Standing up for Canberra

The ACT (Planning and Land Management) Amendment Bill 2017

As the very proud and privileged member for Canberra, I am pleased to speak on the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Amendment Bill 2017 today. When the average Australian thinks about this city's development, the following names easily come to mind: Charles Scrivener, Walter Burley Griffin, King O'Malley, Lady Denman and Sir Robert Menzies. But there are very few who know the story of how the National Capital Authority, responsible for the planning and management of Commonwealth land in the Australian Capital Territory, actually came about and why it has the responsibilities it has.

Following the Federation of Australia on 1 January 1901 and the eventual selection of the ACT to accommodate a capital city in 1908, surveyor Charles Scrivener was responsible for finding the city's specific site. Scrivener's selection of location, where Canberra is today, was guided by instructions to assess sites from 'a scenic standpoint, with a view to securing the picturesque and with the object of beautification'. With emphasis placed on the picturesque, it affirmed that the future capital's landscaping and aesthetics would be just as important as its functionality. It's therefore no surprise that these elements became the essence, the central theme, of Walter Burley Griffin's design for our beautiful nation's capital, our wonderful city of Canberra.

Burley Griffin's own design was strongly influenced by the design for Washington DC: Pierre Charles L'Enfant's 1792 design. L'Enfant's design included wide, tree lined avenues that would visually connect significant topographical sites over the city. This became an emerging theme within the new city of Canberra, with Burley Griffin's design combining aspects, including the bush, which is very much part of our national identity and very much part of our Canberra identity. It is the bush capital. It's part of our DNA. We take great pride in the fact that we have big, beautiful skies, big, beautiful sunsets and views of the Brindabellas—although the Brindabellas can get a bit cool in winter when they're snow-capped. We love our bush capital and we love that it's part of our national capital identity and our Canberra's identity. There are also the wide, tree lined avenues.

Burley Griffin's design for Canberra became the cornerstone for planning and land management decisions, starting with the Federal Capital Advisory Committee in the early 1920s.

The committee proposed developing the Burley Griffin plan in three stages: stage 1 would see the transfer of parliament and key administrative staff from Sydney and Melbourne to Canberra—ironically, it took until the 1990s for that to finally happen, and those opposite are doing their level best to deconstruct that; stage 2 would include the construction of railways in addition to other key buildings; and stage 3 would create character and permanence in the capital. While the first two stages were not achieved by the committee, the garden city aspects of Canberra were developed.

Soon after, the Federal Capital Commission was formed to construct and administer Canberra from 1925. In its first two years, the commission oversaw the completion of Old Parliament House; the Lodge; the beautiful Albert Hall; the Institute of Anatomy, which is now home to the National Film and Sound Archive; the Australian Forestry School; and Mount Stromlo Observatory. With the onset of the Great Depression, the commission was disbanded, and there was no central planning for Canberra's development until the creation of National Capital Planning and Development Committee in 1938. The committee was intended to oversee the development of Canberra, ensure the implementation of the Burley Griffin plan and maintain the high aesthetics and high architectural standards worthy of the national capital.

After almost 20 years, a Senate select committee inquired into Canberra's development and replaced the National Capital Planning and Development Committee with the National Development Capital Commission. The commission was granted significant funding and authority to complete the establishment of Canberra as the seat of government and was led by none other than the founder of the modern Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies. Sir Robert Menzies took some time to warm to the idea of Canberra as a worthy national capital. He said:

I cannot honestly say that I liked Canberra very much; it was to me a place of exile; but I soon began to realise that the decision had been taken, that Canberra was and would continue to be the capital of the nation, and that it was therefore imperative to make it a worthy capital; something that the Australian people would come to admire and respect; something that would be a focal point for national pride and sentiment. Once I had converted myself to this faith, I became an apostle.

That was Sir Robert Menzies. Yet Sir Robert Menzies, through a series of bold and ambitious decisions, established Canberra as the thriving city we know it as today. Despite the fact he had that original reservation about Canberra, he became an apostle. He was converted to the faith that is our national capital—and it is a great national capital. He was also a very, very strong advocate of a consolidated Public Service here in the nation's capital, here in Canberra. I am sending this message to those opposite, particularly given that, as we heard on budget night, a number of government agencies and jobs are once again moving out of Canberra, our nation's capital. I again remind them of the Sir Robert Menzies's vision. I remind them to ensure that that legacy is upheld and that we have a consolidated Public Service here in the nation's capital, which was established to be the seat of democracy, and to have those servants of democracy based here in Canberra.

What did we get from the budget this week? We got more government agencies moving out of Canberra. The Inland Rail unit will be going to Toowoomba, Dubbo and Wodonga. The Indian Ocean Territories area of the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities is going to Perth. The Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations is going to Darwin. The Unique Student Identifier Registrar is going to Adelaide. There are a range of government agencies—that's not the full list—moving out of Canberra and into other parts of Australia. Again, I remind those opposite that, despite the Menzies vision, only 38 per cent of the Public Service is actually based here in Canberra. The rest of it is scattered throughout Australia, despite Sir Robert Menzies's vision to consolidate the Public Service here. This is the centre of policy development, and only 38 per cent of the Public Service is based here. I ask those opposite: how much more of the Public Service do you want to move out of Canberra, despite the fact that it was actually established to be the nation's capital and the seat of democracy? How much more do you want to decimate our nation's capital?

We saw what happened with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. What a debacle, what a complete and utter debacle—that blatant and shameless relocation from Canberra of 200-plus people to Armidale to essentially shore up the election of the former Deputy Prime Minister.

It was a blatant and shameless pork barrel. The government commissioned an independent review into it. What did the independent review find? That it was all cost and no benefit. Despite that independent review and despite the Senate inquiry, the government still went ahead with this absolutely ludicrous decision, and it's been a complete and utter disaster.

We've seen brain drain of epic proportions. We've seen hundreds of years of expertise and skill leave the agency. It's gone and it won't be coming back. We've seen APVMA approvals for agricultural pesticides plummet. We've seen industry associations completely opposed to it. We've seen public servants moving to Armidale to work from McDonald's, because there is no actual facility for them to work from. They had this thought bubble based on no evidence that it was going to work, and they didn't even have a facility for the people who go there. You can imagine what's happening in the APVMA: people leaving in droves, brain drain that will be very hard to replace for many, many years, approvals plummeting, industry opposed to it and people working from McDonald's because there is no facility to work in. This is the government's vision for the agricultural industry in this country.

I remind those who are listening and those opposite that it was the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Finance who ordered this relocation, and the Deputy Prime Minister was, at that stage, the minister for agriculture. What sort of minister for agriculture decimates his own industry? That's what we've seen from those opposite. Their vision continues; the thought bubble continues. What is the cost-benefit analysis on moving these agencies and these jobs from Canberra to the regions? Where is the cost-benefit analysis? I haven't seen any cost-benefit analysis and I haven't heard of any. It was all news to me when I heard it on Tuesday night. I remind those opposite of Menzies' vision for this city, for this national capital. It was about consolidating the public service here, and it took a very, very long time. Some would argue that the project is still going, in the fact that it took until the 1990s for DSD to finally come up here from Victoria Barracks. The project is still going, and it's being deconstructed by those opposite, with this decentralisation nonsense.

I go back to the bill at hand. In terms of this bill, we're talking about the planning and land management of the Australian Capital Territory, our nation's capital. We saw those opposite do their level best to completely deconstruct Menzies' vision. In the budget we saw next to zero investment in infrastructure. We saw further cuts—another 3,500 cuts to the Public Service, many of them here in the ACT—further attacks on our national institutions and, as I said mentioned before, decentralisation.

The NCDC was disbanded in 1989, after the ACT was granted self-government, and the NCA was established. Since self-government, the NCA has shared responsibility for planning and managing land with the ACT government. The NCA is responsible for managing the Commonwealth's interest in the ACT, which is generally the tracts of land and other major assets identified as being on Commonwealth land or in nationally important areas. The ACT government is responsible for day-to-day planning decisions affecting the majority of the territory. The existing arrangements do not provide decision-making within the NCA with sufficient oversight and transparency, nor provide the necessary support for the minister.

The proposed changes in this bill will update the governance arrangements of the NCA. The proposed amendment makes the authority the accountable authority, enabling it to give directions to the chief executive and allowing it to become involved in NCA operations.

The amendment clarifies the relationship between the authority and chief executive in a similar way to other agencies, such as the Organ and Tissue Authority. In this case, the NCA's chief executive remains the head of the entity for the purposes of the Public Service Act, but the authority for persons appointed by the Governor-General would become the accountable authority for the purposes of the act. These amendments also clarify the minister's existing powers by including 'must comply' provisions. These provisions oblige the authority to comply with the ministerial directive, which must be general in nature and not specific to a matter under the authority's consideration.

With the improved governance arrangements, we will see an improvement in terms of the transparency and the accountability of the NCA. That's vitally important, particularly for the people of Canberra. I've recently had a number of people from the electorate contact me about some changes to draft amendment 89, which is in the Deakin Forest residential precinct. Despite the fact the NCA was engaged in an active conversation with a number of these residents in regard to changes to their planning plans and despite the fact that these planning plans were open for consultation, the NCA then sort of clamped down on making any further decisions and these people, who were under the impression they were allowed to do a particular planning change, were then advised they couldn't do it, despite having engaged openly with the NCA for a very long time and despite the fact that the NCA had made that decision when the broader consultation process was still open. I encourage the NCA to use this opportunity, to use the changes from this bill, to actively engage in open consultation and not come to decisions on particular issues when they are still open to consultation.

Finally, I thank the NCA for the work it's done in the diplomatic enclave with 'use it or lose it'. It's been terrific work in terms of getting movement and development in the diplomatic enclave here.