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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 13586

Ms BRODTMANN (Canberra) (12:49): by leave—An inquiry into the National Memorials Ordinance was long overdue. This ordinance, first promulgated in 1928, governs the decisions made on which memorials can be constructed in the ACT. It does this through the creation of a specific committee with responsibility for these decisions—that is, the Canberra National Memorials Committee. The ordinance has not been significantly reviewed since its creation, and the overwhelming evidence before the committee has been that it is no longer functioning in a manner that best suits its purpose.

In the short time that I have been the member for Canberra, many people have contacted me with questions about the process by which national memorials in Canberra are approved. This is not to say that Canberrans are against the commissioning of national memorials here. Nothing could be further from the truth. We Canberrans accept the role we play as custodians of the national capital. It is a role that we relish and one that we take seriously. We also understand and agree that all Australians have a legitimate interest in decisions on commemorating the significant events that have made our nation. However, much has changed since this ordinance was promulgated and Canberra was founded.

Canberra has grown to be more than just a quaint place filled with memorials and the federal parliament. We are a living community with our own identity. There are now families with generations of residence in Canberra. The Canberra of 1928 was little more than a concept, and the full vision of Australia's national capital was yet to be realised. Indeed, the Canberra and Canberrans of 1928 could not be more different from their counterparts today. Canberra's population has become larger than what was dreamed of by Walter Burley Griffin when he first put pen to paper. Instead of a population of 50,000, Canberra today is a growing city of hundreds of thousands. We have a citizenry deeply interested in the aesthetic of our city and strongly committed to the future of its built environment. And we now have self-government, with responsibility for the planning and development of that future environment.

There have also been many changes to the national political dynamic that mean there are demands on the time of our federal leaders that in 1928 would not have been deemed possible. This means that they are not as well placed as they were in 1928 to discharge their duties on the Canberra National Memorials Committee.

These changes, taken together, have created gaps and uncertainties in the decision-making process on memorials. These just cannot be adequately addressed by the current ordinance. Indeed, this can be quite clearly seen in the level of interest and vigorous debate surrounding one particular proposal. While I wish in no way to detract from those concerned by that proposal, I believe the controversy is a symptom of a larger problem. The problem is that there is a lack of adequate process and transparency concerning the way in which the Canberra National Memorials Committee operates. This process was appropriate for its day and has served the country well, but it clearly does not meet modern standards expected by Australians and strongly desired by Canberrans.

To this end I fully endorse the chief recommendation of this report that the National Memorials Ordinance 1928 be replaced by a new commemorative works act. I also agree completely with the view of the committee that as an interim measure those vacant positions open to citizens of the ACT on the Canberra National Memorials Committee be filled. Surprisingly, it appears that none have ever been appointed. Overall I am pleased with the direction of the committee and the recommendations it has made. In particular, the recommendations provide for comprehensive public consultation. They also would establish a rigorous two-step process of evaluation, providing greater assurance of quality and financial viability.

The recommendations also set out appropriate parliamentary oversight of memorials. This provides not only assurances on accountability but also ensures there is a national interest oversight. The recommendations thus provide the necessary and overdue modernisation of the process of national memorials and provide reassurance to my electorate that their views are valued.

I thank the committee chair, Senator Pratt, for her leadership in this inquiry and all the members of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories for their work on the inquiry. I also thank all those people who took the time to make submissions to the inquiry and to appear as witnesses. Finally, I would like to express my deep thanks to the support of the secretariat staff, in particular Mr Peter Stephens and Dr William Pender, for their support during this inquiry.

Mr SIMPKINS: I move:

That the House take note of the report.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: In accordance with standing order 39, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.