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Wednesday, 15 February 2006
Page: 192

Ms ANNETTE ELLIS (11:31 PM) —The Pierces Creek forestry settlement was established in 1928 to provide job-tied housing for forestry workers. In the 1980s the houses at the settlement became the property of ACT Housing, but residents remained tied to the forestry industry. Prior to the 2003 bushfires, there were 13 dwellings, with 35 people living in those dwellings. The Pierces Creek residents had long tenancies. Many of the residents were born there, or their children had been born there. The residents formed a strong social group, and have a long-lasting and historical bond to the settlement. It was home to these residents and part of our local history.

As we all know, the January 2003 bushfires destroyed all but one of the Pierces Creek dwellings, and in doing so destroyed their future plans. Pierces Creek residents, like others who lost their homes in the fires, simply wanted to return home. Unfortunately, this now seems impossible. After those fires I said publicly that the fires should not affect the long-term outcome of the Pierces Creek settlement. The ACT government undertook detailed examination into the future for the fire-affected rural villages, including Pierces Creek. The National Capital Authority vehemently opposed the ACT government’s reconstruction plans, and without the NCA approval those plans could not proceed. The Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories held an inquiry, recommending the two levels of government work to reach an agreed outcome. The ACT government had formed the view that simply rebuilding the 12 homes would be economically, socially and environmentally unsustainable, and intended to redevelop Pierces Creek to 50 homes.

I was hopeful that the negotiations between the NCA and the ACT government would lead to an outcome acceptable to everyone concerned. The ACT government revised their plans down to 25 homes. The NCA refused to compromise, agreeing to the 12-home replacement only. I believe they have been bloody-minded about this issue and will not allow the ACT government to build the 25-home settlement. They refuse to, or simply cannot, see this issue with compassion to the residents or an acknowledgment of the ACT government’s position. I deeply regret that the two levels of government were unable to reach a compromise, and I am utterly disappointed by the role of the NCA.

Members of the NCA board are not elected by the ACT residents; they are placed there by the Howard government. Some do not even live in the ACT. How can the NCA justify its position? Why should it decide on the future of Pierces Creek? These are two very appropriate questions. This is where the Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads comes in, seemingly powerless to exert any influence on the NCA regarding Pierces Creek. I might add that he does not seem to hesitate, however, in letting the NCA know how he feels about waterskiing on Lake Burley Griffin. If legality of the NCA’s role is their defence then I suggest the Howard government urgently examine the legislation under which the NCA operates. What we have is a small village 30 kilometres or so from this House and an unelected, faceless group rather than the elected ACT government deciding the housing future of the village.

It has to be said that I am not alone on the Pierces Creek questions. I am aware of some members of the federal government who share my view. I recently said in a media statement:

The NCA Chair, CEO and Board Members should go to Pierces Creek and meet with the residents face to face and explain why they have refused to let the ACT Government proceed with its plans to develop Pierces Creek.

Needless to say, I do not believe the NCA has made that offer to meet and explain its bloody-mindedness on this issue. I am extremely saddened that Pierces Creek will not be rebuilt. The Pierces Creek community are to be acknowledged and thanked for their patience and their tolerance through this whole sorry three-year saga. It seems Pierces Creek’s future has been determined. The least we can do is wish those people happiness in their eventual resettling and for their futures.