Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee - 02/05/2012 - Performance of the Department of Parliamentary Services

MARTIN, Mr Eric, President, National Trust of Australia (ACT)

Committee met at 09:01

CHAIR ( Senator Polley ): Good morning, everyone. The committee will continue its inquiry into the performance of the Department of Parliamentary Services. I welcome Mr Eric Martin from the National Trust. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. The committee has your submission. I invite you to make a short opening statement. At the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.

Mr Martin : I would like to make a few comments in respect to the submission, particularly in light of having had the opportunity to look at more recent information, the heritage management framework. Parliament House is a significant building. That is a firmly held view of the National Trust and also of other professional organisations like the Australian Institute of Architects. Our opinion is that it should be on the National Heritage Register. An appropriate heritage management plan should be prepared and accepted to guide the ongoing management of this building and the conservation of the heritage values of it.

We are concerned that the work that has been done to date has had no serious public consultation. In other words, professional organisations or community organisations like the National Trust have not been consulted in where we are at the moment, which I think is a failing in respect to obligations and in respect to developing significance. Also, it is outside the process that is set down by the department in respect to dealing with the EPBC Act, places of heritage value. We think that it should be National Heritage listed and fall within the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The current proposals suggest that there will be stakeholder and community consultation, but there is no evidence provided to date that that will actually occur, because it has not happened to date. We have no confidence that, while it might be stated that that will occur in the future, it will actually happen. We have concern that the advisory board as proposed has limited heritage expertise to make serious decisions in respect to the heritage values. The Department of Parliamentary Services needs a clearly structured plan and detail, which has been developed through a normal process of developing heritage management plans, to give them the guidance they need to look after this very important building.

The other point I would make is that the statement of significance fails to acknowledge some aspects of the architectural significance of the building. It fails to acknowledge the importance that this building has within the Australian Institute of Architects and the International Union of Architects. There is inconsistency between the analysis and the statement of significance. There are things stated in the analysis of high value and then put into the statement of significance as exceptional. The statement of significance fails to acknowledge all the recognition of this building, nationally and internationally, on various awards and citations. I think that is a shortcoming in respect to the whole thing.

Because it has not gone through a public and professional assessment through a consultation process, I think the rigour evidenced in the statement of significance and the analysis is not there. This building is important and it should have the best guidance in respect to protecting that significance. That will only come through a properly developed heritage management plan with input and review by the community through the National Trust and through other organisations and professional review through people like the Australian Institute of Architects. Our concern is that, without this structure in place, the heritage values of this place are not fully recognised and will not be fully protected, and it needs that rigour in place.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. I thank you again for your submission. I was wondering if you could take the committee through your views, because we note in your submission that the conservation and management plan is required, and there is a difference between the heritage structure and the heritage management framework? Could you describe the difference between those three types of documents and their roles in protecting the heritage?

Mr Martin : You mentioned the conservation management plan process.

CHAIR: The heritage strategy and the heritage management framework. Could we do that first?

Mr Martin : The conservation management plan is a document which defines or describes the building. It provides the history of the building, and then goes through a rigorous analysis against criteria as to why a building or a place is significant. That would involve not only the built fabric for this place such as the objects that are within Parliament House but also the social significance of the place. There has been no evidence that that rigour has been applied in respect to developing the strategy to date. It is a process of carefully working through to articulate what is significant and why it is significant. There is no evidence provided that that process has been followed.

Having established the significance, what is usually put in place are opportunities and constraints. They can be from a client or user point of view or it can be an authority point of view. In other words, it defines what outside influences can affect the ongoing conservation of the building. That will include planning controls and it will include building controls as well as individual wishes and desires of people who occupy and use the building. Having established those conservation opportunities and constraints, then the conservation policies are put in place. That will actually get down to another level of detail of what the people, who have to manage this building, need to be aware of in protecting the significance.

The usual process that you actually go through for this conservation management planning process, or heritage management process, is to clearly articulate what is significant. Once that is done you can develop a strategy that is consistent with the EPBC Act. There are various components in the EPBC Act of what that heritage strategy should put in place. Then you put in a heritage management framework which will be in place to make sure that the heritage values are protected and managed appropriately in the ongoing life of the building. So they form a party of documents. While we have appeared to have jumped into the strategy, there is no evidence available to the community as to how that strategy has been derived. We think it is actually missing certain components.

CHAIR: Your concern is not just for the structure of the building but also for the contents, which are equally of significance.

Mr Martin : Significance can include contents, and in this place it does. Significance can include social significance, and I do not think that has been adequately addressed within the heritage management plan or understood in respect of this building. It will only be understood if appropriate processes are clearly undertaken. There is no evidence that that process has occurred.

CHAIR: As time goes on—and some time has now passed since this was opened—there will need to be alterations made. In your observations, do you think due consideration has been given to the heritage and significance of this building in those plans?

Mr Martin : There has certainly been some appreciation of the heritage value. It is clearly documented in here. I do not think it goes far enough, I do not think it is consistent enough and I do not think it is rigorous enough in respect to what is accepted conservation practice today.

CHAIR: In terms of this advisory board—and you obviously made some comments about this in your opening statement—does there need to be someone within DPS who has heritage qualifications or can this role be maintained by ensuring that you have the proper expertise on this advisory board?

Mr Martin : For the size and significance of the building, I would strongly advocate that a person with heritage expertise is part of the process and available. In the works that are occurring there are issues that have cropped up on a day-to-day basis and I think if that advice were available then it would be very prudent. It is a big building with a lot of things happening and I think it justifies the inclusion of someone with expertise in heritage. They can have areas of expertise other than just heritage but be part of the process and available on a day-to-day, issue-by-issue basis. The other advantage that would have is that it would mean their expertise and knowledge of heritage issues would be clearly articulated and they could appropriately brief consultants who may be doing various bits of work on the site.

CHAIR: From your experience, can you inform the committee of any other such significant buildings either within Australia or internationally whereby their heritage is protected by such committees and advisory boards or by employing people with that sort of heritage experience?

Mr Martin : One of the significant aspects of this building is its size. There is no other building of this size that I am aware of. I do not know what has been put in place, for instance, for the Sydney Opera House and whether there is actually a management committee, but that may be a comparison that is worth talking about. The other buildings which are of national heritage value which are in place—whether it be the Shine Dome, the High Court, the National Gallery precinct or the exhibition buildings in Melbourne—are smaller buildings. Therefore, while they do have in place heritage management plans and structures to deal with the conservation of those buildings, which have been through the rigorous process of endorsement through the department, they do not have separate heritage committees. But they certainly have processes in place to protect their heritage value.

CHAIR: I have one final question. In my home state of Tasmania, the Tasmanian parliament house unfortunately in the 1970s or the 1960s was, in my view, vandalised by trying to modernise it. It has cost some considerable amount of money to bring it back to the significant building that it deserves to be and to be protected. Is that something that we should seriously be concerned about—ensuring that that never happens to this building and our other significant buildings—in parliament?

Mr Martin : Without question. It is clearly established as a building of significance. That has been recognised through the community. It has been recognised through the architecture institute as well.

It is really important to make sure that those heritage values are clearly articulated and processes put in place to protect those heritage values so that you do not have the problem of undoing something or doing something that you regret at a later stage and then have to undo. It is really important that the best practice, which this building should demonstrate, puts in place these issues and protection measures now.

Senator FAULKNER: Just for the benefit of the committee, what is the current status as you understand it in relation to Parliament House with the Australian national heritage register?

Mr Martin : It was nominated to the national heritage register, I think, about 10 years ago. That was done by the Australian Institute of Architects. My understanding is that it is not processed at all. It may have been partially considered, but we have had no explanation as to why it has not taken the step. Of the other buildings that were nominated at the same time, all but one have reached the national heritage register and are placed on the national heritage register. This building is also recognised on the International Union of Architects' international register as being significant and is highly regarded by both the community and the profession.

Senator FAULKNER: What would you say is the reason why nothing has happened? That is probably not fair; I will ask the question differently. Why has this nomination not proceeded at the same pace as have the other nominations you have mentioned? What is the reason, in your view? No-one would suggest that this is not a building with very significant heritage values—or would they?

Mr Martin : I do not believe that anyone would dispute the fact that this building has heritage significance. I believe that the difficulty or problem we have with this building—it is certainly my assumption—is in attachment A. The issue is where there seems to be a difference of view in respect of what the department can do and what the parliament will accept. I believe that can be easily overcome and should be overcome for the parliament to set best practice. Even based on attachment A, point 2, if each house of parliament were to support this nomination and work within the controls that are under the EPBC Act, in my opinion that minor issue can be overcome. But I believe it is a problem between the parliament and the department.

Senator FAULKNER: Do you think that the Department of Parliamentary Services and its predecessors have had their foot on the brake?

Mr Martin : I do not know the intricacies of the bureaucracy or the bureaucratic process between that. There is certainly something occurring which is preventing this taking a positive step, and it may well be Parliamentary Services. I do not know.

Senator FAULKNER: You mention in your submission that there has been a lack of consultation with community heritage organisations such as the one that you represent here at the table this morning. That is correct, is it not?

Mr Martin : Yes, it is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: Has that been the experience of the National Trust over a number of years, or has there been any stage where the National Trust has been engaged or involved by those responsible for the management of the parliament?

Mr Martin : In respect of this building, the National Trust has not been consulted on anything to date that I am aware of.

Senator FAULKNER: At any stage?

Mr Martin : At any stage.

Senator FAULKNER: I see. Does the National Trust have concerns about whether the heritage values or design integrity of the building have been affected or compromised in any way over recent years?

Mr Martin : We actually have not had a lot of access to information to clearly articulate that. There is no question that we are concerned that these areas of significance can or could be eroded. As extra pressure is placed on accommodation requirements in this building—and we are aware of that through press and media coverage—that could very well erode the heritage values of it. The opportunity is now to put it in place so that, for future generations, it is protected appropriately. We are not aware of all the details. It is something which, unfortunately, we do not have the information to satisfactorily answer that question.

Senator FAULKNER: Has the National Trust ever been approached by any concerned individual or organisation or been apprised in any way of any concerns about design integrity or heritage matters in relation to this building?

Mr Martin : At the time when the hearing was initiated, or when the issue was raised, there were certainly a number of individuals, including professionals and people associated with the house, that brought to the National Trust's awareness that there were concerns about what is or could be happening with respect to the detail of it. The sorts of issues that were raised were concerns about putting in place appropriate mechanisms to maintain the design integrity and the heritage values of it. We actually had some meetings with some interested individuals in dealing with that, which also assisted us or prompted us or helped us in our submission.

Senator FAULKNER: In your view, how could the National Trust assist if it were engaged or consulted in these sorts of processes? What can you bring to the table?

Mr Martin : We can bring a couple of things to the table. We have a fairly wide and diverse membership. We do have people of expertise within our membership and we can certainly make sure that the appropriateness and the rigour that is necessary for a conservation management plan or heritage strategy does exist, that it is consistent and that it is appropriate for the building. We frequently comment on reports and planning issues to make sure that heritage values are articulated and protected. We can bring that to the table.

Another area is that, because of our diversity of membership, we can bring a community view and also reinforce, establish or comment on social significance. Social significance embodies how the wider population views, appreciates and understands the building. Through our membership we can expose or elaborate and expand on that issue as well.

Senator FAULKNER: So you would say that the National Trust stands willing to play a role and assist in a positive way?

Mr Martin : Yes, we certainly do, and we certainly do that very actively within a whole range of issues. I can only speak for the ACT, but through our organisations in other states and territories, that sort of role is very much part of our portfolio and our responsibility as we see it within the community.

Senator FAULKNER: Your submission also points to the number of drafts of the heritage strategy and the obligations under the EPBC Act. There might be some debate about this, but 15 is the number of drafts that comes to mind; that is probably the most common figure that I have seen. Are you aware, given the National Trust's interest and expertise in these areas, of any precedent you could point to where there have been 15 drafts of a heritage strategy, or does this strike you as a little out there and unusual?

Mr Martin : Very unusual. I am not aware of any that have gone anywhere near that. The ones I can recall immediately would be less than half that. There have been none other. That is what has also surprised us, and one of the reasons we made the comment goes to the question: how can 15 copies, 15 versions, be prepared—which means, in its preparation, it has been around for a while—and not have any sort of consultation process?

Senator FAULKNER: You raised that question; have you got any answers to it?

Mr Martin : No, not one.

Senator FAULKNER: So you are perplexed by this?

Mr Martin : Totally.

Senator FAULKNER: Has the National Trust had any formal communication at any stage with the Department of Parliamentary Services or anyone representing the parliament even in recent times?

Mr Martin : Not that I am aware of, and certainly not with respect to this building.

Senator FAULKNER: I see. This issue was canvassed a little earlier in some areas by Senator Polley, but on the proposal for a heritage advisory board what would you see as appropriate for a building like this in terms of how an organisation like the National Trust might engage with such a heritage advisory board or whether in fact there ought to be representatives of your organisation or like-minded organisations on or involved with the work of that heritage advisory board?

Mr Martin : What I would suggest is that the heritage advisory board obviously have representation from the Senate, the House of Representatives and also other members of parliamentary services. I reckon it should also include people from the department's heritage area to have input into that. The best way I have found to actually take that community involvement another step is through a reference group. When there are critical issues or issues that may impact on significance or where options are being explored in respect to change, alteration or expansion that may affect areas of heritage significance you establish or refer back to a reference group. That reference group can have a range of diverse interests. The National Trust sits on a number of territory related reference groups at the moment and we have that sort of input so that the views of the trust are heard at that reference group and then passed back. I strongly recommend that a reference group that is representative of a wider group of expertise that can contribute to issues relevant to potential change and the conservation of this building is the best way going.

Senator FAULKNER: Can you confidently say to this committee that the National Trust would be willing to serve on such a reference group and, if it did, would bring something to the table?

Mr Martin : We believe that we would bring something. I will commit the National Trust now to serving on such a reference group. We have a number of conservation architects within our membership. Obviously I am one of those people. With my interest in architectural heritage that is where my strength is. I will certainly commit myself on behalf of the National Trust to sit on any reference group that may be put up. That is done without cost or fee to any other reference groups at the moment. It is something which commits our members and our organisation to a fairly substantial extra voluntary effort, and it is done with a professional back-up as well. So it is a community commitment that we make by being part of our organisation.

Senator FAULKNER: Finally, because we are out of time, I am interested in your views of a conservation and management plan and the requirement for that, which your submission addresses, or a heritage strategy and heritage management framework, which your submission also addresses. Are you able to say, given where we find ourselves at the moment, what the immediate and urgent priority is as far as the National Trust is concerned or whether these things effectively should advance quickly in lockstep?

Mr Martin : There are two things. The first is to make available the background information and, I would hope, enable the Trust to participate through the conservation-managing process, as should have happened. The other issue which we would strongly advocate is a commitment to place it on the National Heritage register by all interested parties.

CHAIR: There are probably a lot more questions, but, as always, we have run out of time. I thank the National Trust for its submission and for its ongoing commitment to protecting our heritage. I appreciate you making time today to come before the committee.

Mr Martin : Thank you very much.