable to get land there, he now complains bitterly that other people, having seen the virtues of Canberra, have acquired all the land available, and that he has been crowded out.
– That is not the position at all. There is plenty of land available at Canberra; but the commission will not sell it.
– Certain portions of the Federal Capital area. have been set aside for certain purposes. It would be unwise for the commission to make available in the civic centre, for instance, more blocks than are required. Senator Elliott would like to see hundreds of blocks made available immediately; but what would be the position if 1,000 blocks were made available and only 300 people wanted them? There would be an immediate slump in land values, with the result that statements that Canberra was a failure would be broadcast throughout Australia. The commission is acting wisely in making available from time to time only sufficient blocks to meet requirements. Probably not sufficient blocks are made available to meet the demand; but it is better that Canberra should progress slowly and surely than that there should be a boom followed by the inevitable crash.
– What does the honorable senator think the population of Canberra will be next year?
– I remember the time when Senator’ Elliott said that no one would live, there. Now he says that large numbers of people want to go there, and that they have secured blocks for themselves.
– They do not want to go there; but they are compelled to do so.
– Senator Elliott said that provision should be made for the subdivision of blocks having 100-ft. frontages. Does he want them to bc 20, 30, 40, or 50 feet in width? Though we may blame the commission for many things, I hope that we shall never’ have to blame it for reducing the size of blocks below that which is reasonable for a man’s home. We do not want to see at Canberra a repetition of the mistakes which have been made in Melbourne, Sydney, and other large cities. Such mistakes amount to crimes. Canberra is being built according to a plan, and is not merely growing as other cities have grown. In Sydney to-day, millions of pounds are being expended in rebuilding slum areas, widening streets,, and doing other work that should have been done many years ago. Sydney is only now being planned. Canberra has’ already been planned.
– If every home in Sydney were erected on a block with 100- ft. frontage, what would be the area of the city?
– I am pleased that the honorable senator thinks that Canberra is destined to have a population equal to that of Sydney. He is an opponent of Canberra, whereas I have great faith in its future; yet even I do not think that Canberra’s population will ever equal that of Sydney. Washington, the capital of the United States of America, has a population which is far less than that of New York and other big cities in that wonderful country.
– The honorable senator has not answered my question. He has not said how large Sydney would require to be to give every dwelling a frontage of 100 feet.
– To meet those requirements Sydney would require to be considerably larger than Tasmania ! It should not be long before the population of Canberra reaches 30,000 or 40,000 persons.
– The various services at Canberra will, in that case, cost proportionately more than similar services in Melbourne and Sydney.
– Of course they will.
– But the death-rate will be lower.
– At Canberra we are not building for cheapness, but in accordance with a plan embodying high ideals. Of course, Senator Guthrie, who comes from that sleepy hollow, Geelong, cannot understand that. Work at Canberra will be proceeded with in accordance with a definite plan. .
– Millions of pounds are being wasted there.
– That is the honorable senator’s opinion now; but he has not yet been to Canberra. Some day he will go there, and, like Senator Elliott, he will return full of enthusiasm regarding its future. He will want to buy land there.
– We are only going there under compulsion.
– One matter referred to by Senator Elliott is worthy of careful consideration. I refer to the position of those public servants who, by reason of the transfer of the Seat of Government, will be compelled to reside at Canberra. I know that in this direction the Government is doing something. Perhaps it is. doing a great deal; but is it doing enough ? The cost of building at Canberra is so high that a public servant in receipt of a fairly good salary will not be able to provide himself with a home comparable with the one which he will leave in Melbourne for less than £2,000.
– Why not?
– Because the cost of building is so high.
– Why is it high ?
– There are various reasons.
– It has frequently been stated that the cost of building is high, but that has not been proved.
– A perusal of the booklet published by the Federal Capital Commission is sufficient to show that the type of houses is not only most unsatisfactory, but that the costs in comparison with those ruling in. Melbourne are excessive.
– I can assure the Minister that I have gone into this matter very fully, and I have discussed it in detail with the Chief Commissioner, Mr. Butters.
– Does Mr. Butters say that the cost of construction at Canberra is more expensive than in Melbourne, or in any other of the large cities ?
– Yes, that it is 30 per cent. higher.
– Then why has that not been stated by Mr. Butters in any of his official communications to the Government ?
– I do not know, but, as I said, I have discussed this matter with him, and he explained why the cost of construction is higher. I am not blaming the commission in any way, because I realize the enormous difficulties under which it Is working. I am fully aware of the fact that it is extremely difficult to obtain the services of efficient tradesmen, and that the freight on material which has to be handled twice is very high.
– As this matter is being investigated, I suggest that the honorable senator defer any further comment until that inquiry has been completed.
– I shall do so, but I desire to take this opportunity of bringing under the notice of the Government the unfortunate position in which many public servants will be placed if they have to occupy houses at prices which are generally admitted to be exorbitant.
– That statement has been repeated on many occasions, but it has never been substantiated.
– Even a cursory perusal of the booklet published by the Federal Capital Commission is sufficient to prove that the F.C.C. type houses in particular are of a most unsatisfactory design, and that the prices are much higher than would be asked for similar dwellings in, say, Melbourne or Sydney. Although the brickyards at the Federal Capital have been enlarged, it has been impossible to meet the enormous demand, and the commission has been compelled to obtain supplies from other sources on which heavy freight and handling charges are imposed. Materials have to be hauled long distances, as only firms able to supply in large quantities can possibly do business with the commission.
– Bricks are costing £8 a thousand delivered at Canberra.
– That is a great deal more than is charged in Sydney or’ Melbourne.
– Yes, about £3 a thousand more.
– When everything is taken into consideration it is easy to understand why the cost of building at Canberra is higher than in the capital cities. As the commission is not to blame, it is the duty of the Government to endeavour to reduce the difficulties under which it is worKing, and thus make it easier for those who will eventually have to reside there. I agree with Senator Elliott that it is unreasonable and unjust to ask public servants who will have to go to Canberra when it becomes the administrative centre to pay excessive prices for their homes. I admit that the Government has done a great deal ; but it is a question of whether more cannot be done. The Government has, I understand, undertaken to purchase the Melbourne homes of public servants, but that offer is surrounded by many restrictions. It should be the responsibility of the Government to meet the increased cost which public servants will necessarily incur, and to provide homes at a reasonable price. The acquisition of a home is the public servant’s own business, and in such cities as Melbourne and Sydney he has a wide selection. That is not so at Canberra. If the cost is to be much higher the Government should concentrate upon that phase of the question, because it is most unfair if public servants have to meet the additional cost merely because the Parliament, having decided to transfer to Canberra, is dragging the public servants after it. So far as I can learn, the commission is doing good work, and is in every way justifying its appointment. In the years to come we shall be better able to judge than we are to-day the value of its work. When that time arrives the commission will, I feel sure, receive all the credit to which it is entitled. When Canberra is the admiration of almost every other city in the world, future generations will say, 1 ‘ Thank heaven there were men whose vision was sufficiently wide to oppose terraced construction and pocket handkerchief allotments, and to provide us with a model city of which we can be proud.”
– I desire to reply to some of the points raised during the debate. In the first place Senator Ogden said that Parliament is almost entirely ignorant of what building construction at Canbrrra iB costing. If honorable senators are unaware of the cost it is their own fault and not that of the commission or of the Government, because practically every building erected at Canberra has been investigated by the Public Works Committee, and its reports and recommendations made available to honorable senators. The -honorable senator further stated that the Federal Capital Commission had lost control of the work, which is an allegation I am sure he would not repeat after further consideration. I was a member of the Government, and the Minister responsible before the commission was appointed. I have been able to compare the work done by the department with that of the commission, and I can say quite frankly that construction under the control of the commission has been more economical because its members are on the spot all the time. The number of bricks laid per man per day has been greater since the commission has been in control. A good deal has been said concerning the cost of the houses, and the statements made have been repeated from time to time without any reliable investigation being made. Honorable senators have been supplied with a valuable little booklet published in April, 1926, by the Federal Capital Commission containing designs of houses and general notes for the information of public servants. I invite honorable senators to closely study the designs, floor and verandah area, and prices of these houses. For instance, there is one shown as “ F.C.C. 26 T3.” The area of the building is 985 square feet, and that of the verandahs 209 square feet, or a total of 1,194 square feet. The rental of that dwelling is only 30s. a week.
– How many rooms?
– It consists of two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and sleep-out.
– Yes, it consists of only three rooms and a kitchen.
– I could show honorable senators similar buildings, erected on what have been termed pockethandkerchief allotments within the industrial suburbs of Melbourne, for which the occupants are paying more than 30s. a week
– What is the cost of construction 1
– I intend to deal with that. There is another type, “W and EDI,” which consists of bedroom, sitting room, living room, and kitchen, verandah, bathroom, laundry, the purchase price of which is £900. The area of the building is 711 square feet, and that of the verandah 70 square feet. If a house of that type were constructed in Melbourne, the price would be considerably higher, because the full value of the land would have to be added, whereas at Canberra the purchaser pays only 5 per cent, of the capital value of the land. I also direct the attention of honorable senators to type FCC23 J3, which is more costly. This house has an area of 999 square feet, and a verandah of 174 square feet, or a total of 1,173 square feet. The price is £1,275.
– How many rooms?
– A living room 18 feet by 14 ft. 6 in. - a good room - a bedroom 12 by 12, another 9 by 12, a dining room 11 by 8 ft. 6 in., a kitchen 9 ft. 6 in. by 8 ft. 3 in., as well as a laundry, bathroom, a large verandah, and other conveniences.
– Four rooms and a kitchen ! Some of the rooms are exceptionally small.
– I ask honorable senators to inspect the plans, and to estimate what a similar dwelling would cost in Melbourne.
– Has the Minister read the speech, made in another place last week, by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins), the member for the district, who said, in effect, that a house at Canberra cost twice as much to build as it would in Sydney.
– No; but I do not care what that gentleman said. I am giving the cost of these houses and comparing them with similar dwellings in Melbourne, concerning the cost of which I have some knowledge. There is also type FCC19 G2, the price of which is £1,225. This dwelling consists of a bedroom 12 by 10, another 12 by 12, a living room 14 by 12, as well as a kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and back and front porch and verandah. It is of a satisfactory design, and the price does not seem at all unreasonable. Another house, costing £1,300, consists of a living room 19 by 14, kitchen 11 ft. 6 in. by 9, bedrooms 14 by 11, 15 by 19, and 10 by 10, a large verandah, laundry, kitchen, bathroom, &c. That is quite a good house for £1,300. FCC.2, another house of about the same size, is available for £1,250.
– Is there any guarantee that public servants will be able to get those houses at that figure?
– Those are the offers. Now as to the quality of the houses. Perhaps honorable senators are hot aware that an Australian-wide competition was held, and as a result standard types were adopted. Since the very best architects in Australia took part in the competition, there should be
Borne guarantee, at all events, as to the quality of the houses. Those honorable senators who have criticized the work of the Federal Capital Commission, appear to be under the impression that public servants who may be transferred to Canberra vill be obliged to buy houses from the commission. Nothing of the kind is suggested. If public servants think they can get better value by employing architects to draw their own designs, and by employing their own contractors, they have perfect liberty to do that.
– Is it not a fact that bricks cost £3 a thousand more in Canberra than in Melbourne?
– I do not know. I was not dealing with that phase of the subject at all. I was exposing the fallacy of the suggestion that public servants transferred to Canberra will be obliged to purchase houses erected by the commission. Let me now outline the procedure and terms in connexion with securing a block of land. In the booklet issued by the Federal Capital Commission it is stated that -
All land will be sold on a 99-years’ lease.
Subdivisional plans are available at the office of the Federal Capital Transportation Branch, and an intelligence officer is in attendance to explain the photographs and contour maps.
Public servants desiring a lease of a site will fill in Form A, after seeing the plans, photographs, and contours, and consulting the intelligence officer, giving alternatives, in order of preference, as there may be many applicants for the sameblock.
The annual rental of each block will be 5 per cent. on the unimproved value, as assessed by the commission, with re-appraisement after twenty years, and every ten years thereafter.
There are five alternative methods of securing a home at Canberra -
I invite honorable senators not to accept loose statements made by people who have not investigated the position, but to secure a copy of the booklet and read it for themselves. I ask them also to bear in mind that even if a house in Canberra does cost a public servant £2,000, he has £2,000of value. That is to say, if he wished to sell his house the sale price would be regulated by the cost price of houses in Canberra, so that whilst a house in Canberra may cost him more than a house in Melbourne, the owner will have a property that is worth more.
– But with a diminishing value because of the diminishing currency of the lease.
– I can assure honorable senators that the Government is not unfriendly towards the public servants who are to be transferred to Canberra, but, as the guardians of the taxpayers’ money, its duty is to see that, whilst the public servants are treated fairly and justly, the taxpayer also gets a fair deal. We are endeavouring to hold the scales evenly between the interests of the public servants and the interests of the taxpayer generally. We have laid it down as a principle that, in certain specific respects, the public servant shall not suffer financially by reason of the decision of the people, through their Parliament, to remove the Seat of Government from Melbourne to Canberra. As a large number of public servants will have to be transferred to Canberra by about May of next year, a considerable number of houses will be for sale in Melbourne. If an attempt is made to unload them at the one time, there will be a slump in values with consequent loss to public servants. To avert this we have drawn up a scheme to prevent public servants from suffering unduly. We have arranged to appoint valuators to value the Melbourne homes of transferred officers, and will give each officer credit in the books of the commission for the value of his Melbourne home for the purchase of another home in Canberra. These, briefly, are the details of the scheme decided upon by the Government. They show, at all events, that some steps have been taken to do justice to public servants whose future home will be in Canberra. Senator Elliott also said that Mr. Butters had acknowledged that building costs in Canberra were 30 per cent. more than in Melbourne. All I can say in reply to that is that Mr. Butters has not made that statement in any official communication to me. The Government, in order to do justice to the public servants concerned, has referred this matter to a committee of the Public Service Board, which will inquire into the exact cost’ of buildings in Canberra, and the exact cost of similar buildings in Melbourne. This inquiry is now being held, and when the Government receives the report of the committee it will make an announcement, and say what it proposes to do in the matter. But we are not going to be stampeded into making rash promises. Senator Elliott appears to be under the impression that Mr. Griffin is responsible for the design of the houses. Mr. Griffin’s plan of the city was accepted after a world-wide competition of townplanning experts. He had nothing whatever to do with the planning of the houses, but the city area is being developed in accordance with his plan. The contour map now on view in Queen’s Hall gives a very good idea of the lay-out of the city. In the course of his remarks, Senator Elliott made what to me was a startling state- ment, namely, that Mr. Butters had said that no artisan could live in Canberra. Certainly Mr. Butters has never made that statement to me, and it is within my own personal knowledge that artisans are living in Canberra in houses rented from the commission.
– In houses that cost £1,400, and are being rented at 25s. a week.
– The honorable senator said that the residential areas are about1/2 an acre in extent, and that they are too large for the average public servant to keep in order. If he will examine the booklet he will find that the blocks in Ainslie subdivision are 80 feet by 100 feet, or, roughly; less than1/4 acre in extent. The honorable senator referred also to the development of Queanbeyan, and its effect on the Federal Capital. On that point I can only say that if we allowed the Federal Capital to be developed on similar lines we should deserve all the castigation that this Parliament could administer. We have no desire to encourage the erection in the Federal Capital of such “ shacks “ as are to be seen in Queanbeyan. The honorable senator suggested that it appeared to be the policy of the commission to prevent people from obtaining land upon which to build. That is not so. Apparently the honorable senator has in mind not the residential areas, but the business sites. Anybody can select a residential area, the value of which will then be determined by the commissioners. It must be remembered that the city cannot be developed satisfactorily under a haphazard system. Accordingly a certain area is reserved for business purposes. Naturally the commission will not allow building in the business area except according to the defined plan. The honorable senator mentioned the cost of sewer services. Obviously, if building operations were allowed to spread over a large area, essential services such as sewerage could not be provided at a reasonable cost to the people, nor would it be possible to make footpaths and provide other conveniences.
– Are not the sewer mains laid already?
– Yes ; but the connexions have to be made. That the commission has rightly judged the demand for land is shown by the result of sales by auction of business sites, at values above the upset price fixed by the commission. The honorable senator said something which, I am sure, he will regret, when he reads his Hansard proof. He suggested that, under the present system, friends of the commission were securing an advantage.
– I do not think I said that. I did not intend to convey any such suggestion.
– I am certain that the honorable senator did not mean what he said; but I know that other honorable senators protested at the time he made the statement. Advertisements were inserted in all the leading newspapers of Australia, stating that the land would be sold at public auction to the highest bidder, so there could be no possibility of favoritism. I turn, now, to some criticism offered by Senator Grant. That honorable senator has extolled the value of the municipal rating system, and appeared to be quite unaware that it is in operation in Canberra.
– How often is a revaluation made ?
– I do not know.
– Why is not a revaluation made for rental purposes?
– That is another question. I tell the honorable senator that the rating system on the yearly assessment is in force at Canberra.
– By way of personal explanation, I should like to say that I did not mean to suggest that friends of the commission were being favoured by the present system for the disposal of land at Canberra; but I believe that it tempts people to hold land out of use for a rise in value. That is one reason why I urged that more frequent sales should be held.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.
.- If the Public Works Committee determines that the contract price for the erection of the 300 cottages at Canberra is too high, what redress will be open to those who will have to occupy those houses 1 I should also like to know how many houses costing £900 or £1,000 will be available, and whether any of them will be capable of accommodating an officer who has a family of three or four children. I consider that they will not provide sufficient accommodation for that number. From what I have been able to gather, the rooms are small and insufficient in number.
Senator GRANT (New South Wales) [9.511. - Senator Pearce referred to the rating of the blocks at Canberra. I understand the position thoroughly, because I have made a close study of the rules, by-laws and ordinances. The Government has submitted the leases of certain blocks to auction, and they have gone to the highest bidder. The leases will have a term of 99 years, but they will be subject to re-appraisement of rent at the expiration of 20 years, and thereafter every ten years. “Under the system of rating on the unimproved value of land, as laid down by Henry George, no exemption, no graduation, no rebate is allowed. It is a mathematically correct system, and it is equitable, because, whatever the shape or the size of a block of land may be, the rate is imposed on the unimproved value. I should like the Minister to tell me whether the value on which the local rate is imposed is that fixed for the first twenty years, or whether the blocks are re-assessed every twelve months. I am almost sure that the original intention was that the local rate should be imposed upon the rental value determined at the sales of the leases. If that is so, the commission is being robbed of a substantial income every year. I should like the Minister to see that the rates are imposed upon -an annual valuation. I take advantage of this opportunity to again point out to him and to Senator Elliott ‘ that the fixing of a twenty-year period is the sole cause of blocks being kept out of use. The Government should bring down a measure to amend the act in the direction of providing that leases which are sold in the future shall be subject to reappraisement annually. That would give to the commission the full rental value.
– That is never done.
– It could be done with immense advantage to the commission. It would prevent the condition of affairs that the Minister is trying to cir cumvent by providing in the leases that building must commence and be completed within a certain time. Senator Elliott has told us that a man may excavate a trench 3 or 4 feet long, lay a brick or two, and do nothing more for two years. That is the kind of thing which the Government is encouraging. The scheme hitherto adopted has proved ineffective, and it will continue to be ineffective so long as the Minister persists with the idea that re-appraisement shall take place only after the expiration of twenty years. Senator Elliott’s proposal that a greater number of blocks should be made available would relieve the difficulty only for a time. Surely he can see that it would furnish an opportunity for other persons, who have a few pounds to spare and are able to visualize the progress that will be made at Canberra, to get in and reap where they have not sown, thus preventing settlement at Canberra. The whole of our building regulations have been deliberately designed to prevent settlement. If I had my way, I should make building lots available to the highest bidder, but subject to annual re-appraisement. I should be prepared to make available to-morrow the whole of the 900 square miles at Canberra, subject to the payment in advance of the annual rent. If the total rental value were appropriated, no person would hold on to a block unless he made use of it. Any other scheme will merely tend to the establishment of commissions of inquiry. More houses are required, but they cannot be built unless a greater number of building sites are made available. If the commission is told that building sites must be made available, and be subject to frequent re-appraisement of rent, the present condition of affairs will quickly come to an end. Although we have 900 square miles at our disposal in the Federal Territory, we are deliberately preventing the settlement there by giving long leases not subject to re-appraisement. It seems to me it is wrong to tolerate the action of the Government in this regard which is simply crucifying the Federal Capital, and I shall ‘be glad if the Minister sees his way clear at an early date to amend the regulation and make, the blocks subject to re-appraisement for rental purposes, just as he says they are annually re-valued for municipal rating purposes.
If that is done, the fears of Senator Elliott will vanish, because no one will hold on to land unless it is profitable to do so.
Ishould like to ask the Minister for Home and Territories whether it is true that £2,000 has been spent on the renovation of the H.S.A.G. store at Rabaul, and £1,500 on building a new mess-room at Kaevieng, because I am informed that in neither case is the expenditure justified. I also wish to know whether it is true that many competent plantation overseers havebeen discharged to make room for new men with no experience whatever. I should also like same information about the land at Fairy Meadow. It is absurd’ for us to be borrowing £2,000,000 for the Federal Capital Commission while it has 900 square miles of territory at its disposal. The sooner the commission is told to make land available for the use of the thousands of people who want it, the setter it will be for the Commonwealth and the commission. Our national debt is going up by leaps and bounds. We are told that the war debt has been reduced by about £24,000,000, but our other debts have increased far more than that.
[10.3].-The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) has asked what will happen if, by anychance, the Public Works Committee finds that the prices tendered for the building of cottages at Canberra are excessive. It will be time enough to deal with that question when the committee’s report is available. In regard to the prices of the houses at Canberra referred to by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce), any member of the Public Service coming under the housing scheme of the commission can have a house’ built in accordance with any of the plans shown and at the prices quoted in the booklet issued by the commission. It is also open to the public to go to the Commonwealth Bank and have houses built by their own architects. For the purpose of raising municipal funds at Canberra, leases for rating purposes will be valued every year.
– In his usual adroit manner, Senator Pearce has attempted to refute the remark
I made, thatthe chief commissioner had admitted tome that he couldnot build houses in which artisans could live at Canberra because of their cost, by pointing out that there are now hundreds of artisans living there. Of coursethere are, but they are not living in houses for which they have paid. They are living in dwellings the costofwhich isunknown, bat which is estimated to be about £1,500 each, and they are paying from 25s. to 30s. a week in rent. The balance of the rental value is provided by a paternalGovernment. Therefore; the Minister’s answer does not disposeof mypoint that, if workmen are to live at Canberra, houses will have to be sold to them at a reasonable cost.
Senate adjourned at 10.10 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 21 July 1926, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1926/19260721_senate_10_114/>.