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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE NATIONAL CAPITAL AND EXTERNAL TERRITORIES
National Capital Authority
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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE NATIONAL CAPITAL AND EXTERNAL TERRITORIES
CHAIR (Senator Lundy)
National Capital Authority
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Content WindowJOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE NATIONAL CAPITAL AND EXTERNAL TERRITORIES
National Capital Authority
CHAIR (Senator Lundy) —I declare open this public hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories. In July of 2008 the committee released its report entitled The way forward: inquiry into the role of the National Capital Authority. As part of that report, the committee made a series of recommendations which sought to enhance the governance and accountability of the National Capital Authority. In particular, recommendation 3 proposed that representatives of the NCA appear regularly at public hearings before the committee to account for its performance. This is the second public hearing arising from that recommendation, and I acknowledge the NCA’s initiative in taking up that recommendation. The chairperson of the NCA will have an opportunity to make a statement outlining key achievements and performance against objectives, and the evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I would like to refer members of the media who may be monitoring this hearing to the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of the committee.
I would now like to welcome representatives of the National Capital Authority to today’s hearing. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence on oath, I should advise you that these hearings are legal proceedings of the parliament and therefore have the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. I now invite you to make an opening statement.
Prof. Aitkin —In the months since we last appeared before you, I think the most important thing that has happened happened last week, and that was a public forum held by the NCA at which anyone could say anything and we sat and listened. We had 180 registered participants, nearly all of whom turned up, and a score or so of people who applied to register too late. So you could say that, for Canberra, it was a pretty well-attended public forum. It lasted for over four hours. We were finally asked to leave because Parliament House was closing. We could have gone on for another hour at least.
There were several topics of interest. The one that took the largest amount of time and involved the largest number of people concerned the Commonwealth Building on Constitution Avenue, which I shall hereafter refer to as the ASIO building. A second subject of great interest was trees, tree removal and what is happening to Canberra’s urban forests. Those were the two topics that people returned to again and again. An overriding theme throughout the evening was consultation—how we best deliver it and what it means.
As the chair, I would like to repeat a statement I made on the night which caused a few wrinkled brows: there is a National Capital Plan, and it is my view that, if the Commonwealth of Australia decided that something ought to be done and it was consistent with the plan, the NCA would support it, even if many citizens in Canberra were opposed to it. The reason for that is that this is the national capital—it was set up for that purpose. Had there been an opportunity—we were listening rather than talking—I would have liked to put a counterfactual to those who thought this was really wrong: if the Commonwealth of Australia, for reasons that seemed good to it, proposed to do something and the citizens of the area said, ‘We don’t like that,’ so the Commonwealth said, ‘You don’t like it; we won’t do it,’ that would seem very strange to me. And yet it is the other side, the reciprocal, of the notion of consultation.
The way we have interpreted consultation is twofold. Firstly, we want to engage with the people of Canberra as much, as often and as frequently as we can so that we can learn. We are not the repositories of all knowledge and authority—not at all—and there will be occasions when, even with the best intent in the world, we will make an error or we will not see the possibility of an error. Consultation enables us to pick up those errors. Secondly, it just seems to me to be good democratic practice. Though we are called the National Capital Authority, and ‘authority’ carries with it some intellectual baggage, I would see us rather as facilitators in building a national capital that is consistent with the early dreams of those who founded it but also provides wonderful amenity for those who live in it. There is a tension there, and we are all familiar with that tension. That theme rode through the evening. It was very interesting, speaking as a former political scientist. Just to listen made me realise what a good city this is, where you can have 200 people arguing, for the most part, peaceably and with goodwill, about what it is to consult. I am very happy to answer questions, along with my colleague, Gary Rake.
CHAIR —Thank you, Professor Aitkin. Mr Rake, do you want to make an opening statement?
Mr Rake —No, I am perfectly happy with that, thank you.
CHAIR —Thank you. Professor Aitkin, I will follow through with some questions on your opening statement. I was—as I know my colleague Senator Humphries was—able to attend for at least part of the evening, and you are absolutely right about the intense interest in the work of the NCA by the Canberra community. It seems to me that the concern about consultation is as much a reaction to poor practice of the past and not only a feeling by many in the community—I think there are two things—that they were excluded from a genuine opportunity to be consulted under whatever definition you apply but certainly a sense that consultation, where it had occurred previously, was not genuine; it was going through the motions. That is the first thing I put to you, and I ask you for a response to that.
Secondly, and I think this was a theme, it related to a lack of confidence in the NCA’s ability to take care of the national plan or pay due respect to the principles in the National Capital Plan in the decisions that were made in the past, hence an uprising in the community, who feel that they have a stronger or more comprehensive or truer view of what the Griffin plan seeks to achieve in the national capital. I put those two thoughts to you and ask you to respond.
Prof. Aitkin —I think, given that I have been in the job for just over a year, and the first year of that really in an acting capacity, I am not competent to say what occurred in the past. In fact, virtually the whole of the current committee—well, three of us—are very new. But, stepping outside my chair’s role, I think there is a good deal in what you say. That is why I have concentrated in what I have been writing and what I have been saying on this notion of what good consultation is. We want to practise good consultation and we want, in particular, the people of Canberra to understand the tension that is involved in their living in the national capital. It is not like living in Sydney or Melbourne. They are state capitals, but no-one talks about them like that and they do not have a plan—it is just accepted. Canberra is never quite accepted anywhere. So, when I became the chairman, I wrote a paper for the very first meeting, I think, that I went to, saying: ‘I feel we’ve got to engage with the people of Canberra in a fundamental way. We’ve got to tell them what we are doing all the time and explain it, explain it, explain it.’ People think we are much more powerful than we are, or they think we should be more powerful than we are, or they think we are a descendant of the NCDC. Of course, that is sort of true, but it is trite because we do not have anything like the power or the money that the NCDC had.
I hope that the forum that we conducted and the other activities that we are planning—to have an interactive website, for example, where you can check straightaway what is happening, communicate and be answered—will raise the confidence. I thought your remark there was very apt. We want people to be confident that we know what we are doing and that we will tell them what we are doing.
Mr Rake —That said, the current members of the authority have been able to look at some previous actions of the authority, of previous authorities, in consultation and see areas where perhaps we would have done things differently. It is always difficult to be too harsh in judging others if you were not in the room and did not see the materials, but, on balance, we think that engagement for preconsultation with key stakeholders could be done better.
A broad principle there would be to find key stakeholders that represent a diverse range of views and interests. Generally, I think that will mean approaching people who speak on behalf of a larger segment of the community—so, a community organisation, an industry group or a heritage council. It gives us the opportunity to get those people into the room, and they can debate among themselves as well. One of the key aims of consultation is to help balance opposing interests, so we should have those who are for a development talking to those who might be against it and those who have the views of a motorist versus those who have the views of a cyclist or a pedestrian. Those are things that we would do differently.
CHAIR —Just for the sake of completeness, I understand that you have already committed to having another public forum early or mid—I do not know when—
Prof. Aitkin —In April.
CHAIR —April 2010. Will that take a similar format to the meeting last week? What are your thoughts?
Prof. Aitkin —Yes, it will, with the addition that we have invited the key stakeholders—indeed, everybody who was there—to help guide the agenda. We are not trying to put a preconceived agenda on to people. In fact, the one that we had had everything that anyone had ever said to us as a potential item on the agenda. But next year there will be an agenda which is guided by the views of the stakeholders and, indeed, by the views of anyone who thinks he or she should be a stakeholder.
Mr Rake —The April timing is likely to become our annual timing and it gives us the opportunity at an authority level to hear views from the community at a point in the corporate calendar that lets us still influence the following year’s business plan and work program. I think it would be useful to bring the discussion at that forum into a one year back, one year forward detailed sense and several years forward in a strategic sense to put a framework around the discussion. The agenda last week was set largely by members of the public to the extent that the authority controlled the agenda in that it was us making an opening statement. That went for about 30 minutes and we deliberately kept it that short. We called for the public to nominate topics and we then arranged those topics, based on the level of interest, so that the highest level of interest was dealt with first. I think we will keep doing something similar for the annual forum.
CHAIR —You make the point about decisions of the past. The hot topic certainly was the ASIO building. There was a lot of discussion last week, so I do not want to revisit all of that. I presume Senator Humphries will also have some questions on this. I would like to start by asking how it is that the artist’s impressions or the images contained in the original Griffin Legacy documents were the best that the community had in order to see what those amendments permitted. How is it that the ASIO building was able to go ahead in such a different form? I appreciate that it complies technically with the amendment, but it is vastly different from the artist’s impressions contained within the Griffin Legacy documents, and I think that has significantly contributed to the public discomfort with the visual impression of the proposed building. Can you provide the committee with an explanation as to how that occurred? What distance is there between those visual representations in the Griffin Legacy amendment relating to Constitutional Avenue and what is really able to occur?
Mr Rake —The first thing to say is that the visual impressions given in the Griffin Legacy amendment and indeed in the National Capital Plan are only indicative development forms. They were designed, to some extent, to show a worst-case scenario in that on the site that the ASIO building will occupy the plans show, I think, seven separate buildings. They extend virtually to the limits of the site. The building that we are likely to see will be a single building and the above-ground form will not extend to the edges of the site. There is still some public concern, seeing the construction work that is on site—the majority of the site is disturbed at the moment with earthworks—that we will see one large building that goes right to the boundaries, to every corner of the site, and replace the aggregate seven buildings that appear in the plan. That will not be the case. We showed a footprint at the forum last week. The building covers probably a quarter or a third of the site in its built form and there are still quite sizeable view corridors either side to the east and the west. The difficulty is putting out an indicative form to give the public something to understand and comment on, noting that it was never the intention that the buildings would follow the exact footprints of that amendment.
CHAIR —I will follow up with a question. One of the principles associated with the Griffin Legacy amendment for Constitution Avenue was about the relationship between Constitution Avenue and the lake foreshore and for that to be a corridor alive with civic activity. I am not quoting directly but that was definitely the flavour of how that Griffin Legacy amendment was pitched to the public and at several committee hearings. My understanding with the ASIO building is that, whilst the building footprint does not extend to the perimeter of the actual site, there will be security fencing that effectively closes off the whole block as it currently looks as a construction site. Is that the case? How do you reconcile that associated description of a corridor alive with civic activity with the ASIO building? Was ‘alive with civic activity’ not part of the plan after all despite what we were told?
Mr Rake —I have to be cautious about what I can say, for two reasons. One is there are some elements of their works approval that we are not allowed to discuss.
CHAIR —I do not want you to breach that.
Mr Rake —I will not breach that.
CHAIR —I am just working on what is in the public domain.
Mr Rake —From some information that has been in the public domain our delegate has seen nothing to indicate that there will be security fencing around that site. He has seen nothing to indicate there will be security fencing even around the building. The current ASIO building does not have security fencing around it and we are advised, and everything we have seen to date indicates, that the development will be of a similar open style. There are other ways of protecting the security of buildings and the most common one is to have low retaining walls or something similar to act as vehicle exclusion. That is the style of perimeter security that they are looking at.
CHAIR —We have that sort of style of security here at Parliament House of course with the increased number of bollards.
Mr Rake —Absolutely. We also have more attractive versions even down at the new Attorney-General’s building and at the Prime Minister and Cabinet building on National Circuit, where the buildings essentially sit slightly raised on a podium. The podium is included in calculating the overall building height for a development such as that, but it is a very passive security measure.
CHAIR —Thank you.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I will also ask about the ASIO building but I want to go back to the forum you held last week. I want to say congratulations. I thought it was a very good concept and it seemed to bring a lot of views to the fore. Knowing the propensity of Canberrans to want to talk about those things, it was a sensible move and I congratulate you on it. I could only be at parts of the forum so I could not get a flavour for the whole event. One question that I did want to ask you about that, as to the organisation of the event, was the requirement for preregistration. What was that designed to achieve? When I was there there were a number of empty seats—20 or 30, I suppose. As for people who sought to register and who came too late to do that, what was the basis for them not being able to come into the theatre if there were empty seats but they had not preregistered?
Mr Rake —It was simply down to the advice we received from the administrators of Parliament House. They asked us to provide a list, two days out from the event, of the people who would be attending, to have essentially a guest list at the door because it was an after-hours event. It is something that we would probably change for a future forum. We were looking for a venue that was of an appropriate size and prominence for this first forum. I guess there is definitely a symbolic attachment to the use of that venue. But if we looked around for other venues that might give us a similar feel and significance we might be able to use the theatre at the War Memorial in future, for example. Or we might be able to strike a deal whereby, by us paying for additional security guards, we can just take whoever rolls up without the need for RSVPs. But it was purely around the logistics of using that particular venue. We had some people who contacted us in the days immediately before the forum and expressed concern that they had registered too late and we made a number of phone calls to the staff here at the house and they were very cooperative in letting us bring some extras on to the list. I am aware of one or two that tried to register on our website, found that it had closed, did not contact us and went away unhappy, and they do feel aggrieved. I apologise for that. There was no intent to stifle debate. When you have got 150 or 180 people, having an extra 20 certainly is not going to be a concern for us and I think it is an area we could improve.
Senator HUMPHRIES —That is good. When I was there people were asking questions more or less directly from the floor. I heard some reference to questions having to be submitted beforehand, though, to be asked by the moderator on the questioner’s behalf. Was that just inaccurate rumour?
Prof. Aitkin —No, that was correct. We asked those who registered whether there was a question they wanted to ask, so that we would have some sense of the range of questions. Since everyone said they did, that allowed us to say, ‘That is the field of questions’ and then for the moderator to go from the general to the more specific. He named the people who had wanted these questions asked and he asked the questions. He said, ‘These are the questions’—they were in the program—and he asked whether people wanted to supplement them. Mostly people did not. They were happy that a question was raised and they wanted to hear what we said. At the end, people who had not said they wanted to speak on a particular subject were asked whether they would like to speak, and the answer was yes. So I think everybody who wanted to speak was able to speak.
Mr Rake —It was also around logistics. When we opened the idea of the forum we had no idea how many people would turn up and we had a concern that if 300 or 400 people turned up and each wanted to speak for five minutes logistically that was going to become very difficult. There was no requirement to nominate a topic or question with RSVP, but we gave it as an option. The carrot was: ‘If you nominate that you would like to ask a question and tell us the topic—you do not have to give us the question—we will guarantee that you will get a spot. You’ll be given preferential speaking rights.’ The other reason for that of course is that we are the National Capital Authority and we were opening the forum to all Australians, not just to residents of Canberra. If somebody from Western Australia wanted to ask a question it was unlikely they would fly over to attend the forum, and so there was an opportunity for them to register a question from outside the city and have the moderator put that view on their behalf.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Fair enough. Turning to the ASIO building, I want to go through the process of the NCA’s engagement with DEWHA to coordinate approval for the work that has been done so far on that site. Before I do, I say that I was a little disturbed to hear you, Mr Rake, say that in the plans you have seen for the building so far—and I assume that these are essentially either DEWHA’s or ASIO’s indicative plans—there is nothing to indicate that there will be security fences. ‘Nothing to indicate’ suggests that it is not perfectly clear that there will not be security fences around the building. If that has not been discussed and ascertained so far, could I ask you to go back to them and determine as soon as possible whether there will be any security fencing around the building. I have to say I would be very concerned if that were the case and I think we would need to know as soon as possible if that were the case so that there could be a proper chance for the NCA to gauge public reaction to a building on that very important site that would effectively be surrounded by barbed wire fences potentially.
Mr Rake —It was a deliberately guarded statement to say there is ‘nothing to indicate’. I would say every document before us indicates that there will not be security fencing. The artist’s impressions are out there; they do not show security fencing. The plans that are before us do not show security fencing. There is nothing that has been approved either in principle or in detail to date that provides for security fencing around the perimeter of that block.
Senator HUMPHRIES —So there is nothing then to stop you from asking DEWHA, or ASIO, to categorically state whether it intends under its approvals to erect fencing?
Mr Rake —I think it is probably better to say that the authority would not be positively predisposed to approving security fencing around an entire site of that size. We have expressed that view to other parties at other times.
Senator HUMPHRIES —So they would have to obtain your approval before any fencing could be erected—
Mr Rake —Correct.
Senator HUMPHRIES —either around the perimeter of the site or around the buildings on the site.
Mr Rake —Absolutely. That would be a work that is covered by the PALM act and it would require approval.
Senator HUMPHRIES —That is reassuring. Were the indicative plans you referred to before developed by DEWHA on ASIO’s behalf or by ASIO itself?
Mr Rake —They are actually developed by the department of finance on behalf of ASIO. The department of finance are termed the ‘expert client’. They are managing the construction of the facility and ASIO would be the ultimate tenant of the facility. All of the plans to date are, from a Commonwealth government perspective, prepared on behalf of the Department of Finance and Deregulation.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Do they commission architects, builders and so forth for that exercise?
Mr Rake —Absolutely. Indeed, the firm that is undertaking the design—I cannot recall their full name—is the residual of the partnership that designed this Parliament House. It is a well-regarded firm.
Senator HUMPHRIES —The architects?
Mr Rake —Those are the architects.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Mitchell/Giurgola and Thorp was the original architects firm.
Mr Rake —Yes, the residual: Thorp is still involved; Aldo is not.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Yes, these things change, don’t they?
Mr Rake —Correct.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Does the NCA have a direct relationship with those architects and the others who are part of the team that is advising the department of finance?
Mr Rake —Our delegate has a direct involvement with the architects, the expert client and all of the other consultants in the review of their documentation in preparation of a works approval.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I want to know when the NCA had an idea of how large the building was going to be.
Mr Rake —Certainly by the time we granted the in-principle works approval, which was June 2007—and if I am incorrect on that I will correct the record—
Senator HUMPHRIES —I think it was July; that is what my notes say.
Mr Rake —By that point the broad footprint of the building was established, so at that point we knew.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Not just the footprint but also the volume of the building?
Mr Rake —Yes.
Senator HUMPHRIES —You had an expectation at that point of not necessarily the particular shape of the building but of its footprint and its volume?
Mr Rake —Yes.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I am trying to recall what was known to the public at that stage about that.
CHAIR —If I can just jump in there, Senator Humphries, I am not sure much was known at all. Perhaps we should ask the NCA about the requirement of the Commonwealth for this to be secret—because I do remember that it was known for some time as ‘the building project’—
Mr Rake —The new Commonwealth building project.
CHAIR —the ‘Commonwealth building project’—and to what degree that impacted on the ability of the NCA, or indeed anyone else, to make known what the plans were that were underway for that particular site.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I am aware that has been traversed in earlier discussions and I am happy if you wish to go over those matters. I appreciate this was not an easy matter to manage because it had that security overlay which was imposed by the decision-making process that was made with respect to this building. It was not a usual NCA-type process, was it? It was quite different to the usual process that you would employ for a Commonwealth building?
Mr Rake —No, it was in line with the process that the authority used at that time, and that was to conduct public consultation for those matters that it was required to do so under the plan. For development on Constitution Avenue there is not a requirement in the plan for public notification. There is, for example, a requirement for public notification if we are proposing an amendment to the plan. There is a requirement for public notification or consultation for developments in the Deakin-Forrest residential area, but not on Constitution Avenue. So the fact that it was the ASIO building—
CHAIR —Did not impact on that.
Mr Rake —did not really impact on the decision.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Okay. I am interested, though, in how the Griffin Legacy principles were conveyed to the architects and the people who were working on the design of the site and to what extent that was a constraint on them or they had a requirement to advert their minds to the way in which it would impact on the ultimate feel of Constitution Avenue. Can you describe how that process worked.
Mr Rake —It worked as for any other development. The provisions of the plan are quite clear about the height constraints, the form constraints, the need to retain a formal avenue of street trees at the Constitution Avenue frontage and that, where the building has to be set back from the street for security reasons, there be some element of built form that sits at the front of the site to reinforce the structural line of the avenue. I do not think the department of finance are different from any other developer in that from time to time they get very close to the boundaries of the things that we think are acceptable and occasionally they may try to step over those boundaries. As with every other developer, we pull them back and tell them if they have gone too far and ask them to change their plans or they will not be granted approval for it.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I recall that we have debated the question of the extent to which the ASIO building actually conforms with the Griffin Legacy principles that apply to the rest of Constitution Avenue, and I do not want to go back over that; but are you saying to me that as far as you are concerned the proponents of this building went through the process and faced the same requirements from the NCA to meet, in this case, the Griffin Legacy type of planning principles that any other building proponent would have faced?
Mr Rake —Absolutely. Without doubt. What I would have to say is, when we look back at the Griffin Legacy documents and indeed that portion of the National Capital Plan, there is clearly something different contemplated on and around that site. The amendment does show a building that is set back from the street. There is a provision in the text of the amendment, and now in the National Capital Plan, that if there is a need for buildings to have a setback for security reasons, the building line for the remainder of the avenue should be preserved by having something like the retaining wall or the passive security measures on that building line at the front of the site. Indeed the Walter Burley Griffin Society submission to amendment 60, which deals with Constitution Avenue, flagged the ASIO building by name as the first potential project for Constitution Avenue. So there was some knowledge of this project in the public domain at that time. I appreciate that not everybody who is now expressing an interest knew then, but that is clearly the case. There was at least some public knowledge of it at the time. The process they have been through is exactly the same as for any other developer. The same rigour at our end is applied before they get works approval.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Are you confident that what we have in the ASIO building, as you now understand it to be proceeding, will not disrupt the theme and the style of Constitution Avenue which is envisaged by the Griffin Legacy and that when this is all completed and all the buildings along that avenue have been built at some point in the future, and the ASIO building is there on the southern boundary of the street, people will not say, ‘That doesn’t look like it was quite meant to be there. It is not quite the same as the other buildings. It is a gap or a break or an anomaly in the design of that important thoroughfare’?
Mr Rake —No, I do not think it will interrupt the final outcome. I think it will be broadly consistent. Yes, it will be slightly set back, but the approximate size and the style of architecture will be compatible with the rest of the avenue. The building height will be perfectly compatible. The general approach to the treescape on the street will be perfectly compatible.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Okay. We will have to see. The NCA made a submission to DEWHA on 21 April. I assume this is for the site works, like cutting down the trees and so forth. I understand there was a requirement for submissions to be given at the beginning of April but the NCA’s submission was not actually lodged with DEWHA until 21 April. Is that right?
Mr Rake —I understand that to be the case. I am not particularly across the detail of that submission, I would have to say.
Senator HUMPHRIES —By all means take it on notice if you want to correct anything.
Mr Rake —I would prefer to take that on notice.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I understand that 21 April was the day before DEWHA announced a decision on those works. It is a bit concerning that the NCA’s submission, which presumably formed an important part of its considerations, only arrived the day before it announced that decision. It is a bit hard to see how the NCA’s views could be taken into account with such a short interval between the arrival of its submission and the making of the announcement.
Mr Rake —That is a matter that I would have to defer to DEWHA to answer, but I understood that DEWHA had agreed to accept our submission at that later date. That being the case, I assumed they had allowed for consideration of it in their process. In terms of how that affects our works approval, we are simply looking to assess on the works approval path that DEWHA have considered the matter and expressed a view on it. Having expressed that view, we accept their view.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Did they have a draft of your submission before you actually lodged it?
Mr Rake —I would have to take that on notice and come back to you.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Are there any material respects in which what DEWHA decided was at variance with what the NCA was suggesting or recommending in its submission?
Mr Rake —I will also have to take that on notice.
Senator HUMPHRIES —You might have to take this on notice as well, but are there elements of the plan for the ASIO building which have actually changed, as far as you can see, as a result of the NCA’s representations?
Mr Rake —I will take that on notice.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Who is the person within NCA who is responsible for this project?
Mr Rake —Andrew Smith is the delegate who will grant works approval on this. Due to the security nature of the building, I do not view all of the documents. Andrew is the delegate and he exercises his delegation without being fettered by others in the organisation.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Are you saying he makes decisions independently of the rest of NCA?
Mr Rake —On the matters that the authority has delegated powers on, yes, he does. That is proper process.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I am sure it is proper process, but what sorts of matters does he exercise power over with respect to that delegation?
Mr Rake —The ultimate call on whether a matter is consistent with the plan would rest with the delegate.
Senator HUMPHRIES —It is a lot of responsibility.
Mr Rake —It is a very big responsibility. The authority has a strong framework in place to support delegates in their decision making, and delegates are able to seek advice and additional views and assistance wherever they think appropriate. Essentially, the delegate can do all the things necessary to inform themselves to make the best and right decision, but ultimately when it comes time to make the decision it is down to the delegate.
Senator HUMPHRIES —How long has Mr Smith been at the NCA?
Mr Rake —Ten or 15 years. He is going to be upset with me because we recently celebrated the anniversary. I think it was 15. We had another one that was in excess of 20.
Prof. Aitkin —He is experienced.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I hope he is not listening and taking you off his Christmas card list.
Mr Rake —I am sure I will hear his displeasure if I have got that one wrong. Mr Smith was only recently successful in appointment to the most senior planning role in the NCA.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Congratulations to him on that.
Mr Rake —I will share that with him.
Senator HUMPHRIES —As a result of the decisions in the budget before last to reduce the budget within the NCA, how large is the area of NCA which deals with these sorts of issues compared with what it was before that budget?
Mr Rake —The area itself is smaller but the number of staff devoted to the task of works approval has not reduced greatly. There are still eight people in the plan team. Previously there were up to double that amount, but the staff that left the organisation were not staff that were dedicated to works approval. We had a large team involved in the production of maps and other documents to support strategic planning processes. We have had to economise there. But we have retained the same number of staff for works approval and, as far as I am aware, have not dropped our time performance for approval of works.
Senator HUMPHRIES —You are telling me that with half the number of staff the quality of output from that works approval area has not been diminished?
Mr Rake —The plan team in general is focused on a number of matters—works approval is one of them. If I take that segment by itself, the number of staff, if it has reduced at all, would be by only one person. When we adjusted the organisation to fit within our new budget, we looked at where activities were more discretionary and where activities were our core statutory functions. We kept the cuts away from the core statutory functions. Granting of works approval is probably the clearest of our statutory functions, so it received the least share of any efficiency.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Are you confident that there is no diminution in the quality of the output from that area of NCA, despite having half the staff it had two years ago?
Mr Rake —Absolutely. I am absolutely confident there is no reduction in the quality of our assessment or the rigour in the works approval process. It is the most important thing we do. Once these decisions are made, they are made for the long term. Once buildings go up, they are there for decades. It was our highest priority to maintain our professional skills in that area and to make sure that the process was as rigorous as always.
Senator HUMPHRIES —That is all I have on the ASIO building.
Senator CROSSIN —I have some general questions about interaction with the public. Do you want to keep going on ASIO?
CHAIR —We are happy to go to you, Senator Crossin.
Senator CROSSIN —I have some questions in relation to your opening statement and some of the changes to the NCA in terms of interacting with the general public. It sounds like your two forums have been a success. I did not go to either; perhaps I need to get to the next one. Is there any other general means by which the NCA can promote what it is doing to the wider public through newsletters or inserts in papers, or anything of that ilk?
Prof. Aitkin —I think the answer is that we have stepped up quite appreciably the amount of material we put out, especially through the Canberra Times, and in responding people when they write to us or when they comment in the Canberra Times. Over the last couple of months of the Canberra Times, we are practically always there, and it is not all negative; there is quite a lot of positive stuff. Our policy that we set up a year ago of engaging more seems to be increasingly successful.
Senator CROSSIN —What is your plan to engage with people who do not bother to come to the public forums? Is an assessment made that if people are not coming then generally they are either not interested or are satisfied with what is happening?
Prof. Aitkin —It is fair to say that the people who are most exercised about the ASIO building were the people who lived in Campbell. A lot of them turned up. If we had a similar anxiety in another part of Canberra, you would not see the Campbell people turning up to that. We are a city of 125 suburbs. What happens in their suburb is what is particularly important to them. I do not assume that silence means that everybody is happy. Usually it means that everybody has so much information floating around that they only take up something to do with the NCA if it directly affects them, visually or spatially, or in terms of transport or whatever. For example, we are doing quite a small scale thing at the crossing of Kings Avenue where cyclists, pedestrians and motor car drivers all impact on the same spot. This is not suburb specific at all; this is a different kind of specificity. We are having public engagement about that and we will get people from all over Canberra.
Mr Rake —I would add that we accept that the public forum is not the best way to engage with each and every person. It is a large event, and there are some people who would not come out after hours to attend a function like that—who would feel uncomfortable standing up with a microphone in front of a couple of hundred other people. So we are trying to develop as wide an array of engagement mechanisms as we can. Some of those will be online, some through the print media, some through newsletters and some through small-scale consultations. On Tuesday night this week, we walked around the parliamentary zone with a group of about 20 people to look at some trees that we think are in decline and need to be removed or have pretty serious tree-surgery. That was an opportunity to have some very small-scale, face-to-face discussions. We have also been out to talk to some community groups about matters that are relevant to their suburb, and I think we will keep doing that for the next few years.
The authority members in senior management are all very open to the idea that, if we are going to build relationships with Australians so that we can represent their interests in the national capital, we need to be accessible; we need to be out there. The chairman replies to every letter that he receives and he does so fairly quickly. Senior management are available for direct correspondence, by email or letters, and for meetings with individuals. We had some individuals at the forum last night who expressed an interest in coming to talk to me about a matter; they have already booked their time and one of them will be in to see me later today.
Senator CROSSIN —I do not have any other questions about that. I just want to say that I think it is a good thing that you are also aware that you need to diversify how you get your message across and to fuel relationship and understanding with the community. I think it has been a good change.
Prof. Aitkin —Thank you.
CHAIR —A follow-up question regarding Campbell residents and their concerns: one of the issues that have come up in relation to the ASIO building is the traffic engineering around that site. I know this came up a couple of times at the public forum, and I was approached by someone contending that it had not been given due consideration and that there were some demarcation problems between the role of the ACT planning authority and the NCA in considering the traffic impact in and around that site and, indeed, the suburbs of Campbell and Reid. Can you provide the committee with an insight into the traffic management considerations around the works approval for the ASIO building, please.
Mr Rake —First and foremost, we work closely with the ACT government, especially on matters to do with traffic, and the interactions are not just between us and ACTPLA but also with Roads ACT, and that extends down to making sure that we use the same technology when it comes to modelling future traffic movements and impacts. In looking at the traffic impacts on Constitution Avenue, I think it is fair to say that it would not be sensible for us to purely think about the impacts from the ASIO development. So we have undertaken traffic analysis based on the potential full development anticipated for Constitution Avenue so that we can understand, in a much longer-term sense, the range of issues that are likely to emerge. The important things that have come out—and they arise in the short-term but will exist through to the long term if we do not implement solutions—are the intersections; they are our problem. The problem is not the capacity of the road carriageway itself; there is enough space for the vehicles.
In relation to the ASIO building, a very specific thing that came up was that there would be problems with the side streets between Anzac Parade and Blamey Crescent if we did not change the traffic arrangements in some way. The solution that has been identified—and the traffic modelling that we have seen indicates that it will work—is that the developers will just install a new set of traffic lights at the intersection of Constitution Avenue and Wendouree Drive, the road that runs down to the carillon. That will enable movement to and from the ASIO building but it will also create spaces in the traffic that will allow people to come in and out of Creswell Street onto Constitution Avenue. We have had a number of specific concerns raised by residents who use Creswell, and we have been able to talk to them about the installation of the new lights at Wendouree, the coordination of the phasing of those lights—what are the red and green cycles?—to make sure that the traffic lights at Wendouree and Blamey both work in a sensible, coordinated manner that will create spaces for traffic to get in and out of Creswell. That works much like any other main road. On Northbourne Avenue we do not have traffic lights at every side street, but the phasing of the traffic lights at the main side streets creates space for people to get in and out of the others.
In a longer term sense, the next area that we see there being pressure on is the big intersection: Anzac Parade and Constitution Avenue. We think that that one needs to be fixed in the short term, and we are working on some preliminary designs at the moment. We will come out and talk to the community about those very early in 2010. If we can agree on and finalise a suitable solution—and we are sure there are suitable solutions—we would like to start that work as early as November next year, immediately after Remembrance Day, as the final part of reconstructing the road surface of Anzac Parade. If we are tearing up the intersection to resurface it, we might as well get in and fix the operation of the intersection at the same time, if we can. We have a budget for that and we can get on with it.
CHAIR —Can I ask you about the interaction between ACT roads and ACTPLA? I do recall from an earlier dispute with the NCA that ACT roads is the decision maker with respect to parking treatment. I hate to raise the ‘P’ word but, having visited this area recently and noting there are a number of association type buildings along Constitution Avenue opposite the building site, they have now lost their overflow parking capacity, I am wondering what will happen with parking capacity for existing buildings on Constitution Avenue and indeed the overflow event parking that I know has in the past built up both east and west of Anzac Park when major events have been held in Commonwealth Park.
Mr Rake —That is a side effect that we do see with development through Canberra. We have a lot of surface level car parks that are in fact future development sites. Typically, we look for developers to replace as much as much of that car parking as they can in their new developments. The ASIO development will supply all of the car parking that it needs for its own use but it will not be replacing the car parking that was in that small gravel car park. As future development progresses, particularly on the northern side of Constitution Avenue where those associations are, we will look on a case-by-case basis at what the onsite parking arrangements are. In the longer term, we see Constitution Avenue having roadside parking as well. There are no current plans to allow, for example, the sensitive ecological site near the corner of Constitution Avenue and Anzac Parade to be used as overflow parking. There have been concerns raised about that. It is not something that we think is consistent with the environmental values, and the ACT, I understand, has the same view.
CHAIR —What about street sign parking being pushed back into the suburb of Campbell, in particular, as Constitution Avenue is further developed? Have you had any discussions with ACT roads about that or discussions with the residents? Or is that something you would refer to the ACT government?
Mr Rake —It is something we would have to refer to the ACT government. We would work with them. We would tell them everything we knew about any potential future problems, but on that matter they would be the lead partner.
CHAIR —My recollection for the residential precincts in Forrest-Deakin is that, even in the case where the NCA had full planning controls, the issue of parking management in that suburb was still pretty much solely under the auspices of the ACT government.
Mr Rake —When it comes to parking enforcement of infringements, yes. The ACT government—
CHAIR —But also determination of parking treatment like where you can park.
Prof. Aitkin —Who puts up the ‘No Parking’ signs?
CHAIR —That is right, and who decides where the no parking zone is.
Mr Rake —It is not entirely within the ACT government. It is shared according to our domain and to the various legislative provisions that we are using. It is definitely shared.
CHAIR —So in the case of the Campbell residents and Blamey and Creswell streets—
Mr Rake —Blamey and Creswell streets are territory-controlled roads. They would be entirely able to make the decisions there, but we would tell them everything we knew. If we anticipated there being a program, we would tell them in advance. We would do whatever we could to help solve any of those problems.
CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Rake. Senator Humphries, I was going to move onto the tree renewal program. Would you like to start off in that regard?
Senator HUMPHRIES —Thank you, Chair. I think we would probably benefit from a separate briefing at some point by the person within NCA who is overviewing the tree renewal program, but I want to ask a few questions.
CHAIR —We could go on a walk!
Mr Rake —I would be more than happy to do that. On the tree renewal, I am fully briefed and I think I will be able to answer the majority of your questions. There will not be many that I will have to take on notice.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Very good. I am very pleased that you can answer all my questions. You have identified 617 trees on national land for removal.
Mr Rake —Correct.
Senator HUMPHRIES —What proportion of trees on national land would that represent?
Mr Rake —Three per cent. We have talked about removal because we understand that it is a contentious topic and we did not want to hide from the worst-case scenario. Our referral to the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts does in fact say removal is the worst-case scenario for those trees. Wherever possible, when we get the tree surgeons on site, if they can find any other way to prolong the health of the tree, they will. We have already identified that there are at least a couple of trees that just simply do not need to be removed; they can be kept for many more years with some tree surgery. It will be fairly extensive tree surgery, but it will retain their health.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Obviously you are sensitive to the need to make sure that if trees, particularly in iconic places such as around Old Parliament House or down Commonwealth and King avenues, need to be replaced then we try to stagger the replacement of those trees so that a whole avenue does not have to go at the same time and they can be gradually replaced so that the absence of trees is not particularly noticeable. At what stage of growth are the replacement trees installed? I know you can get trees at advanced or even superadvanced stages, where they are several metres tall. Does the NCA engage in that? Does it overview those sorts of plantings, or is it only saplings that are planted?
Mr Rake —We use a mix of age classes for trees, and it depends on the type of tree. Wherever possible we replace trees on a like-for-like basis. So if we take out a pin oak, we will replace it with a pin oak. The reasons why we might use something else is if the tree that we are replacing is of a species which is known to have not performed as well as we would hope or is expected to perform poorly with predicted climate change. We would look for an alternate species that had similar characteristics, be they aesthetic characteristics or environmental characteristics. The other reason we might use a different species is if it is of a type that has now become a weed; if it has, we would look for something else. But generally we use like for like. That preserves the heritage values.
With the deciduous and exotic trees, we do use advanced stock wherever we can. It is a balance with advanced stock between cost benefit and success of the tree. We found that the best types to use are those that are coming in at around the three- to four-metre mark. They will have grown on in an open paddock nursery for a couple of years, and they will go in. They are certainly not the sorts of smaller trees that we might use in our own backyards.
When it comes to natives, we do tend to use stock that would be more akin to a sapling, it is generally only a year or two old, and that is because the technology and our understanding of the growth of trees indicates that they perform better if we put them in smaller with the natives. We work very closely with the Yarralumla Nursery. They collect a lot of seed each year from the trees that we already have in the parliamentary zone and on national land, and that helps us retain province and historic connections. If we have to replace a tree that was planted as part of a commemorative event or a serious commemoration, we can retain some connection with that original event by collecting seed from that tree, growing on a replacement and when the original tree dies replacing it with something true to type.
We have two general approaches to the replacement of trees. The first one is the kind that we are using on the 617—that is, where we are primarily focused on maintaining public safety. We deal with trees on a one-by-one basis, and generally we replace the tree only either when it is dead or very near dead and has lost most of the benefits that we would normally attach to a tree of that type, or if it has become a serious safety risk. So we deal with those one by one and it is really quite reactive.
The other approach is a more strategic approach, and it deals with those grand avenues. The most prominent example that we have here is Anzac Parade. The blue gums that line Anzac Parade have serious heritage value. They were named in the heritage citation. They represent the Australian servicemen, part of that Anzac partnership and spirit that we all love. Those trees were all planted at the same time. We expect them to all go into decline at about the same time. They are of a tree type that dies within a very narrow window, and we are starting to see signs of decline.
At the moment we are working on a plan that would enable us to undertake staged replacement of those trees. We are looking to get the best provenances to give us the best chance of having successful, healthy trees in the future, and we will be out to talk to the community in the first half of next year. The sort of consultation we will have to undertake there will really need large photomontages of what we think the avenue would look like with, perhaps, a row of trees removed and replaced with saplings, and 10 years later the same, and 10 years later the same. I am sure we will be walking up and down the avenue looking at individual trees there to talk about the sorts of issues we face. I would emphasise that the do-nothing option just cannot be viewed as acceptable there. We run the risk of having our most important ceremonial avenue denuded of trees.
In a general sense, the landscape setting of the national capital extends beyond national land, and we work in an active partnership with the ACT government for the trees on territory land as well. Before my appointment as chief executive, I sat on the steering committee guiding the ACT urban forests project, and I have stayed in that capacity even after my appointment—I think it is that important for this city. I note that the Chief Minister has recently referred that program to the Commissioner for the Environment to conduct an independent review, and we are working actively with the commissioner to help with that review as well. But I have put it on the public record before, having seen the efforts the ACT government have gone to in thinking about that program and structuring it—they have brought in a lot of expert advice—that I believe they have really done a top job on a very difficult issue. I hope that, once the commissioner has finished her review, the program is able to get back on track.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Is there a map of the 617 trees?
Mr Rake —Absolutely. The information is available on the DEWHA website at the moment. Public comment on the referral under the EPBC Act closes today, but there is a map. It identifies each and every individual tree, and at such a scale that people can print them off, go for a walk and see the trees. On Tuesday night we did a walk. Within five minutes of the Treasury building, we were able to look at half a dozen or 10 trees that are marked on that program.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Great. Okay.
CHAIR —Sorry. Can you just clarify what closes today.
Mr Rake —Because the trees are on national land and have heritage significance, we have made an application under the EPBC Act for, essentially, permission to remove those trees. We did promise that, parallel with the EPBC statutory consultation, we would run a public information session to make sure that the community had all of the information it needed, and that was what we did on Tuesday night.
CHAIR —So it is the DEWHA—
Mr Rake —It is the DEWHA process that closes today.
CHAIR —process that formally closes today.
Mr Rake —Yes.
CHAIR —Thank you.
Mr Rake —On Tuesday night we made sure that people had everything they needed. They had the email address for DEWHA; they had the maps.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Are any trees on national land specifically watered?
Mr Rake —Not on a tree-by-tree basis, but certainly there are trees within irrigated areas. So trees adjoining irrigated grass are watered. We have to be really careful to balance out the water needs of the trees. There are some trees that will turn up their toes and die if they are overwatered, so we have to be very careful and make sure that we take trees that are particularly suited to dryland environments and put them in the dryland environments. Those that need water we get into the irrigated areas. Water is not the sole cause of the problem here. In fact, it has very little to do with the problem on national land, because we have quite a few irrigated areas. It is more to do with the natural life of trees in an urban environment.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Roughly what proportion of the 617 trees are deciduous trees?
Mr Rake —That one I will have to take on notice.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Gotcher!
Mr Rake —Yes, there had to be one.
Senator HUMPHRIES —That is all I have on trees, thank you.
CHAIR —Thanks. I have a few on trees. Senator Crossin, did you have any further questions about the tree removal program?
Senator CROSSIN —No, I think you two are eminently more qualified on that than I would be.
CHAIR —Thanks, Senator Crossin.
Senator CROSSIN —In relation to Canberra, that is—unless you want to talk about trees up here.
CHAIR —I have absolutely no expertise with trees—in fact I am about to show how little expertise I have. I have a number of general questions more to do with the overall aesthetic. When you replace the ageing trees, is it general practice just to replace a single tree or to try and create a new cluster of trees so at least when they are growing you get a sense of a critical mass of trees? I know I am expressing this badly and the horticultural purists will just laugh but I think a lot of people wonder about this. We have all seen tree replacement in streets, it tends to be a tree here and there and it does not actually look that good. Can you just offer a few insights into the general aesthetic?
Mr Rake —Sure. It is actually nowhere near being a silly question; it is a really important question and it is the reason for our two approaches. Where trees are part of a landscape unit—and the avenues, Commonwealth, Kings, Anzac Parade, are very clear examples—it is important that we look at a cluster or group of trees and determine the best way forward. Sometimes if only 20 per cent of those trees are in poor health, it would make sense just to remove the ones that are unhealthy and replace them. But, if 70 per cent of a deliberate avenue of trees are in poor health, I would argue that there is a good reason to think about removing and replanting all of them so that we maintain that avenue appearance.
Planting density is a vexed issue. There is a horticultural practice of using trees which are referred to as ‘nurse trees’. So we might have an inner row of the trees that are our important trees and our long-term view of the avenue but, to promote the health of those trees in their early years, we might plant faster growing species immediately on the outside to provide protection from wind and traffic movement in and around. Over time the community gets used to both rows of trees being there and when the time comes to remove the nurse trees, which might have been planned to be 15 or 20 years into a predicted 80-year tree life, it can be tough. We can be talking about removing two entire rows of nurse trees and we have examples of that in the Parliamentary Zone.
There is also an issue around planting trees close together. That is also a very useful silvicultural practice. It promotes the health of the trees when young. Planting trees close together enables them to work as a block and they resist wind better, for example. Pine trees are a very good example. In commercial forests they are planted on a high density, they grow straighter and resist the wind but at a certain point you need to thin them out. Again, if that is 10 years into the planting, the community is used to seeing this big cluster of densely planted trees and when we want to remove every second one it is pretty contentious. It might be that we need to put some interpretive materials out there. I would not rule out putting a sign in the area that talks about the landscape setting and says, ‘We’ve planted twice as many trees as we really need here and in 2030 we will be back to remove every second one,’ so that the story is there and preserved.
CHAIR —Maybe that is what websites are useful for and you can have a reference sign rather than big plaques.
Mr Rake —But we need the message out there.
CHAIR —I have learnt something today, but I am sure there are a lot of people who take a great interest in trees, who are probably like me, who love them, think they are beautiful and get concerned when there are changes made, but who are not knowledgeable about horticultural practice.
Mr Rake —Absolutely. I think that is an example or a justification for small-scale consultation as we did on Tuesday night where people can stand in front of a tree and instead of us telling them that we plant trees five metres apart initially and then thin them out to 10 metres apart, they can see what that means on the ground. We can go on ground and pace it out. We can have a post or a traffic cone and say, ‘It would mean a tree here, here and here and 10 years later we will come back and remove every second one.’ People get a better feel on ground.
CHAIR —Thank you. If there are no further questions about the tree consultation, we might move onto some specific issues about the implementation of the recommendations of the report The way forward. I would like to start by asking you to report to the committee on progress in regard to implementing the recommendations that were accepted in principle or fully by the government.
Prof. Aitkin —I will defer to Mr Rake on that. It points to a bureaucratic system rather than to the NCA.
Mr Rake —In its response to The way forward, the government identified two further bodies of work that needed to be completed. One was an internal body of work looking at the extent of the Commonwealth functions in the national capital, and it was delivered through a task force. I understand that task force has almost completed its work and will soon report to government. I do not know whether that is a document that will come out to the community. The second and more important body of work is that of an intergovernmental committee comprising members of the Commonwealth government and the ACT government. Its sole focus is improving the planning framework, and I think it is the most important piece of work. That work is underway and we are meeting regularly. At this stage we are meeting fortnightly and have been for a couple of months now. The aim is to simplify the planning system to try to clean up areas of perceived or actual duplication or duality and to make sure that the arrangements we have in place going forward are appropriate for the interests of the national capital, the development of the city and the needs of the ACT government. Having participated in them directly, I think the discussions are proceeding in very good spirit. Both parties are genuinely looking for improvement. I think we will have that work wrapped up by the end of the first quarter in 2010—that is, by around March.
In terms of the NCA’s contribution to that, we are of one view and we express that view. We have reviewed very closely the recommendations in The way forward—for example, the recommendation around preparation of a strategic land use plan reviewed every three to five years jointly by the ACT government and the NCA. We think that is a very good recommendation and we have given unqualified support to that. The view that we put to the IGC is that it is an appropriate way to manage strategic planning in the national capital. In the past, strategic planning has not been as cooperative as it would be under that recommendation. We think that is a really meaningful and good improvement. It would give the ACT a seat at the table when it comes to considering the strategic view of the national capital. The Commonwealth still retains the final say, and that is appropriate for the national capital. But it would be far more productive and cooperative and that mandatory review cycle would be a marked improvement. We support that.
CHAIR —Are you able to advise this committee who the representatives are from both governments on the intergovernmental committee that has been established?
Mr Rake —The committee is chaired by the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department, as the responsible portfolio agency for territories. The NCA is a member of the committee and the ACT government is represented by the Chief Minister’s Department and the ACT Planning and Land Authority.
CHAIR —How many times has that committee met?
Mr Rake —It would be around half-a-dozen. We have another meeting at the end of next week.
CHAIR —The way forward was quite clear in its view that in Canberra there ought to be a very clear distinction between areas that come under the planning jurisdiction and land administration of the National Capital Authority, to resolve the issue of the planning authorities having disagreements or disputes and having to resolve them in a contentious environment. Is that the direction of the work program on the intergovernmental committee?
Mr Rake —Absolutely. Both the ACT government and the NCA agree there is room to improve those arrangements. The most contentious are either where there are special requirements imposed by the National Capital Plan on territory land or where we have designated territory land, with the National Capital Authority having final planning say in a detailed sense on areas of territory land. We would like to align as closely as we can planning approval powers and land administration, noting that there will still be some areas that are difficult and we may have to retain something that looks like designated territory land.
There are some other complexities that we will have to think about a bit harder. At the moment, the hills, ridges and buffers are designated areas of territory land. I do not think the Commonwealth necessarily wants to take over management of hills, ridges and buffers, but I do not think we could walk away from responsibility and say that they are no longer an important part of the landscape setting of the national capital. There may be other mechanisms for preserving the Commonwealth’s interest in that and we will look at those pretty closely. The clean up of that is the general direction and both parties are very keen on that.
CHAIR —On hills, ridges and buffers: the national capital open space plan did deservedly get some attention at the public consultation and I put it to you that that open space plan or scheme—is that its technical name?
Mr Rake —I think it is the National Capital Open Space System.
CHAIR —Thank you. That is a particularly central feature of the National Capital Plan and is in large part responsible for giving Canberra its wonderful bush capital feel by maintaining those corridors of natural bushland. I just want to get some assurance from you in the context of this conversation that the Commonwealth understands the central place the National Capital Open Space System has under the auspices of the National Capital Plan and will maintain a direct interest in that system.
Mr Rake —Absolutely, and indeed the landscape setting of the city is one of the current matters of national significance that are in the National Capital Plan. The proposal that the authority put to the joint standing committee inquiry last year to uplift designation over large amounts of the hills, ridges and buffers probably was not spelled out as well as it could have been. What the authority was trying to say is that there could be an alternative mechanism for protecting those areas without us necessarily having to have final planning control. We accept the view that the proposal was a bit too ambitious. The committee did come back and express a view that we had gone too far. We will keep working to find an appropriate balance. Very clearly, the National Capital Open Space System is a critical element of the national capital and we see it remaining that way.
CHAIR —Thank you. On another area of notorious contention when it comes to designated areas, but this time on territory land, I refer to the area that Albert Hall finds itself on. I note that at the public consultation meeting there was some discussion about the immigration bridge proposal and the fact that still exists within the amendment covering that area. Is that an area that the National Capital Authority thinks ought to be managed for planning purposes by the Commonwealth as opposed to it being territory land and being one of these areas where there is crossover and, as we know from the past, contention?
Mr Rake —I think that area and West Basin are two prime examples where it would be difficult for the Commonwealth to say we do not have an interest in the planning of those areas anymore. They sit around Lake Burley Griffin and they are very close to, and certainly very visible from, the Parliamentary Zone. They are going to be some of the more difficult areas to resolve. I am not sure that the territory would necessarily want to cede administration of those to the Commonwealth to allow them to be gazetted as national land, so those will be some of the more difficult ones to resolve. We still think there is a definite interest in Lake Burley Griffin and adjacent lands.
CHAIR —Finally, before I ask Senator Humphries to take things up, I still get continual pleas from the community—in fact, I have had a very direct representation from a constituent—about the amenity on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. In particular, I get complaints about the service provided by the two kiosk facilities at Commonwealth Place on the foreshore, like they are not open all the time on weekends and they have a propensity to close if it is not too busy. The general complaint that I have received is that there are very few places in the popular areas—that is, around Central Basin—where you can get a good coffee, have a rest and enjoy the scenery. When is the NCA going to address this lack of amenity, notwithstanding the sensitivity that any such project would involve?
Mr Rake —The kiosks were clearly our first attempt at that. When we went out to the market to find tenants to move in, we did not get a very good response. We are not asking a lot of money for the rent down there and we are not particularly nasty landlords. We went out initially for tenants for the kiosks and, as I said, we received quite a poor response. We were able to select a least one provider, who has opened up and is selling the gelato and coffee.
Recently we went back out to the market to again see whether there was anyone willing to take over the second kiosk and the space at Commonwealth Place that was formerly occupied by the National Portrait Gallery. Indeed, there is another vacant space immediately behind the Water’s Edge restaurant. Again we received a very poor response. I think industry is concerned about the erratic nature of trade down there. We will all have seen in our time on or around the lake that there are very clear peaks and troughs. There might be a lot of people going for a run around Central Basin at lunchtime, but if you are out for a run you are probably not going to stop for a coffee or an ice-cream. So the trade is a bit patchy.
In terms of general amenity, places to stop and have a rest, the biggest improvement recently is the RG Menzies Walk and more particularly the public seating related to that. There are some new picnic tables and public seats at the western end adjoining Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. I am particularly proud of those. They are of a lovely quality; they are really nice. There are bench seats along the wall as it runs past Regatta Point. At what we call the zigzag wall as the path approaches Rond Terrace there are also some seats placed tight in amongst the plantings and the walls. They are shady, comfortable, quite lovely areas to have a rest. We are working pretty hard with public furniture to improve the amenity.
We are still amenable to an appropriate number of temporary traders—say, the coffee van that trades near the Carillon. We are looking for traders that can come in with an appropriate service, can turn up in the morning, trade for the day and leave without a trace in the afternoon. We are less comfortable about traders who need to leave something on site overnight.
CHAIR —Just going back to the Commonwealth Place area, I recall that with those kiosks there was quite a grand process of determining the architecture and the facilities underneath the amphitheatre. Is that an example of lack of market research? I find it quite astounding that the market has not responded. It makes me ask you: what is it about the terms and conditions that would prevent a trader from wanting to establish a business there, develop a reputation, attract regular customers and therefore become a known place for people to go? The feedback I had recently was quite disturbing. Guests to Canberra wanted to find a place where they could have a nice meal next to the lake. Apart from Regatta Point, which is quite set back and high, there just is not anywhere.
Mr Rake —I accept that the venues are isolated. There is no clustered Darling Harbour or something like that. It should be said that that is part of the plan for West Basin. It is in the National Capital Plan and in time that will happen. At the moment is a bit more isolated. There is of course the Canberra Yacht Club, the restaurant at the museum, the Boathouse, Water’s Edge, Regatta Point and the kiosks. That spans a range of budgets and dining experiences.
The market research is a difficult question. The Commonwealth was not necessarily setting out to establish a commercial operation of its own. The kiosks were a response to public calls for more facility around the lake. We needed to do it in a way that was respectful of the land axis, and I think the architecture fits that, although it has been criticised by some. It is a peculiar trade in the area. Despite some small pockets of community concern, I am not sure there is enough community concern to have made it commercially viable. The traders that are there are surviving. As part of our rental agreements we see financial information, and they are not making a heck of a lot of money.
Senator HUMPHRIES —You have already told us about the way in which you have coped with the budget cuts in the planning and approval process. I want to ask what the NCA spends on maintenance of the parliamentary triangle. I have had a number of constituents and also visitors to Canberra complain about long grass in areas close to or in the parliamentary triangle and they say there is a higher incidence of litter than they have seen before. There is also some lack of maintenance of things like garden beds and quality infrastructure around public spaces. Over a period, I have referred a number of these complaints to the NCA. Some have bounced back as ACT government responsibilities. Is there any change to the size of the budget the NCA administers to deliver on that basic quality of environment maintenance for the parliamentary triangle and other areas of national land which the NCA administers?
Mr Rake —The short answer is yes, there has been a marked decrease in the amount we spend on maintenance. It comes from three sources. The first is a general underlying pressure which all government agencies face—that is, increases in indexation of appropriations do not always keep pace with inflation. We put that view to the public accounts committee last year when they were looking at the efficiency dividend. The second area was in fact the special efficiency dividend last year. We did have to make some changes and we were able to prioritise by looking at where we could change our maintenance regime and minimise the public impact. We were able to adjust our lawn mowing frequency without creating too much negative impact.
I do not believe we have reduced at all our attention to picking up litter. We certainly have not reduced our approach to keeping the public domain safe. The third area—again, this is on the public record already—is that shortly after the Griffin Legacy amendments there was a transfer of land from the ACT to the Commonwealth. As part of the changes to our budget in 2008, the funding for maintenance of those assets was removed and we have had to internalise those costs. So that has meant a bit more prioritisation, but again focussed on the more discretionary maintenance activities, rather than those which maintain public safety or protect key assets.
Senator HUMPHRIES —You have received more land to administer but the budget has not been increased to account for that or the total budget has been cut?
Mr Rake —Yes, land has been transferred and in the first year we did receive maintenance funding but that funding was removed in 2008.
Senator HUMPHRIES —When you say ‘there has been a marked decrease’ in that area of the budget, can you be more specific please?
Mr Rake —The aggregate reduction is around 50 per cent. So it is from around $12 million to around $6 million.
Senator HUMPHRIES —That is annually?
Mr Rake —That is annual, direct, before the maintenance of the estate.
Senator HUMPHRIES —When you say the grass is now cut less often, what kinds of reductions are we looking at?
Mr Rake —The first approach was to change the contractual specifications. Previously we paid for a qualitative outcome. We said, ‘We always want grass in the most important areas to be’—I forget the exact numbers—‘between five and 7½ centimetres long and you mow it as frequently as you need to to keep it in that range.’ That transfers risk to the contractor. In periods of high rain and warm weather the grass grows rapidly and they might be mowing every week or sometimes even twice a week and they price that into their tender. We were able to reduce the cost by bringing that risk across to the Commonwealth and specifying a time period for mowing. We said, ‘During the growing season, you mow irrigated areas every second week, regardless of what the weather has done.’ Even in the driest times, the irrigated areas still need to be mowed once a fortnight. What it means is that, in periods of high rainfall in a warm area, by the time we get around to the end of that second week, the grass will be getting a bit long and it will be visibly needing a mow. So in irrigated areas we still mow every second week and in dryland areas we mow every six weeks. That is the greater risk for us. It means that our median strips in periods of high rainfall can look a bit untidy for a period of two or three weeks.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Yes, they can. You say that you have not reduced spending on picking up litter. Who actually picks up litter?
Mr Rake —We have a contracting firm that picks up litter. Our open space contract has a number of areas of functions. Sweeping gravel from paths, picking up litter, picking up small fallen branches from trees and those sorts of activities are all still being undertaken under the contract.
Senator HUMPHRIES —So the spending on that contract has not been reduced?
Mr Rake —Spending on the overall contract has, because it includes the lawn mowing. It is a horticultural and open space maintenance contract.
Senator HUMPHRIES —But that component has not been reduced?
Mr Rake —That is correct. There were some components that we made changes to and some where we could not make reductions—we thought they were nondiscretionary. Picking up litter was one of those.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Who is responsible for maintenance and infrastructure in Lennox Gardens?
Mr Rake —The ACT is the land manager there.
Senator HUMPHRIES —How large is the extra area that was added to and hence our responsibility in terms of area?
Mr Rake —The roads and road reserves that include Constitution Avenue, the roads in Russell and the roads of both Commonwealth and Kings Avenue—previously the NCA only managed the bridges, not the roads—and Dunrossil Drive and its road reserve. We have assumed responsibility for maintaining those roads—for example, fixing potholes, replacing line markings and replacing road barriers—and the maintenance of the road reserves, including any footpaths or car parks that are within those road reserves.
Senator HUMPHRIES —But no extra money for that?
Mr Rake —No, there is no extra money for that.
Senator HUMPHRIES —What would you estimate is the area of those extra reserves?
Mr Rake —I do not have that area at hand. The maintenance cost that was in the budget papers for those was $3½ million per annum.
Senator HUMPHRIES —That was the previous estimate?
Mr Rake —That was the estimate that was in the 2007-08 budget, which was the year in which we did have that funding.
Senator HUMPHRIES —And that money is not there now?
Mr Rake —That money is not there now.
CHAIR —Just on that, when you made that agreement for that to be transferred, or when that decision was made, was that decision made with you only being compensated for the cost of it for one fiscal year?
Mr Rake —No, it was an ongoing decision. It relates to the Constitution Avenue project and the Griffin Legacy amendments in general.
CHAIR —I know the job was permanent, but the funding compensation—
Mr Rake —The maintenance funding was put into the budget in 2007-08 as an ongoing measure, and when the funding for the Constitution Avenue upgrade was removed the maintenance was also removed.
CHAIR —So it was part of that $40 million decision not to provide with the widening of—
Mr Rake —The decision—I think it was a $46 million decision—included three years worth of maintenance funding being removed. It actually flows out into the out years as well.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I think at one stage I might have asked for—and possibly I have already received it, but if I have not—a map of the area of the Parliamentary Triangle and surrounding areas showing who has maintenance responsibility between the two governments.
Mr Rake —If we have not provided that, I apologise and I will—
Senator HUMPHRIES —You might have done. I have not seen it yet, but it might have come to my office. For example, we had a complaint about the grass around the Chinese embassy, and I understand some sides of that perimeter are NCA and some sides are ACT. So a map would be very useful.
Mr Rake —We will provide that map. We have a map that is fairly easily readable at an A3 size but there are some areas where the level of detail is still difficult. Melbourne Avenue is the example I quote the most. The median strip of Melbourne Avenue is all ACT bar about the last 10 metres, at which point it is ours. We coordinate to try to get the same contractor doing the mowing there, rather than they mow theirs and we mow ours.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Obviously the work on the flyover on Parkes Way, where it intersects with Kings Avenue, is well and truly underway. Is it on time and on budget?
Mr Rake —Absolutely. In fact it is tracking very slightly ahead of the time schedule on some of the early works. We have not yet said that we will deliver the project earlier than the proposed date, but we are certainly on time and on budget. We have let all of the major contracts and so we are very confident of delivering that project on budget.
Senator HUMPHRIES —When is the expected completion date for the project?
Mr Rake —In June 2011.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Are all the trees that were to be removed as part of that work now gone, or are there further trees that need to be removed?
Mr Rake —I believe that all of the trees that were to be removed are now gone. If I am incorrect, I will come back to you on that. Certainly we have removed the necessary trees on Kings Avenue, and we have certainly removed the trees from the median strips and the roundabout. The area I am not entirely certain about is the corner at the top end of Kings Park, but I am reasonably confident that we have removed them all. If I am incorrect, I will come back. If I do not come back to you, you may take it that the tree removals are finished. There was one tree on the median strip of Parkes Way which was left up in the original removals because there was a magpie nest there. The contractors identified that of their own volition and made the decision themselves to wait until it was gone and then removed the tree.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Right. Is it expected that some of those trees will be replanted once the works are finished?
Mr Rake —Absolutely. We are replacing at least every single tree that was removed. In fact, the elms at the northern end of Kings Avenue were previously a single row of elms on each side and they had not performed very well. We are going to improve the growing environment and replace with two rows of elms on each side. We have already ordered advance stock. Those trees are bigger than we would normally use, at around 4½ metres. They are growing on in a nursery in Victoria. The trees that we removed from the median strips and from the roundabout itself will all be replaced in number as part of the new planting scheme. Indeed, some of the replacements have already occurred in Kings Park. Outside the construction compound, there are pink tree guards visible already.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I want to turn to another subject, which Senator Lundy might be interested in as well—that is, the closure of the lake because of the presence of blue-green algae. I have had correspondence with you, Mr Rake, about that subject. As I understand it, I think you have conceded in your letters to me that the NCA attempts to administer a policy of lake closures based on the NHMRC guidelines about contact with algae. They also acknowledge that other states or local government bodies have different policies, which apparently are a different interpretation of the same guidelines.
The point was made to me that it is accepted that water contact sports like swimming and water-skiing should certainly not occur when algae is present in the lake at a certain level. But there is the suggestion that other non-contact, or less likely contact if I can put it that way, water sports, such as sailing, canoeing, rowing and dragon boating, should be allowed to proceed on the lake, notwithstanding algae having reached a certain level. As I understand it, you follow the view of the ACT Department of Health, and they take a highly precautionary approach of saying that, if there is some danger from contact, there should not be any contact. But, given that other authorities that administer bodies of water have a different approach, is the NCA prepared to consider a breaking of the connection between the views of ACT health and other interpretations of the NHMRC guidelines so that it is not necessary to close the lake to all users in the event that blue-green algae levels reach a certain stage?
Mr Rake —I suppose I will give the bad news first and then the good news. The first bit is a categorical no: we will not depart from the ACT Health guidelines. I think that it would be irresponsible for us to do so. It would confuse management of water bodies in the ACT. While ever we are sharing management of this place with the ACT government, I think that it is important that we align our management policies with theirs as best we can and particularly where public safety is involved. I think that it would create a poor precedent if we started undermining the ACT government and created confusion in the community.
On to the good news: we have worked actively with ACT Health to make sure that the policy appropriately assesses the risks as best we can. I spoke to the Lake Users Group, a forum that we convened yesterday, and I am happy to put it on record today—and it is already in the public domain—that ACT Health are about to release a draft revised guideline for the management of blue-green algae that would allow sports, where there is a lower risk of water contact, to go out on the lake at higher levels than they have been allowed in the past provided a number of mitigation and precautionary measures are in place.
So to talk in detail about the guideline that will come out in draft form for consultation soon: at the moment we close the lake entirely at any cell count above 50,000 cells per million. The new guideline will suggest that within the range 50,000 to 125,000 organised activities could apply for an exemption from the lake regulators, and that would be us, for Lake Burley Griffin, or the ACT EPA for Tuggeranong or Ginninderra, to continue with their activities where there is a lower risk of contact—so rowing, canoeing, sailing—and provided that the event organiser gives information to participants about the risks, that they have an experienced person involved in the conduct of the activity and that there are wash-down facilities available, for example, a shower in the clubhouse or other facilities. There are some problems with that. Not every club has access to a shower, for example, so there are still some hurdles to be crossed there. And there is still, of course, an upper threshold, 125,000 cells per million, at which the lake would still be closed for all purposes.
When put to the Lake Users Group yesterday the most vocal opponents of the blue-green algae management policy said that they would still agree to disagree with the public health authorities about whether the risks were real but that they welcomed any progress at all, and certainly they welcomed this progress. So that will be up for public consultation very soon. ACT Health will run that process.
I would put on record that I think it has been a pretty easy discussion to have, despite the difficulties of last year, to sit down with environmental regulators, land managers and health experts and try to find a way to get some concession in a matter that still goes to the heart of public health. I think that it was approached in good spirit and I record my thanks to the ACT Health officials for engaging in that discussion. We will have that draft out and we are going to try to progress it within the next few weeks so that it is in place for the peak of this summer. Where we have clubs such as the Canoe Club, that work down at Molonglo Reach—and I do not think that they have access to a shower facility down there; there is a public toilet—we will look at whether there is something we can do to help them get access to an emergency shower facility that would enable them to apply for this exemption.
Senator HUMPHRIES —So those rules are going to be further clarified and issued as a discussion document.
Prof. Aitkin —A draft.
Mr Rake —Absolutely. They will be out as a draft within weeks.
Senator HUMPHRIES —We would like to get a copy of those, if we could, when they are issued so that we can see them as well.
Mr Rake —Certainly.
Senator HUMPHRIES —We would like to follow the progress of that—
Mr Rake —The final aspect of your question dealt with the approach of other jurisdictions. I understand that a number of those other jurisdictions, for reasons unknown to us, do not have a clear and easily exercisable power to close water bodies because of blue-green algae. So it is not that the authorities do not accept the risk—they put out warnings in the strongest terms that say everything but, and you will be breaching the law if you go into the water. We do have a very clear policy that deals with issuing closures for water quality reasons and so it would be difficult as public land managers not to use those powers when the advice says that the risk is high enough.
Senator HUMPHRIES —We could engage in a philosophical discussion about the extent to which bodies like ACT Health should be effectively eliminating all risk by closing the lake, through you—
Mr Rake —Yes, there is a philosophical debate there. The state of our current society is such that public land managers probably are taking a more risk-averse approach than they might have several decades ago.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Absolutely. All right; we will have that discussion on another occasion. Is the NCA—
CHAIR —Sorry, Senator Humphries. Senator Crossin, do you have any questions you want to jump in with?
Senator CROSSIN —No. I am fine just listening.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Has the NCA had any input into consideration by the Commonwealth of the role it might play in the celebration of Canberra’s centenary in 2013? If there have been any discussions, can you tell us what the focus and direction of those might have been.
Mr Rake —The Commonwealth and ACT governments do have regular discussions on matters related to the centenary, and the NCA are a member of that working group but we are not the lead party. The Attorney-General’s Department, in particular the Territories Division, is the lead Commonwealth agency in that regard.
Senator HUMPHRIES —So, if there are discussions about things that might occur, you cannot brief us on what they are?
Mr Rake —Not in a specific sense. There are some things I can talk about. Robyn Archer, the coordinator from the ACT side, has been to talk to us about essentially reserving areas of national land for events that either the Commonwealth or the ACT might hold as part of the celebrations, and we are very happy to help out there. We would not give permission for a major event on national land around the time of the celebration without first checking whether the ACT or the Commonwealth parties had in mind that they might use it for a public event. In that regard we have two roles: we sit on the working group but we also, as land manager, have some of the most important ceremonial sites that would be used.
I have also been reminded that we have been running a series of temporary exhibitions at the National Capital Exhibition to highlight not just the centenary in 2013 but the important events leading into it: the selection of the site, the Scrivener surveys. Those will continue. We have a program of those that are being coordinated by a number of parties across the city.
CHAIR —I recall going to the exhibition at the National Capital Exhibition relating to the decision to site the national capital where it is. Is that exhibition still there or are there plans for the next phase?
Mr Rake —That one is still there. It will be either moved or removed once it is superseded by another one. At the moment we have two temporary exhibitions in place. One deals with the selection of the site, which has a jigsaw type game for school groups—I say ‘school groups’ but I failed the first time I tried to play that game. We also have an interactive display dealing with the Scrivener surveys, which serves to educate about both the survey of the national capital and the profession of surveying.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I assume that the Attorney-General’s Department, as the lead agency on the centenary group, would be the department to direct questions to on notice, or something of that sort?
Mr Rake —Yes.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I know that you have withdrawn the draft variation that was looking at the work around Albert Hall. Are there any plans at this point to bring forward a new variation at some point in the future, or is that still in the ether?
Mr Rake —No, there are no current plans for the Albert Hall precinct. There are no preliminary proposals; there are no formal proposals; there is no proposal in any way, shape or form for that area.
CHAIR —Would you like to repeat that, Mr Rake?
Mr Rake —For avoidance of all doubt.
Prof. Aitkin —Nothing in the ether is known to us.
CHAIR —Thank you.
Mr Rake —We have also said, as an authority, that if somebody comes forward with a proposal in the future the consultation would occur in a different way and we would ask that proponent to stand and hold hands with us at those consultations.
Prof. Aitkin —I will just supplement that by saying it is going to be a characteristic part of consultation in the future—that is, anyone who is proposing a draft amendment will be required to be with us in the consultation process.
Senator HUMPHRIES —That probably kills any chances of any proposals coming forward, doesn’t it?
Mr Rake —It means that proposals will need to be publicly defensible, demonstrate a national interest and properly take account of local interest.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I was being slightly cynical in that remark.
CHAIR —You have to be a bit careful, because sarcasm does not come across in Hansard.
Senator HUMPHRIES —That is a good point. I will have it corrected afterwards.
Mr Rake —It was a serious question and it got a serious answer.
Senator HUMPHRIES —That reminds me to ask you about the new approach towards consultation that you told us about before. Are there are any processes in train or about to get underway at the moment for which you are going to use this new approach of pre-engagement with key stakeholders?
Mr Rake —Yes, there are, although not in terms of amendments to the plan. Sorry, there is one for an amendment to the plan: the proposal to remove provision for Monash Drive. That proposition was put to us by the ACT government and we have asked the ACT government to come to the table for consultation and to bring information about the environmental values that would justify the removal and the traffic modelling that indicates that provision for that road is no longer required. In a more active sense—something that is our own project—we want to find a solution for the crossing of Bowen Place adjacent to the National Library. We want to find a safe mechanism for pedestrians and cyclists to get across that road.
Senator HUMPHRIES —National Library or National Gallery?
Mr Rake —Sorry, the National Gallery—the horrible zigzag crossing of Bowen Place. On Wednesday of next week we are convening a meeting of key stakeholders. The invitations have gone out. We have representatives of cycling groups, pedestrian groups, heritage groups, the Walter Burley Griffin Society, us and the NRMA. The Road Safety Trust are going to have it monitored through Professor Aitkin, who is also chair of that group. We have prepared seven very preliminary options. The purpose of preconsultation is to float ideas that might ultimately be proven to be silly ideas and to do it in an environment where we can collect views from stakeholders. We will talk to stakeholders on Wednesday next week, and then around February next year we will come out to the community, show all seven options and give a brief snapshot of the comments that were provided by each of those key stakeholders. A heritage group might say, ‘We didn’t support option X because we thought it would have an unacceptable impact on the Parliament House vista,’ for example. The pedestrians might say, ‘We didn’t support proposal Y because it still had too high a risk for pedestrians.’ That is a live example and it will solve a very longstanding problem.
CHAIR —I will go back to Monash Drive. This is the one across the western face of Mount Ainslie?
Mr Rake —Mount Ainslie and Mount Majura, yes.
CHAIR —So, if that is removed from the National Capital Plan, the residents of Duffy Street can relax.
Mr Rake —That would be a side effect, but it is certainly not the motivating factor.
CHAIR —I know, but it has certainly been there because it is on the plan. I have met people who had no knowledge of it and who are residents of Ainslie; they were quite shocked to find out that it is on the plan, and I know that they will be greatly relieved to see it gone from the plan given that there was no prospect and no will from either the Commonwealth or the ACT government to proceed with that road.
Mr Rake —I understand their views, but it would not be the primary matter that we considered.
CHAIR —Thank you.
Prof. Aitkin —If you were there, Senator, at the point in the consultation where Monash Drive was raised, I was very tempted to do a counterfactual to the proponents and say, ‘What do you think would happen if the ACT government were to say, “We want to build that”?’ Then there would have been a process of public consultation in which the citizens of Ainslie would have risen in their thousands. Also, the War Memorial would have said, ‘We don’t want a four-lane highway behind us.’ They would then have gone through Veterans’ Affairs to get the Commonwealth involved. In other words, we would have had a huge public consultation in which a diversity of views would have been put forward, and ultimately the NCA would have had to say what it thought the correct outcome was in terms of consistency with the National Capital Plan. My view is that it would have said: ‘No, it’s too late for that.’ Had it been built in the 1960s, we would simply have accepted it, and people would have objected to it, but it would have been there. If it is not there, I think the chance of its being built through a process of consultation is pretty small.
CHAIR —So it is a good example of the right decision being made and therefore, effectively, you are experiencing unilateral support for a decision of the NCA?
Prof. Aitkin —I am sure there are traffic people and engineers who think it is the wrong decision, but the truth is that the ACT government are saying firmly: ‘We have no intention of ever building this. We are removing it from our plan. Would you be so kind as to remove it from yours.’ We could have just said yes, but we think this is actually a moment of consultation. So we are asking the ACT government, ‘You have to tell people, (a) why you do not want to do it, because you assume that a road won’t be necessary to deal with the traffic problems and also there are heritage or environmental values which you think superior and you need to say so.’ I think that is the correct way to do it.
CHAIR —Thank you to that. Sorry for interrupting, Senator Humphries.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I can recall announcing 10 years ago, when I was planning minister, that the road was not going to go ahead, but obviously things drag on a little bit around here. I have one last question. Are you aware of what the status of the proposal for Immigration Bridge is at the moment? I do not mean from your point of view, but from the point of view of the proponents. Are they proceeding with preparation for approval?
Mr Rake —We have no further formal information.
Prof. Aitkin —We have no knowledge that a proposal is coming to us.
CHAIR —My recollection was that IBA—Immigration Bridge Australia—undertook to come back and have further consultation I think next year. So we will wait with interest. Senator Crossin, do you have any final questions.
Senator CROSSIN —No, thank you, I do not.
CHAIR —I would like to ask Professor Aitkin if he would like to make a statement before we close today’s proceedings.
Prof. Aitkin —Just a short thing that I wanted to say at the beginning and did not, and now is a good time to say it. I must say that had and have some sympathy with the citizens of Campbell, because they feel beleaguered. The ASIO building is being built to their south. To their west is Anzac Parade being halved again for six months. They are conscious of parking congestion and all the rest of it. It is very difficult not to feel sympathy for them. From their perspective they are getting the worst of both possible worlds: a very large public building is being built in the context of boulevarded four-lane road, which is not going to be built—at least for which the money has been withdrawn; and at the same time the Commonwealth now has the responsibility for the roads which were given to them by the ACT but is not doing anything about it. It is really very hard not to say, ‘Look, you have been given a very poor set of cards here.’ But we hope that in the next few years things will improve so that they will get the benefits and not just the costs of the change.’
CHAIR —Thank you very much, Professor Aitkin and Mr Rake, for appearing here today. I think you have taken a few things on notice. If you could provide that to the secretariat of the committee as soon as possible so it can be provided to the committee we would be most grateful. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and you are able to make any corrections relating to grammar or fact. If there has been an error, please correct it so that the record stands correct. Hansard may wish to check some details with you before you leave today. Thank you, thank you to the secretariat, and thank you, Senator Crossin and Senator Humphries.
Resolved (on motion by Senator Humphries, seconded by Senator Crossin):
That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the proof of transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.
Committee adjourned at 12.04 pm