Standing up for Canberra

NCET Report into Light Rail Stage Two

As Deputy Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the report of the inquiry into Commonwealth and Parliamentary approvals for the proposed stage 2 of the Australian Capital Territory light rail project

I'd like to take this opportunity to associate myself and colleagues from this side of the chamber who are on the committee with the comments made by the chair. As the chair has mentioned, we have very productive and constructive conversations and a very productive and constructive relationship in the committee.

We are all working to ensure we deliver the best deal for those in the external territories, those associated within the Antarctic policy, and also those who are very much associated with our wonderful national capital here—particularly the area that is covered by the National Capital Authority and, through that, the Parliament. So thank you to the chair for his comments and for the contribution that his side of the chamber have made in what I think is a very enjoyable committee, and one that really does deliver quality advice and reports in its area of responsibility.

This inquiry investigated what should and would be done in terms of necessary Commonwealth approvals for light rail stage 2 in the ACT. It was not an investigation as to whether stage 2 should go ahead. The chair and I were at pains to make this clear—that this was not an investigation into the pros and cons of light rail and it was not an investigation into the pros and cons of stage 2 of the light rail project. It was about looking at what the next steps would look like.

It's important to note that the inquiry had bipartisan support and was welcomed by the ACT government.

The terms of reference for the inquiry included: 

  • the relevant parliamentary approval processes for works within the Parliamentary zone,
  • the roles of the National Capital Authority and the Australian Government, and the associated approval processes,
  • possible impacts on the Parliamentary zone and Parliamentary precincts, including any impacts on the heritage values and national importance of the Parliamentary zone and our national capital, and
  • the identification of matters that may be of concern prior to formal parliamentary or Australian Government consideration of the project.

This inquiry gave the committee the opportunity to explore the heritage value of the Parliamentary precinct, as well as the roles and approval processes of the Parliament, the ACT Government, and relevant Commonwealth and ACT Government agencies.

We were very, very keen to get an explicit understanding of that through this inquiry, because the proposed Stage 2 of the light rail project crosses the historic and iconic Parliamentary precinct of our nation's capital. Because of this, we need to ensure the approval processes for this project respect the heritage value and history of this significant area.

That's particularly of importance for me as the Member for Canberra, because the proposed stage 2 area of the light rail project crosses into my electorate, which is an area full of government agencies, cultural agencies, scientific agencies, educational agencies and military institutions that hold significant and special meaning for my community here in Canberra, but for all Australians.

Like in all states and territories, it is the responsibility of the local government to improve the public transport network for residents and visitors.

The ACT is in a unique position in requiring approvals from the parliament and an investigation by the committee. So the ACT is unique in that it has these Commonwealth agencies that are involved in influencing the way that it can manage some of its decisions, and this is particularly the case as to stage 2 of the light rail.

The committee developed six recommendations in the inquiry, and I just want to run through those.

The committee recommended:

  1. For the NCET Committee to be notified by the responsible Minister of any works applications or amendments to the National Capital Plan relating to the light rail project prior to its tabling in the Parliament.
  2. If the ACT Government chooses to pursue a different route to that of the National Capital Plan, there should be a two-stage process for seeking Commonwealth approval.
  3. The National Capital Authority should require any light rail bridge design on either the Commonwealth or Kings Avenue bridges to adhere to a range of standards regarding design, size and visual impact.
  4. Any light rail on or crossing major roads including Commonwealth Avenue, State Circle and Kings Avenue should be wire free.
  5. The placement and appearance of light rail stops, landscaping, and signage to be unobtrusive and complementary to the heritage value of nearby buildings, views of Parliament, and the character of the Central National Area and Parliamentary Zone.
  6. The removal of any trees with heritage value be met with an appropriate replanting and landscaping strategy that maintains heritage values in the Central National Area and the Parliamentary Zone.

Speaker, you will be aware that in that area, particularly just over the road on Commonwealth Avenue, there are trees that were planted by Weston which are an integral part of the national capital's history—deeply connected to the history of Canberra and the beginning of this city as the national capital.

There is a lot of good about this report and the fact that it aims to—and I hope it does not just aim to but does—provide clarity to the ACT Government, to Commonwealth agencies who are involved in this, and to the parliament and the committee about the next steps for the proposed stage 2 of the light rail.

I commend the report to the House.