Standing up for Canberra

National Capital and External Territories Committee Report - Diplomatic Estates 2013

My electorate of Canberra is truly fortunate to be home to over 80 diplomatic missions from around the world. The many diplomats and their families who call Canberra home, even for short periods of time, enliven our city. They share with us their diversity, their culture, their language, their food, their music and their art. They make Canberra a truly vibrant national capital.

I have been campaigning for a long-term strategy to manage Canberra's diplomatic estates for some time now. A long-term strategy will ensure Canberra's diplomatic estates are planned and developed in a sustainable way, benefiting both the diplomats who will call them home and the broader Canberra community. A long-term strategy will also allow for better coordination between the National Capital Authority, the Commonwealth and the ACT government. It will allow for better community consultation and for consideration of environmental and other needs, particularly the varying needs of a modern diplomatic community

The management of the diplomatic estate was first brought to my attention by constituents in my electorate. They were concerned over a proposed development for a new diplomatic estate at Stirling Ridge. When I started to look into this proposed development, it became obvious that there was no long-term strategy or plan guiding the allocation of land for the development of diplomatic estates here in Canberra. Instead, there was an ad hoc process that resulted in land being designated as appropriate for diplomatic estates but then never being developed and new land—virgin ground such as Stirling Ridge— being proposed for development when the diplomatic estate was not full and in the absence of a long-term strategy. That is why I called for an inquiry into the allocation of lands for diplomatic missions in the ACT and why I am very pleased to be presenting the report of this inquiry and estate for the future.

The Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories undertook two key tasks in this inquiry. First, we compared the experience of Canberra with other national capitals, in particular Washington DC. The committee was impressed with the level of planning and coordination in the Washington model and its substantial use of free market methods in the allocation of land to diplomatic missions.

Second, we explored various alternatives for allocating land to diplomatic missions, including more stringent enforcement of lease conditions and resumption of leases, use of medium- and high-density premises to house missions, subdivision of existing lands and the use of residential and commercial properties to house missions.

The committee has made three key recommendations. Recommendation 1 is that the government implements a range of new options for the allocation of land for diplomatic estates including strengthened policies and regulations surrounding diplomatic leases, the introduction of medium- and high-density options for housing chanceries, policies to allow the subdivision of existing sites within the diplomatic estate, a policy framework that allows more extensive use of residential and commercial properties to house chanceries along the lines adopted in Washington DC and the overall encouragement of a steady evolution towards a more commercial approach to this issue.

Recommendation 2 is that the National Capital Authority develop a long-term strategy for the allocation of land to diplomatic missions in the ACT. This strategy will be developed in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australian Federal Police and the ACT government, and integrated with the national capital plan and the territory plan. Recommendation 3 is that the National Capital Authority withdraw draft amendment 78 to the National Capital Plan which is the proposal for the development of a diplomatic estate at Stirling Ridge. I am pleased to report that the NCA have accepted recommendations 2 and 3 which concern them directly.

I am confident that these recommendations will ensure that the future allocation of land for the development of diplomatic estates will be done in a way that enhances this city, that enhances the experience of diplomats posted to Canberra and that benefits all Canberrans. These recommendations will allow for greater flexibility and choice and reflect the options provided by the modern Canberra, not the Canberra of the 1950s.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the committee, particularly the chair, Senator Louise Pratt, and the committee secretariat for their excellent work on this inquiry. I would also like to thank the many residents and associations who invested significant time in advocating on this issue and preparing articulate and well-considered submissions for the inquiry. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the late Meredith Barnes from the Save Stirling Park group who was a tireless and passionate advocate on this issue until her final days.

Download a copy of this speech.