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Monday, 11 November 2002
Page: 8659


Mr CADMAN (8:12 PM) —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Price. I know that you of all the occupiers of the chair will appreciate more than most the significance of our heritage. We share a common interest in the western suburbs of Sydney and we both know of the strong inheritance that we have from the pioneers and the early settlers of that district. Tonight we are considering a change to legislation which covers the national estate and our national heritage. Of course, this area is one that fits between what is significant to state or local authorities and what is important in anational and a world sense. Australia has a number of features which are of great significance in an international sense. The one that most people think of without any difficulty is the Great Barrier Reef. It is a unique geographical feature that is a phenomenon not matched anywhere in the world. Most people value the buildings and roadways of their suburbs that have been a feature of their district ever since the district was established. But there is a role to be played, and that role is the Commonwealth's as part of its responsibility for things that are of national importance.

Over the years since its establishment—and I think it was first established in the 1970s—the concept of a national estate and some sort of national heritage process has increasingly captured the attention of Australians. In some instances, the failure of state or local authorities to value things of importance has encouraged people to apply for their registration as places of interest to the nation. In other instances there has been such overwhelming support for an idea or a concept that people have wanted to nominate a site to be of great significance. This legislation establishes a mechanism for the identification, protection and management of places of national heritage significance, and these places are going to be inscribed on the National Heritage List. The list will be comprehensive. It will consist of natural, historic and Indigenous places that are of outstanding national heritage significance. We will be looking at the register that is now established and asking, `What items on this register are really of national significance?' In some ways we are going to go back over old ground but we are also going to look at fresh ground. The minister is going to be advised by an expert group of people whose purpose is to advise him about the process of registration on the National Heritage List.

Western Sydney is a most significant part of Australia. I will start with the environment around Mitchell and just mention in passing some of the areas that catch my attention. The member for Greenway will be aware of the Grantham Poultry Research Station. In my opinion, that is a very significant feature. It has wrapped up in it some of the most brilliant veterinarians and scientists Australia has seen, and the construction of the buildings and the grounds themselves also make it a very significant site. I believe that it was very far-sighted to place the Grantham Poultry Research Station at Seven Hills on the register. In the Penrith area we have the Museum of Fire and the Penrith Courthouse. Those are places that catch my attention as a visitor to that area.

In the Parramatta region, nobody could be unfamiliar with St John's Cathedral, the All Saints Anglican Church, the buildings that were formerly the Kings School, or Burnside Homes—a magnificent group of buildings constructed by Mr Burns along Pennant Hills Road, Parramatta, leading towards Pennant Hills. They are fine buildings which have been beautifully maintained and are now being used as a school. There is also the Catholic cemetery in Church Street; the Cumberland Hospital landscape, which is itself unique; Lake Parramatta Dam; the Lancer Barracks Precinct and the Lancer Barracks themselves; and the Lennox Bridge. All these are in the western suburbs of Sydney. They are great features, crying out to be maintained and crying out to be preserved and not destroyed.

In an area near where I live we have the Galston Gorge Road Bridge; Glenroy on Old Northern Road, Middle Dural; St Jude's Anglican Church; and The Pines, the famous building of the Roughley family—the outhouse, the pine trees and the whole area are just exceptional. Coming to Maroota, we have the Felton Mathew marked tree; the Indigenous place at Wiseman's Ferry and another place at Canoelands; and the Marramarra National Park in toto. Then in Castle Hill itself, there is Castle Hill House, which has been wonderfully restored. There is the Redeemer Baptist Church. The people of that church have lovingly restored what has become a feature of the district. It was an outstanding effort of dedication and showed a real valuing of the past and the pioneers. It is a beautifully restored building. We also have the Castle Hill Public School and residence on Castle Hill Road. Unfortunately, the owners of that building, QIC, have not done anything with it. They have not maintained it or put it to use. I trust they will shortly make a decision. It is not in a state of disrepair but it will shortly get to be in a state of disrepair.

There is also the Castle Hill Settlement Site, the so-called heritage park. It is a wonderful site—an absolutely brilliant site. For ages I have been asking the minister to encourage the Commonwealth, through its heritage trust grants, to do something towards interpretation of that site through archaeological digs and to have interpretative displays to really explain to the community what is a completely open site. As far as I can determine, it was the third site of establishment in Australia. First of all there was Sydney, then Parramatta and then Castle Hill with a convict settlement. The remains of that settlement have been identified in a cursory way and further detail of that site is needed. It would be a wonderful opportunity for young people and schools to have a look at an archaeological dig and to work out what was on that site right from the beginning of the colony. To my knowledge, it is the only area that has been untouched since the beginning, and it is still there in open fields and paddocks. Crops have been grown on the site but the site is there. With modern technology, the roadways, the wells, the buildings and the foundations can be established and what was actually there can be demonstrated at what is called `heritage park'—the Castle Hill Settlement Site on Old Castle Hill Road, Castle Hill. We also have Elwatan on Castle Hill Road, the former St Paul's Anglican Church—a beautiful sandstone building in the centre of Castle Hill—and the Old Parsonage, which sits just opposite. All of these are part of our wonderful heritage that we should value and preserve.

The Commonwealth government is, with this legislation, improving the way in which it protects our heritage. These three bills which have been introduced into the parliament, the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002, the Australian Heritage Council Bill 2002 and the Australian Heritage Council (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2002, identify, conserve and protect places of national heritage significance. We need to understand that the new heritage regime will operate through a list of places of national heritage significance. A new Commonwealth heritage list will be established which will list the pre-eminent and elite sites—the sites that are truly and absolutely of great significance—and an independent expert body, the Australian Heritage Council, will be created to advise the minister on the listing and protection of heritage places. This is all good stuff. In my view, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr Kemp, with his intellectual strength and determination, is just the guy to make it work well.

Regarding the future of this legislation, I know the Australian Labor Party are supporting it, and I am pleased about that. It was, I believe, Tom Uren who established the concept of the national estate and what we should have as Australian heritage. After the passage of some 20-odd years, this current government is now looking at that again. For good reason but without properly understanding the value of buildings or natural sites, we have perhaps included things on the list which would be better on other lists. Perhaps we would be better gathering from other lists things that should be on the national estate list. So this list of Australian heritage, the Commonwealth Heritage List, needs to be cleansed, in a way, and brought up to date and reappraised. This legislation focuses, as did the original legislation, on the Commonwealth's responsibility regarding places of national importance and heritage areas owned or leased by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth's own responsibility is to look after those things for which it has responsibility. A Commonwealth listing of its own properties is pretty important in making sure that we act responsibly as the Commonwealth government and give a lead to some of those governments that at times really do not appear to value the same sorts of things that we value from a federal perspective.

Heritage places will be protected consistent with the Commonwealth's constitutional powers. That means we cannot override the states; if they want to bulldoze something, they will do it. We just need to be active to make sure that that does not happen. If they want to destroy something that is of value, constitutionally we will not be able to stop them with this legislation; they will still be able to go ahead. But with our list we ought to be able to prevent those acts of degradation occurring at those places that are—and I quote the words—`of national heritage significance'. What this legislation does is seek to lock in for permanent preservation those areas which are of particular significance to the Commonwealth and for which the Commonwealth has a responsibility.

The legislation requires the minister to ensure that there are approved management plans listed for places owned by the Commonwealth, so that the Commonwealth does not just sit back and say, `We've got a fabulous building and it is historic,' when in 10 years time, when it actually decays, it will be past restoration. We have to put in place a management plan that will set out how to protect the heritage values of a place. The government will provide technical and financial assistance to the people who are the owners of such places and from whom we lease buildings.

The minister will be required to report to the parliament on the state of the National Heritage List. The report is required to include the number of places on the list, their values and any threats to them; the progress of the preparation of management plans; changes in tenure; allocated resources; and, where applicable, the operation of any accredited management arrangements. In that way, each one of us can be sure that when something is listed it goes beyond just merely recording something on a list in a computer database somewhere or other; there has to be an active plan of the way in which that site is going to be managed. We have not had that before, and I think that is a great innovation. I congratulate the minister for being proactive in this area. We need, first of all, to make sure that buildings are properly looked after. As well, where we are talking about the built environment, the buildings need to be used. In other areas, where it is not the built but the natural environment that we are seeking to preserve, we need to know what the impending threats to such sites are. The monitoring and reporting process which is required under this legislation will ensure that every member of parliament and every member of the Australian Commonwealth, every individual living within Australia, will be able to access those plans for themselves. No doubt they will be on web sites as well so that people will be able to find out for themselves precisely what the Commonwealth intends to do regarding those places that are registered on the Commonwealth Heritage List or those that are part of the National Heritage List—the places of significance.

The Commonwealth agencies that own or lease places will be required to assist the minister and the Australian Heritage Council to identify and assess the value of places. They will not be able to sit down as we have seen in the past and bulldoze a post office to build some sort of fake building which, although it may be more convenient to operate as a postal service, has led to the destruction of a heritage building in the process. The owners of those buildings will not be able to do that any longer. The legislation will prevent them from doing that. The bill provides a nomination, assessment and listing process. Protection is there.

The establishment of the Australian Heritage Council will bring consistency. In New South Wales we have the New South Wales Heritage Council, and the Australian Heritage Council will replace the Australian Heritage Commission; I like the consistency of that. I think that the new title is more consistent with the status of what is now being established. It describes its advisory role as the Commonwealth's expert advisory body on heritage. The council will be independent and expert and it will help the minister in the identification, conservation and protection of places on the National Heritage List and on the Commonwealth Heritage List. It will include experts in the fields of natural, Indigenous and historic heritage, as I have already said, and it will also be responsible for keeping the register.

I think this is good legislation, but I will be keeping an eye on where things are registered. I will look out for my area, as I hope every member will for their own area, to make sure that those buildings and sites which are of significance to them and to the people of their electorates are properly acknowledged by the Australian Heritage Council. I hope they will make sure that the nominations go forward and, if rejected, that they will fight to keep them on the list. Whether the nominations are on the major list or on the subset list of places of significance, I expect this parliament to be active, to make sure that, despite some of the activities of state or local authorities, we are able to preserve buildings, natural forms and the Indigenous inheritance that is so much the heart and soul of this nation. I do not look to the past for direction for the future but, unless we really understand what those before us have contributed to the building of this nation, we will not truly value the future we are putting together.