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Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Page: 8247

Mr TANNER (Minister for Finance and Deregulation) (3:48 PM) —by leave—On 4 September, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the ACT Chief Minister and signing a long-term lease over the land at Googong Dam. This dam has always been slightly controversial for one reason or another. The Commonwealth built it in the 1970s to supply water to the Australian Capital Territory and to Queanbeyan. The dam was constructed on Commonwealth land near Queanbeyan in New South Wales, while the water it contains from the Queanbeyan River is reserved for use in the territory under an agreement struck with the New South Wales government in 1909, when the national capital was being established. I am sure that no-one could have foreseen in 1909 that we would still be sorting out the fine details of the land and water subject to the agreement in late 2008.

More recently, Googong Dam made the headlines during the 2007 New South Wales state election. During the campaign, the New South Wales Liberals promised to divert water from the dam to Goulburn to try and solve Goulburn’s water crisis. As the New South Wales Liberals are not in government, that plan did not eventuate.

But for the Commonwealth and the ACT government, the issue has been which government is the rightful owner of the land, and this question has been batted back and forth since ACT self-government in 1989. It comes as no surprise then, that this was one of the first matters raised with me and also with the Minister for Home Affairs by the Chief Minister as soon as we took office last year.

With the two governments working cooperatively, however, this matter has been settled to the satisfaction of both parties. This has required intense negotiations, by all parties, but we have been able to resolve the matter in just a few months. The government’s commitment that the land will remain in Commonwealth ownership, and the reasons that it adopts that position, are now clearly understood by the ACT government.

In sorting out the ownership issue it has been difficult to overcome the misunderstandings between the two governments going back to 1988, just before ACT self-government. We are just beginning to discover that there are a number of residual issues remaining from the arrangements for ACT self-government, which the Commonwealth will need to address in the future. Some things were implemented quickly rather than thoroughly thought through at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear that these things have not stood the test of time in practice.

Going back to the land at Googong, the then Minister for Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories, Senator Graham Richardson, made it clear on 24 November 1988 why the federal government intended to retain ownership of Googong Dam after the ACT was self-governing. He told the Senate that, because Googong Dam was located in New South Wales, the Commonwealth had obligations to the New South Wales government under the 1909 agreement and, further, because the three water supply dams within the ACT borders would continue to be sited on Commonwealth land after self-government, it would be appropriate for Googong Dam also to remain on Commonwealth owned land.

This reasoning is as applicable today as it was in 1988. Our approach to the resolution of the problem—and this was also the line taken by the previous government but pursued with considerably less zeal—was that there should be a formal agreement between the Australian and ACT governments so that both parties understand their relationship, roles and obligations at the site, in particular, their obligations to fully protect its environment and heritage features. So, early this year, I offered the ACT Chief Minister a comprehensive lease to suit the ACT’s purposes at the dam.

Not only did this government quickly agree to the ACT’s request for a lease term of 150 years—an unusually long lease, taking it to September 2158; Madam Deputy Speaker, you and I and members of this House will no longer be around, I suspect—

Mr Ian Macfarlane interjecting

Mr TANNER —we look forward to the shadow minister for energy and resources still being around; the rest of us might have some trouble—but also we will have provided the ACT government with certainty over its use of the dam, and Queanbeyan with certainty over its water supply.

We also intentionally drafted the document to ensure that, while the Commonwealth’s interests in the land are fully protected, the ACT government will be able to acquit its responsibilities without us constantly looking over its shoulder. In fact, what we aimed for was to allow the ACT government to get on and manage the dam on our behalf as set out in the Canberra Water Supply (Googong Dam) Act 1974, an act of this parliament.

There are several notable features of the lease apart from the length of its term. It provides the ACT government with security of tenure. The peppercorn rent will allow the ACT to proceed with planned upgrades at the dam and to implement infrastructure projects which will assure the territory’s water supply into the future, such as the Murrumbidgee to Googong pipeline. There are provisions for timely approvals to be given to the ACT’s plans for proposed developments connected with the dam. The lease also includes model contamination handling and dispute resolution procedures, aimed at avoiding litigation.

I did apply one additional condition on the lease. The negotiations provided the opportunity to rectify an omission over Queanbeyan’s water supply, which has not been legally assured to date under the Googong Dam act. What I said was that an agreement must first be signed between the Australian, New South Wales and ACT governments to guarantee Queanbeyan’s water supply from ACT sources, including Googong Dam. I made it clear to the ACT government that the lease could not come into effect until the Queanbeyan water supply agreement was signed.

In a significant breakthrough, the Chief Minister agreed, early in the negotiations, to guarantee to supply water to new housing developments proposed around Queanbeyan. This is an important step forward for the region’s economy and will allow significant new housing choices in the Queanbeyan area. The Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Bob Debus, has overseen the satisfactory conclusion of the Queanbeyan water supply agreement.

This lease and the supporting Queanbeyan water supply agreement are good examples of cooperative federalism. It is essential for the future of efficient government in this country that thorny issues like Googong Dam are raised and resolved. We also have to acknowledge that the quantity and quality of water is now a major issue for all governments in this country to address—and address quickly and purposefully.

The last round of lease negotiations required the resolution of many complex issues between the two governments. I acknowledge the contributions made by officials and legal advisers in bringing this matter to a conclusion. I wish the ACT government a successful and trouble-free tenancy at Googong Dam and extend my especial thanks to the Chief Minister for his patience, cooperation and sense of purpose throughout; to the member for Eden Monaro, Dr Mike Kelly; to the NSW state government; and to the Queanbeyan City Council for the goodwill and good sense that they brought to the final stages of the lease negotiations and the settling of the Queanbeyan water supply agreement.

In conclusion, we are pleased to have resolved these matters and 20 years of misunderstandings between the Australian government and the ACT government. Finalising the Googong Dam lease and the associated water agreement sets the scene for a good and cooperative working relationship between the ACT government and the federal government into the future.

I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable the member for Goldstein to speak for eight minutes.

Leave granted.

Mr TANNER —I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent Mr Robb speaking for a period not exceeding eight minutes.

Question agreed to.