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Monday, 27 June 1994
Page: 2033

Senator BELL (5.37 p.m.) —I support the motion that the Senate take note of this report by the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories. I also support the defence in anticipation that has just been given by Senator Coates of the majority report of the committee.

  This issue arose from a decision made during the budget processes in 1993 that the parliamentary zone be refurbished by spending $19.3 million and that part of that expenditure, $4.3 million, be offset by money raised through the establishment of a pay parking system throughout the parliamentary zone. In a letter written by the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Howe, on 21 December 1993, the committee was asked to examine a proposal by the National Capital Planning Authority to install new parking signs and new voucher machines in the parliamentary zone.

  We are told in the report that the committee accepted the reference and wrote to all major departments and institutions located in and around the zone requesting comment on the proposal. In addition, advertisements were placed in the Canberra and surrounding area press calling for submissions. A total of 35 submissions was received. As far as the committee was concerned, the evidence received was conclusive and almost unanimous that the proposal was ridiculous, ill-advised, unfair and even financially illogical. To avoid treating and examining this matter in a cavalier fashion, the committee adopted a rigorous and extensive program of hearing the evidence. We are told at paragraph 2.15 of the report, on page 6:

To those parties expressing interest in the Committee's inquiry were sent copies of the reference and the Works Proposal.

To support what Senator Coates has just said, it continues:

Without exception, all persons and organisations making submissions to the inquiry addressed the broader range of issues raised in the NCPA's proposal, rather than focussing on the installation of equipment and signs.

Further, the report states at paragraph 2.16:

The NCPA itself, in its initial presentation of the proposal to the Committee and in evidence at the public hearing, directed the Committee's attention to a broader range of issues than simply the installation of machines—although this latter issue was certainly covered.

In paragraph 2.16 we are also told:

The NCPA sought to respond to the various issues raised about the proposal and certainly made no suggestion to the Committee that it was inappropriate for those issues to be considered.

We examined the proposal—not the aesthetics of the proposal, the planning issues or even the mechanics of the proposal, but the proposal—and eventually found, as I originally stated, that it was ridiculous, ill-advised, unfair and even financially illogical. I use the word `ridiculous' because there was considerable agreement from the evidence given and by the committee's findings that the parliamentary zone is an area where the highest standards of architecture will be sought for buildings and the installation of numerous additional signs and 31 voucher machines cannot enhance the overall appearance of the area. We are told on page 7 of the report at paragraph 3.5 that the committee believes that such things would detract significantly from the zone. The word `ridiculous' is my term but I think it is a suitable term when we consider how much attention is given to the aesthetics of this area.

  I might say in passing, Mr Acting Deputy President—perhaps it is of particular interest to you knowing the sorts of things that you spend time investigating—that in an area where we employ people to operate mechanical wind brooms which blow three or four leaves from one side of a path to another and an area where we are so concerned about aesthetics that people patrol the precincts of this Parliament House engaged in such alterations and such attention to aesthetics, if that is what we think it is appropriate to do, surely we should question the appropriateness of cluttering up these aesthetics with such frightening things as parking voucher machines. I do not think there is anybody in the nation who thinks that they are exciting and lovely things to be casting one's gaze upon. I think they are offensive to most people not because of their particular size, shape and description but because of their function, of course.

  I would suggest that the proposal is ill-advised because the advice that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Community Services gave in the origin of this proposal was that $4.3 million of the refurbishment funds were to be offset by the generation of revenue, primarily through the implementation of pay parking on national land. I would suggest that is not good advice because the capacity of the national assets to raise money is greater than the capacity to raise money through the parking taxes which would have been placed upon employees in this zone. The committee believes, with good reason, and states at paragraph 3.9, on page 8:

. . . the NCPA should investigate other possible sources of income that could be derived from National Capital assets, rather than to simply accept what appears to be, at least superficially, the easiest and most lucrative means by which revenue can be raised. Areas for possible consideration could include charging rental for the land in the Parliamentary Zone (Australian Estate Management charges rent for the properties, but does not in turn pay land rent to the NCPA) . . .

We thought that that would be an initial step to return funds to the NCPA if that were required. It is suggested that it is required for the refurbishment. That could have been an initial step. The report states that other steps could have included:

. . . instituting charges for the commercial use of land and facilities in the Central National Area (which the NCPA is unable to do at the moment because of legislative restrictions); photographic and film rights; and possible joint ventures and other commercial development opportunities including recreational facilities. These options would result in a spread of the obligation of "user-pays", beyond just simply employees in the Zone.

That it was directly the employees of this area who were being targeted is a large part of the contention that labelled this proposal as unfair. I will deal with that in a second and will quote part of the findings to demonstrate that.

  The fact is that various submissions made to the committee raised the question of whether it was appropriate that a substantial proportion of the maintenance of a national asset, the construction of which had been paid for by the taxpayers as a whole, should fall on a small group of people, namely those who work in the zone. We are told in paragraph 3.10:

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade argued that it was strongly of the view "that the cost of maintaining the National Area is a national responsibility and not one that should fall on those who are obliged to work there." Another submission argued that "the proposal will do no more than shift rightful financial responsibility for the upkeep of a national asset from the Commonwealth Government to the unfortunate people who must use the car park daily . . .

A further demonstration of the unfairness is that part of the proposal, as the NCPA tells us—we quote this as a committee at paragraph 3.19 on page 11—`on weekends and public holidays, when visitor demands are greatest, no charges or time limited controls will apply' in the zone. So the proposal was an unfair proposal. It was targeting certain people but not others.

  I would suggest also—this is my terminology but I think the evidence in the report substantiates it—that this proposal is financially illogical because we have a proposal which would initially cost $234,600. The operating costs would be $2.677 million a year, comprising $1.156 million operating costs, $0.435 million management costs, a $390,000 bus subsidy and a $696,000 risk estimate. I am sure, Mr Acting Deputy President, your quick mind has added those figures up to find that something like $3 million is to be spent to raise $4.3 million.

  When that $4.3 million is raised, the additional qualification that must be put on it is that a considerable amount of that $4.3 million would be raised from within the government sources itself. In fact, it was estimated that some $600,000 would be raised from Parliament House, not from the employees but from the Department of the Senate and the Department of the House of Representatives. That $600,000 would merely go in a circle back to some other part of government. So here we have a demonstration of the financial illogicality by the fact that it would cost almost $3 million to run—that even if $4.3 million were raised, a vast proportion of that would be raised from within government coffers to be circulated somewhere else into government coffers.

  The NCPA submission also demonstrates the lack of planning and forethought that has gone into this proposal. The NCPA was asked what would happen to any funds raised in excess of the target of $4.3 million. The response was:

Use of funds beyond 1996-97 has not been determined. The restoration program was due to run for four years.

I bet the parking voucher machines would not come down after four years; I bet they would stay there. The question was asked, `What would happen to the whole program after that?' There was no answer. There was then this response from the NCPA:

Consideration of funds allocated, or indeed retention by the NCPA, closer to that date will include the extent of the restoration program which remains unfinished, subject to parliamentary approval; the extent to which the proposed central national area plan requires surface car parks in the parliamentary zone; and parliamentary approval in the budget context to expend additional income on restoration works or otherwise return additional funds to consolidated revenue.

In other words, that had not been addressed beyond 1996-97. If this was a proposal to raise $4.3 million to contribute to the $19.3 million restoration program, then it was a proposal which had consequences and effects—that is a tautology, but that is what I mean—beyond 1996-97. I doubt that those who cooked up this proposal had considered what those effects might be. Therefore, I submit that it was a silly proposal.

  I am very pleased that the eventual recommendation of the committee was that it not proceed. The only good thing that I can determine about this proposal is that it was not a bad sort of job creation system. I think those senators who have not gone into this and who have tried to evaluate it on the surface might be absolutely thrilled to know that the circulation of $3 million or $4 million from one government department to another would result in a staff requirement of five. So as a job creation program involving $3 million or $4 million, five people would be employed, and that is about the best that could be said about it. I do not think that all that fuss and bother is worth it, as a job creation program, I cannot see any other point to it. In conclusion, I am pleased to endorse the recommendation of the committee which states:

that Parliamentary approval, as required under Section 5 of the Parliament Act 1974, not be granted for the proposal to install voucher parking machines and associated signs in the Parliamentary Zone.