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Monday, 21 October 2002
Page: 5507


Senator LUNDY (4:32 PM) —With the tabling of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories report on draft amendment 39 of the National Capital Plan, I wish to make a few comments about this issue and the role of the National Capital Authority. This report is the result of the committee's inquiry into the merits of revised draft amendment 39 of the National Capital Plan, which related to development of the Deakin-Forrest residential area of Canberra. The issue being investigated here is primarily one of planning certainty and consistency and red tape.

The Labor members of the joint standing committee support chapters 1, 3 and 4 of the majority report. However, we differ significantly with respect to the conclusions drawn in chapter 2 and the resulting recommendations. I would like to take this opportunity to explain why. Section 39 is the final remnant of residential land under the jurisdiction of the National Capital Authority. This is an anomaly that creates complexities for residents in the area. The Labor members of the committee sought to find a balance. On the one hand we saw the need for consistency, certainty and clarity in planning guidelines and consultation processes for the residents within section 39; on the other hand we were conscious of the need to improve prospects for high-standard redevelopment for the State Circle frontage precinct of section 39, in keeping with the national significance of State Circle.

For Labor, the principle of consistency in the planning and consultative process for residents in the ACT is overriding. We believe that one set of planning and consultation rules should apply for all residents and lessees in the ACT. This set of rules is determined by the democratically elected ACT government and expressed through the Territory Plan. The Labor members of this committee therefore believe that the appropriate and principled position would be to uplift section 39 from designated area status. This is where we differ from the coalition members, who think the NCA should remain in control. Under Labor's proposal, section 39 would be subject to the Territory Plan as varied from time to time by the ACT government. This would remove the anomaly of section 39 being the only remnant of residential land under the jurisdiction of the National Capital Authority.

It is worth noting that the report we are tabling today is highly critical of the way in which the National Capital Authority consulted residents and lessees in the section 39 precinct throughout this process. This was a significant factor in the Labor members determining that the NCA is ill-suited for this role. In addition the committee, like some of the residents of State Circle, was not made aware of redevelopment approval for the dual occupancy during the time when the committee was considering draft amendment 39. This led the committee to note, on page 43:

Such action leads the Committee to conclude that the NCA was inclined, on this occasion, to have treated the Committee contemptuously.

This is a serious reflection on the NCA. The committee also found that, as a matter of principle, an opportunity for redress should be offered to any residents or lessees in section 39 who may have been disaffected by NCA decisions. The committee has therefore recommended that the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988 be amended to require public consultation by the NCA in relation to works proposals in designated areas.

Whilst I am generally happy with the committee's recommendations—other than the first recommendation, on which we differ—the Labor members' minority report outlines our points of differentiation from the report and, in particular, our concerns about the operations and consultation processes of the NCA. It is worth reflecting on the pattern of decision making by the NCA over the last few years. Under the previous Carnell Liberal ACT government, every conceivable proposal was ticked off by the NCA—on more than one occasion without going through due process and consulting appropriately with the joint standing committee.

For example, there was the approval of the Futsal slab without adequate consultation. Then there was the Floriade fence, which was erected so that people could be charged to enter Floriade. Then there was the lack of consultation on the sensitive Reconciliation Place proposal. More recently there was the NCA's involvement in land sales. Their hands-off approach and nonparticipation in decisions about land sales in the national capital was inexplicable and clearly suited the coalition's political agenda. Finally there was the V8 Supercar fiasco, where the NCA's intransigence meant that the event was never given the chance to be successful once the Labor ACT government uncovered the appalling truth about the true costs of the V8 race.

The NCA is solely responsible, in my view, for ensuring that the car race would not be given a second chance to survive by refusing to consider a date change for the event. This change would possibly have made enough difference to boost the number of attendees, hence making the race a viable prospect and reducing the amount that ACT taxpayers were left to pay. All of these things show how senior NCA officials have allowed themselves to be caught between their charter and the political interests and campaigns of the coalition government. Far from being frank and fearless, they have become sloppy and compliant, with an agenda that is not their own.

In reaching these conclusions over section 39, I find that I am in the regrettable position of no longer being able to convince myself that the senior management of the NCA is acting impartially, and for this I hold the coalition government responsible. But I am also expressing my disappointment in the role that the NCA has played. Ultimately, it means that I have little confidence in the NCA as an institution. Perhaps it is struggling with its role and identity. It is supposed to be a strong, apolitical institution providing a steady hand and keeping a watchful eye on the parliamentary triangle and the status of Canberra as the national capital. I think it is a disgrace that such an important institution as the NCA has been dragged down in this way.


Senator Kemp —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I have been listening very carefully to the senator's remarks. I have to say that I think her comments on the NCA are completely over the top. It is one thing to differ from a recommendation of a report and the decisions of the NCA; it is another thing to personally attack the people who are involved with the NCA. I think it is most unfortunate.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Sandy Macdonald)—There is no point of order, I am sorry.


Senator LUNDY —It is my hope that the institution either improves or finds new leadership to ensure that credibility is restored as soon as possible. Credibility and certainty around planning processes in the ACT are critical for our economy, for investment and, of course, for jobs and employment. I commend the minority report to the Senate. I thank the staff of the committee and the participants in the inquiry as they served to highlight several crucial issues confronting the ACT and planning arrangements for the future.

Question agreed to.