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Monday, 27 June 1994
Page: 2029

Senator REID —On behalf of the Joint Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, I present a report entitled Implementation of pay parking in the parliamentary zone, together with transcripts of evidence and submissions to the inquiry. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

  Leave granted.

Senator REID —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the report.

I would like to take the opportunity to speak briefly about this report; there are some things that need to be said. The committee was required to consider the proposal to erect parking meters in the parliamentary zone—that is, within the precincts of the parliament—because, under the provisions of the Parliament Act 1974, any such work needs the approval of the parliament before it can go ahead.

  Under the national capital plan, certain things had to be taken into account in dealing with the parliamentary zone. As referred to in the report, those matters include the following: the area is at the heart of the national capital; developments in the area should be sited and designed to support the prominence of the area's national functions and to reinforce the character of the area; it is the home of our most important cultural and judicial institutions and symbols, including Parliament House, and therefore there should be a higher standard of architecture for buildings located in the parliamentary zone. To put you out of your misery, Mr Acting Deputy President, the committee concluded that the proposal to erect parking meters in the parliamentary zone should not proceed.

  The matter came to the committee from the Minister for Housing and Regional Development (Mr Howe), in his capacity as the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Community Services at the time, who has responsibility for the national capital plan. That was in a letter to the chairman of our committee dated 21 December 1993, part of which read as follows:

I wish to refer to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories a proposal by the National Capital Planning Authority to install new parking signs and voucher machines within the Parliamentary Zone.

He then talked about the financial arrangements for it and other matters. So that was the proposal for the inquiry that we embarked upon, and in regard to which we called for submissions. Very late in the proceedings one of the members of the committee raised the question of whether we were merely to look at the installation of parking meters or the proposal as a whole. That matter is referred to in the report; there is a dissenting report relating to the interpretation of the minister's request. I personally disagree with that interpretation but, of course, respect the right of the member to come to the conclusion to which he has come.

  That matter having been brought to the minister's attention, the minister then wrote a letter dated 1 June 1994 in which he attempted to restrict the inquiry just to the visual impact of the parking meters. If honourable senators read his first letter to the chairman, they may well come to the conclusion to which I and other members of the committee came—that it was the proposal that we were examining. Certainly that was what those who put in submissions seemed to think. The submissions that came to us all dealt with the proposal as a whole and the implications of it, rather than merely looking at the visual impact of the parking meters, vouchers and things of that nature which were to be implemented. We deal with the particulars of those proposals in the report.

  We came to the conclusion that the permission of the parliament should not be given for this to go ahead. The committee felt that under the proposal revenue targets were not likely to be met. We were not convinced, on the evidence given to us, that the proposal would meet its objectives. You will recall, Mr Acting Deputy President, that the reason for it was to upgrade the parliamentary zone. None of us would deny that over recent years the quality of the parliamentary zone has declined; there is no question about that. It is my view that it is an area of such national importance that it ought to be properly maintained out of the budget and not by trying to get money from those who work in the area by way of parking meters.

  We also found that there was no guarantee that once the zone had been improved the charges would cease. I am sure that anyone hearing that suggestion would laugh at the idea—that, having installed parking meters, once the objective had been met they would no longer be used. We felt that insufficient attention had been paid to the impact on tourism in the area—the impact on Australians coming here to look at the historic and important national assets in the parliamentary zone.

  We felt there was no guarantee there would be improved public transport links within the zone at peak periods, as that would be an additional cost to the ACT government, and that insufficient attention had been paid to the nature of the zone as an important employer of people in the ACT. We certainly felt that the parking vouchers would have a detrimental effect on the appearance of the area.

  I want to refer to the matter of bus links and the impact on employees in the zone. Employees in the zone who complain about the impact are not just whingeing about having to pay for parking. There is inadequate public transport in the area. There are no shops or other facilities. People may say there is paid parking in the vicinity of areas in Civic and other spots like Woden where public servants work. But in those areas there are shops and facilities so that people can conduct business during their lunch hour without using a motor vehicle, which is not the case in the parliamentary triangle. In order for people to conduct their normal business activities and to make some use of their lunchtime, they would need to have a car, or stay in their place of employment or, on a nice day, perhaps walk to the lake.

  It is also significant that we are discussing this matter at 5.25 p.m. Honourable senators would know if they went outside that it is now dark and has been so for about half an hour, which means that everybody going home from the area is going home in the dark at this time of the year. It was not unreasonable that the Public Service submission referred in particular to the effect on women workers in the area and of their having to catch buses from these places, especially on dark winter nights, at the end of the day. I invite honourable senators to look at the submissions which refer to the impact on employees in the area. As I said, it is not just a question of money. I think it was suggested that it would cost $2 a day to park at this stage. We also heard a suggestion that it should go up to about $6 a day, which would have a pretty significant impact.

  Many of us were particularly concerned about the fact that the major institutions in the area—the old Parliament House, the High Court, the National Gallery and certainly the National Science and Technology Centre—employ volunteers who give of their time to show people around. We had correspondence from two sections of the tax office about this matter. In the end, we were given a letter that could be interpreted to mean that there would be no fringe benefits tax paid in relation to parking by volunteers in the area. I think that whole matter is unresolved and unclear. They referred only to the impact on the National Science and Technology Centre, not to the impact on other institutions, which would be significant. It would have an enormous impact on the volunteers if they were required to pay for parking while they were giving of their time at these institutions. Many of them could not possibly afford to pay that amount of money. To suggest they should do so while they are working as volunteers is totally unacceptable. The impact on the volunteers and the unsatisfactory situation with regard to the fringe benefits tax are referred to in the report.

  During the time that we were conducting this inquiry, the other thing that occurred that I found quite extraordinary was that we were looking to make a recommendation to the parliament as to whether or not the proposal should go ahead. During that time the minister promulgated an ordinance giving himself the power to impose the fees which would be charged once the parking meters had been installed. I have given notice to disallow that ordinance. We will, of course, talk to the minister about it. I think the minister owes the parliament an explanation as to why he would do such a thing while the matter was before a parliamentary committee. I am very disappointed, at the very least, that he should do so. Also, I think the ordinance was defective in that it did not allow for the parliament to scrutinise the fee that he would choose from time to time and make it subject to disallowance by the parliament. But that is a matter we may debate on another day when my disallowance motion comes before the Senate.

  For the reasons I have briefly referred to, the majority of the committee came to the view that the proposal to install paid parking voucher machines or meters in the parliamentary triangle should not go ahead. Even last Saturday, you may have seen, Mr Acting Deputy President, in the Canberra Times a number of proposals for upgrading and developing the parliamentary zone over a number of years. Of course, it is only right and proper that it should be looked at on an ongoing basis with a view to changing it, varying it or upgrading it from time to time. It seems absurd to be doing that at the same time as the place is being covered with parking meters. I have no hesitation in saying that the Senate should not approve the proposal to install parking meters in the parliamentary triangle.