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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
National Capital Authority
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Content WindowJOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE NATIONAL CAPITAL AND EXTERNAL TERRITORIES
National Capital Authority
CHAIR —I 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 —Thank you, Chair. Because there are so many of you who are new—and we welcome you to this onerous but enjoyable and important task—I thought it might be useful to provide a summary of what has happened in the last two or three years. I have taken the trouble to print that out and each member can have one a copy.
The membership of the authority itself is quite new. All five of us were appointed during the last parliament, and in fact two only at the beginning of this year. I was appointed in August 2008, in a temporary capacity and reappointed six months later for another short temporary term before being appointed substantively last October. When I was first appointed the authority was in a difficult situation. The previous chair had resigned, as had the chief executive, and some senior people had either left or indicated that they would leave soon. The Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories had released its comprehensive report on the authority, and the government had not yet announced its response. There had been a major public controversy over the future planning of the area near and including the Albert Hall, which had indeed been part of the cause of the JSC’s enquiry. The incoming government had signalled its intention to reduce the authority’s sphere of responsibility and started by making a significant cut to the authority’s budget. Morale within our organisation was low.
I thought that the first task was to get the authority to communicate at every level and to every stakeholder. I offered to appear before your committee even before the government had indicated that this would be a good idea. I also ensured that every letter and email was dealt with promptly. I proposed to the authority that it develop a communications strategy that would include a preparedness to engage with critics, an interactive website, public events in which we addressed contentious issues and something I called ‘the pipeline’—an indication of what we knew might be coming so that, as far as possible, Canberra residents, who care a great deal about the city in which they live, had a better sense of its future.
We needed a new chief executive, and I was a member of the three-person committee that selected Gary Rake, who is sitting beside me, from an impressive field in which he was the outstanding candidate. Before very long morale with the NCA had improved markedly, our staff responded to the need to work even more efficiently within the funds available to us, and the tone of public comment shifted from criticism to support. We have held two very large public forums in which several hundred Canberra citizens have had their say. Not everything said has been favourable to us, but there has been widespread appreciation of our having organised the events and having been prepared to listen to criticism. The next such forum will be held in April 2011.
It would be pleasant indeed to be able to say that the storm has passed and that there is smooth sailing ahead, but the future of the national capital itself and the NCA are presently subject to three important endemic problems, each connected to the other. The three together hamper our capacity to discharge our responsibilities. I will summarise those, and that will be the end of my formal statement.
The first is that the building of the national capital is over. There appears to be a widespread belief among parliamentarians, and probably the general population, that once the new Parliament House was opened in 1988, and the ACT gained a form of self-government in the same year, the creation of the national capital had been accomplished and that in a sense its future could be ignored or just let happen. Yet the Commonwealth still owns every square metre of the Australian Capital Territory and it has and must have a continuing interest in what happens within it. The national capital is the most important symbol of Australian nationhood, and it contains the national collections of the material that collectively supports the notion of what it means to be Australian. The shape, size and texture of the national capital will continue to be important for the parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia and the Australian government, notwithstanding the level of self-government enjoyed within the ACT.
The second problem, which is plainly connected to the first, is the lack of a clear understanding of the separate roles of the ACT government and the Commonwealth government with respect to the national capital. The joint standing committee’s report drew attention to the need for such a clear understanding, and the previous government set up an intergovernmental committee to draw some distinctions. The work of this committee has not proceeded very far because of an uncertainty about which jurisdiction should have the primary role in strategic planning. The authority appreciates the interest and needs of the ACT government in this domain and we believe that it can find a way forward.
The third is the lack of a clear understanding about what our role is. The previous government also set up an interdepartmental committee, in response to the JSC’s report, to consider how the Commonwealth should discharge its responsibilities with respect to the national capital. While a draft of that committee’s report has been circulated, it has not received official consideration. In the meantime, we act as we have done in the past, rather as we need to, should do and could do for the future.
You could say that the NCA has been studied to death—I am actually quoting a senior public servant there. It is my hope that in our new administrative environment it will be possible to sort out at least the last two issues quickly—that is, the separate roles of the two jurisdictions and our role—so that the national capital can receive the attention that it needs. Thank you.
CHAIR —Thank you. I will commence with a brief question based on your remarks today: how have the distinctions between the roles of the ACT government and the National Capital Authority thus far been characterised?
Prof. Aitkin —It all goes back to the setting of self-government, which produced a National Capital Plan. The ACT government was allowed to have its own plan but it had to be consistent with the National Capital Plan. That is 22, nearly 23 years ago, and the whole of that edifice needs to be reconsidered. There are little crunches that occur from time to time where one of us wants to do something and the other says: ‘We don’t want you to do that. We think that is our responsibility.’ For example, there is a whole set of land within the national capital which is called ‘designated land’, and that is a decision made 22 years ago. It is probably getting to the time that we simply said there is either national land or territory land, because the purpose for which land was designated has become less and less relevant as time has gone on. So, if I can crystallise this: at the officer level, we have 99.5 per cent harmony with the ACT government; but at the level of who is to control strategic planning, at the moment that is at an impasse.
Mr SIMPKINS —What is a specific example of ‘designated land’ in the ACT?
Prof. Aitkin —I will ask my colleague to speak his full bottle on designated land.
Mr Rake —The term ‘designated land’ refers to land where the National Capital Authority makes detailed decisions about planning and development approval. The designation of land, or the status of designation, can apply to land that is owned and managed by the Commonwealth or land that is owned and managed by the ACT government. It is those areas where we have designated territory land that complexity arises. Some examples would be: the Parliamentary Zone is designated due to its national significance, and all of that land is controlled by the Commonwealth; but the hills immediately behind us, Red Hill, and immediately behind the War Memorial, Mount Ainslie, are both designated areas because of their important role in the landscape setting of the national capital. So we control the planning, but the land management in each of those areas is done by the ACT government. So it does bring about some complexities, and they can be as simple as the local bushfire brigade needing our approval before they can regrade a fire trail. Those are the sorts of things we think can and should be cleaned up as a matter of urgency.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Thank you gentlemen for coming here today. I hope you have better luck in the second half of the month with those moustaches that you are trying to grow.
Mr Rake —I apologise for the disrespect I bring to hirsute men everywhere.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I am averting my eyes so I won’t be distracted by them. Can I ask about the progress of resolving problems of paid parking in the Parliamentary Triangle. I have seen the discussion paper that was issued by the intergovernmental committee a few days ago. I wonder if you could provide to the committee, on notice, some details of that—about the meetings that were held that educated that discussion paper. I would like to know who attended each of those meetings and the role in which they attended. Is there a budget for this process of resolving both this discussion paper and the subsequent meetings that will be necessary to produce recommendations on this question?
Mr Rake —No, there is no specific budget. To go back one step in the process, the former finance minister and the Minister for Home Affairs asked the National Capital Authority to chair a review on parking management—not specifically paid parking—in Russell, Barton and Parkes.
As chair of the IGC, a group which comprises agencies within both the Commonwealth and the ACT, the NCA has the lead running and at the moment is catching most of the flak in relation to the discussion paper. We are managing that process within our existing resources, including the development of the online consultation site that we have and production of the discussion paper. In looking at the problem, we are very conscious of the report issued by this committee in 2004, Not a town centre. We have made it clear to the other members of the IGC that the recommendations of that report need to, in some sense, be the starting point for any future discussion. The message that analysis and consideration of the range of users of the area and the needs of those users was not comprehensive enough has been well and truly heard. So the approach of the discussion paper is, first and foremost, to try to identify the nature of any problem. We started with an analysis of supply and demand and found that, in a practical sense, there is an excess of demand over supply for parks in the area. The discussion paper goes on to look at a range of management solutions or government responses. They range from the potential to increase the amount of supply, so that it meets or exceeds demand, through to different mechanisms for rationing or controlling demand and use of available parks. Pay parking is one of those options but so too are permit schemes, access controls and time limiting. There is a range of solutions and all of those are being contemplated and debated at the moment.
The online discussion site is our first foray into interactive internet. We have been particularly pleased with the uptake. The level of debate is quite rigorous. We have been a little bit brave and we are allowing contributors to post directly to the site and then we moderate and remove comments that are inappropriate rather than filter them before they go live. To date we have had to moderate out very few posts.
Senator HUMPHRIES —How many contributions have you had on the website?
Mr Rake —Several hundred. We have more than a hundred active participants and some of them are involved in debate all day, every day. There is a trend. It starts at about six o’clock in the morning and tends to finish by about 10 to midnight. My BlackBerry goes beep-beep every few minutes and so does Mr Smith’s.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I have not gone back to check the advice you gave at previous committee meetings, but I was expecting the next thing to come out of this process to be a recommendation to government on how to deal with this issue. What we have is a discussion paper, which will be out for 30 business days.
Mr Rake —Yes, six weeks.
Senator HUMPHRIES —What happens then? When do we get resolution on these questions?
Mr Rake —We will take the contributions of the consultation process back to the IGC and work it through there before we put recommendations to government.
Senator HUMPHRIES —When you say ‘to government’, do you mean to Minister Crean?
Mr Rake —Yes.
Senator HUMPHRIES —When is that expected?
Mr Rake —We do not have a time line on at the moment. We would aim for the middle of next calendar year, but it is bound by the committee process, noting that we have a range of Commonwealth agencies and the ACT government involved. There will be strong debate even within that committee.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I would have thought that there is a measure of urgency, given that we have a number of problems arising: overcrowding of the parking spaces in the triangle and surrounding areas and the fact that the creation of pay parking on block 13, section 9 has created a financial crisis in some agencies. The estimates committee was told a few weeks ago that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has already identified what they think is an actual or a potential liability for fringe benefits tax of over $1 million. Do you have any information about any other agencies which have been placed in a similar position as a result of advent of parking on that section in Barton?
Mr Rake —No, we have not had any representations from other agencies about FBT or any other associated financial impost. We have had two broad sets of representations from agencies on the Commonwealth side. The first is from agencies that represent the interests of their employees, and particularly employees who do not want to walk from the currently empty car park on that site in Barton—a distance of something less than one kilometre—to their office and would look for additional parking to be made available on their doorstep. Some of the proposals that have been put to us would involve turning nature strips or median strips into car parks. The second set of representations, from the cultural institutions, are informal but we hope that they will become formal. One institution presented a snapshot of their visitor log, with all its complaints about the difficulty of finding a parking space when visiting that institution.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Can I encourage you to consider a formal dialogue with them about that because any diminution of people’s capacity to visit those institutions would be of real concern to everybody on this committee because they are institutions of national importance.
Mr Rake —And to us.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I am anxious to make sure we do not end up in a position where other car parks of this kind can be approved. I understand that the NCA approved the ground works necessary to allow for the car parking facilities to be established during the caretaker period. Further, I understand that you felt constrained to approve those because they were consistent with the lease conditions that were issued for the original lease of the block—which of course is intended ultimately for an office building or something of that sort in due course. What satisfaction can you give the committee that somebody elsewhere in the triangle with a similar lease would not be able to make an application for surface parking facilities to be established at short notice—and, presumably, you would be required to approve it because it is within the terms of their lease—and generate another series of potential problems for departments becoming liable for fringe benefits tax as a result?
Mr Rake —At the moment, the only assurance I can give is that we are not aware of any vacant sites of that kind that are not already subject to some kind of parking control. The best example would be the site at the corner of National Circuit and Canberra Avenue, alongside the Minter Ellison building, which has been sold into private hands. It is currently being used as a surface car park but it has a gate and access control already. Whether there is already a fee arrangement in place for that car park, I am not sure.
Senator HUMPHRIES —What if they made an application tomorrow to put a paid car park there?
Mr Rake —Provided that it met all the requirements of the National Capital Plan and their lease, as did the site behind the Ottoman in Barton, we would approve it. The infrastructure for the car park behind the Ottoman was approved regardless of the caretaker period because it was a routine regulatory decision. It was not a decision that was likely to be influenced by a change in government policy on either side. There was an existing leasehold property and an existing planning framework. Although that decision might have had an impact on a number of people who were parking at that site previously, it was in many ways no different from approving construction of a new building during that same period.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I beg to differ. I think we will come to the point where we will have the problem of pay parking becoming a reality through the absence of any decision being made except by the people who own properties in the triangle and adjacent areas simply deciding that they will establish paid parking because of a perceived need for it. I understand that the car park on block 13 has been seriously under-utilised but, of course, the more blocks that are turned into paid parking, or the less free parking there is, the more people will have to transition into these areas. With great respect, I suggest that the appropriateness of paid parking in the parliamentary triangle is an issue that has been extensively ventilated politically and any decision that you make to facilitate paid parking will have implications for the administration of the potential policy of an incoming government—but we will not debate that right now.
CHAIR —Senator Humphries, how many more questions do you have? We have quite a list of people who want to ask questions and I am mindful of the time. We can return to you at the end.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I am happy to give way to somebody else for the time being.
Ms BRODTMANN —Thank you for that opening statement, Don. You mentioned today in the Canberra Times that the National Capital Plan needs updating. Can you give us some indication of what is outdated about it and what vision you have for an updated version. You also mentioned that you needed more funding. Is it funding to produce an updated National Capital Plan or funding for the possible programs that will come out of that, or all of the above?
Prof. Aitkin —Perhaps all of the above. We are always redoing the National Capital Plan because every proposal that comes to us that requires an amendment is in a sense a kind of upjigging of the plan. But it really needs to be looked at in terms of a 50-year forward look, in my view. This is what has happened in Ottawa; there is a 50-year forward look on the national capital of Canada and there is to be a report every 10 years to parliament. When I was in Ottawa and I checked that out I thought it was a good model for us—although they borrowed a lot from us we can also borrow from them. I think 50 years is about right for a body like us, and indeed for the parliament. We are likely to pass half-a-million people in the national capital before very long, and a million before the end of this century. That is a big increase. What does it mean in terms of density of population, heights, approaches, transport and all the rest of it? We are bad at doing this, it seems to me. Sydney and Melbourne are constantly playing catch-up. They have got no way of stopping the population increase and they are constantly retrofitting after the event. As I said on the radio this morning, we have the priceless opportunity to do it in advance. Why don’t we do it?
It will cost money to do it properly. We would need to hire people who are good at this, and use international experience. Sooner or later, I guess, we will do it. We need more money for practically everything to do with the national capital—keep the grass clear and cut, and get rid of some of the dead trees and so on. But that is not what I wanted to get into here. It is simply that building the national capital in the interests of all Australians—not just the interests of the people who live in Canberra; I recognise that you represent half of them—is a task that requires us to think in a way in which we do not normally think. This is the longest surviving new city in human history. It is 100 years old. They have always died before that. St Petersburg lasted as long as Peter the Great was alive then the capital moved to Moscow and that was the end of that. Brazilia—four years after its creation, there is a shanty town there. Washington, a small district of Columbia and outside it some of the worst slums in Washington. We can do it here.
Mr ADAMS —Sydney?
—For many Sydney-siders Canberra is an unfortunate but forgivable error in the past, which we can overcome now.
Mr Rake —There are some specifics we would like to address in the plan, starting with the structure of the plan itself. At the strategic end, the land use end, we do not think the plan adequately gives the ACT the opportunity to contribute to the long-term mapping of land use throughout the Australian Capital Territory. So at the strategic end we think there is a deficiency. Then at the very practical end some of the definitions are out dated or inconsistent with the planning framework in the ACT. We try to clean those up as best we can. It is impractical and problematic for property owners to have to understand two different definitions of gross floor area in trying to work out what they would be allowed to do in building new apartment blocks.
Ms BRODTMANN —In terms of the 50-year plan, are you linking into the Canberra 2030 process?
Prof. Aitkin —We think that is a very good idea.
Ms BRODTMANN —Back to parking: there has been a lot of new development in the triangle on the south side particularly, and near PM&C and the A-G building and a range of other buildings. Given parking has been an issue for quite some time, why was underground parking not factored into the plans for those buildings?
Mr Rake —There is underground parking factored in for each of those new buildings, but it—
Ms BRODTMANN —But just executive parking.
Mr Rake —Access control is by the building tenant, so it is up to each of those agencies or occupiers to decide what their access policy is. The discussion paper does reveal that throughout Barton—and not just in buildings tenanted by a government agencies but also in private buildings—there are a lot of underutilised parks. We had trouble getting some of the statistics on the number of parks available under there, and certainly it was even harder getting numbers on what the usage rates were.
Senator FIELDING —Just to follow up that question, do you know the ratio of car parks to the total number of staff in those buildings so that we all know what the shortfall was? I hear there is car parking underneath, but quite clearly it is nowhere near matching the number of staff in the building. The point that you are getting to is, ‘How can we continue to allow developments to happen without even more stringent controls on where people can park?’
Mr Rake —Mr Smith can jump in and correct me here, but my understanding is that the planning framework mandates a number of car parks based on the floor area of the building rather than the number of employees that would be housed in the building. Within our area we require a provision of parking at a higher rate than that mandated by the ACT government, so there is already an incompatibility in our policies. But we do not expect that every employee would be—
Senator FIELDING —I understand the cause of the problem, but can someone let me know how many staff are in that building and how many car parks were provided in each of the new ones in the last, say, two or three years within the precinct?
Mr Rake —It might be difficult to get precise employee numbers—
Senator FIELDING —Roughly.
Mr Rake —but what I could do is to take the floor area and apply the Department of Finance and Deregulation’s standard per person for an average rate. That would get us a pretty good surrogate.
Senator FIELDING —Good.
Dr LEIGH —I would just like to echo Senator Humphries’ commendation of both your participation in Movember and your commitment to men’s health. The question I wanted to begin was by asking about the 40 per cent emissions reduction target that the ACT government has in place. Have you have been engaged in conversations with the ACT government as to how the NCA can help to support that, say through green building standards or increasing public transport use?
Mr Rake —Many of the new buildings that we approve are on designated territory land. For example, there are the buildings through the new Acton precinct, and in those areas the builders are subject to a combination of Commonwealth and ACT regulations. We are as keen as the ACTU is to see the most environmentally-friendly buildings possible going up in the territory, and I think those developers would probably argue that they get squeezed from both sides and are forced to reach even higher. I am not aware of there being any Commonwealth policies that would stand in the way of the ACT’s environmental targets there in terms of new building approvals.
Dr LEIGH —Do you support the 40 per cent target?
Mr Rake —We do not have a firm policy view on emissions reduction.
Dr LEIGH —Is there anything else the NCA could be doing, do you think, to try to assist in the reduction of emissions?
Mr Rake —Constitution Avenue is probably a good example of where we are trying, with the re-engineering of that main avenue, to make sure that we provide urban infrastructure that encourages low alternative or carbon forms of transport—cycling and walking in particular. We are making sure that there is a sensible connection for people who live or work along that new avenue. The prototypes for that infrastructure will be in place when we upgrade the intersection of Constitution Avenue and Anzac Parade over the next two years, when will lay out the future alignment of the footpath and, hopefully, separate cycleway so that we will have at-grade separation between motor vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and the retention of a treed landscape and it will be a comfortable and pleasing place to engage in either of those alternative forms of transport.
Dr LEIGH —Terrific. On a different issue, I have received some correspondence from a number of different organisations about the World War I and World War II memorials. I know that the Walter Burley Griffin Society and the Quakers for different reasons have concerns over these memorials. Can you give me an update as to their current status?
Mr Rake —National memorials are approved by the Canberra National Memorials Committee in the sense that that committee is responsible for approving the character and location of national memorials. The Canberra National Memorials Committee at full membership includes the Prime Minister, the opposition leader, the leader of both major parties in each of the houses, the responsible minister and the secretary of the responsible department. So it is a bipartisan and, for want of a better term, heavy-hitting committee. That committee has given its endorsement for the location and character of the World War I and II memorials. The design was procured by an international competition and the winner was announced by the former Prime Minister, then-Prime Minister Rudd. As for the process for moving forward on those memorials, first and foremost, the proponents have a large fundraising target ahead of them. I understand that they are looking for somewhere in the order of $25 million and that they need to raise those funds privately. As for the two additional regulatory processes that they would have to go through, they would have to get a clearance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act for any heritage implications. They did undertake a detailed heritage assessment as part of the design brief and the design competition judging. And they would need to get a works approval from the National Capital Authority and we would be focusing primarily on consistency with the National Capital Plan. I do not have an estimated time frame as to when they will see either of those approvals.
Dr LEIGH —Thank you, Mr Rake.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I would like to follow up that last question about the memorials to World Wars I and II. So you are saying to us that the in-principle approval of the concept of those memorials on that location has been provided by the Canberra National Memorials Committee?
Mr Rake —Yes.
Senator HUMPHRIES —So the concept has been ticked off. On what criteria therefore could the NCA refuse to approve building work on that site? For example, I know there has been criticism of the size of what has been described as the towers at the end of Anzac Parade. Is it likely or possible that at this point you could still say that, notwithstanding approval by the Canberra National Memorials Committee, you consider the two buildings of that size in that location are inappropriate for the plan of Canberra?
Mr Rake —We will come at it from a regulatory perspective, so we will look for consistency of use with the land uses available under the National Capital Plan. We will look to other regulatory environments and the EPBC Act—and heritage is the most relevant of those. If those proposals were referred under the EPBC Act and they came back as likely to produce a significant negative impact, it would become difficult for us to approve them, I think; we would look to the proponents to modify them. But, as I said, the proponents undertook quite detailed heritage assessment in advance because they understand that risk for their project as well.
Senator HUMPHRIES —So what are the factors in the EPBC Act that go to the heritage of Canberra’s planning? People might argue under that process that having two large towers there is inconsistent with the Griffin vision.
Mr Rake —They may make those arguments. I would not want to speak on behalf of the responsible minister.
Senator HUMPHRIES —It seems to me an unfortunate way of sequencing this. This committee is going to go off in the hope of raising $25 million to build these memorials—based on a design which, understandably, they hawk around to potential donors while saying, ‘Here’s what we’re going to build’—and at the end of three years of fundraising they get $25 million but then the design is not approved.
Mr Rake —I do not think they will wait until they have got the final amount of money before they go through those final two approval processes. They understand very clearly the risks involved in going out and chasing money for a proposal that might not ultimately be approved. I expect that they will initially seek enough funds to get through those final approval processes before they really push on. But we will see more over the next 12 months there.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Is the approval process under the EPBC Act able to in some way gauge or assess the views of the veterans’ community in Australia about these memorials? I have had widely differing views from veterans about these memorials and I am wondering how their views might be incorporated into this process.
Mr Rake —I do not think the EPBC process will take into account the commemorative intent of the memorials. It will be looking at their impact on the environment and heritage, and it will be confined to that. The commemorative intent is the purview of the Canberra National Memorials Committee.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I read an article in the Canberra Times last month which suggested that these memorials, in an ideological sense, could add to an ethos or debate about the values of these memorials. It poses these questions:
Is this the overriding ethos we want instilled each day in our politicians, and in all the visitors and future generations of schoolchildren who will visit Parliament House and take in that view?
That is the view over the memorials.
Will such a vista prompt visions of a peaceful world? Or might it support a militaristic frame of mind and help lead to repetitions of horrors past?
How does that point of view get incorporated into or considered by the process you have described?
Mr Rake —Again, the commemorative purpose and intent is dealt with by the Canberra National Memorials Committee. Having such senior membership at full weight on that committee, I would posit the view that it is a representation of the most senior levels of our elected representatives and that they would have the best feeling of the Australian community viewpoint on such a commemoration.
Prof. Aitkin —It is a fitness for purpose problem, isn’t it? The War Memorial was designed to commemorate the Great War originally, but then it has been adapted and adapted and adapted. Those considerations must have been taken into account by the Canberra National Memorials Committee. That is the first thing you would ask: why do we need them? The answer is that there is another point of view which says we need them. That has been argued out. I do not think we are in a position to say as an authority that they have got it wrong.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I agree with you, and I think that is a fair reading of what the role of the Canberra National Memorials Committee is. I am glad that that is resolved. I think some of those views are offensive, to be frank with you, and I am glad that you feel that that issue has been overcome at this point. I turn to another issue, if I have some more time. I just want to know about the maintenance of the fabric of the Parliamentary Triangle. I realise we have had lots of rain and quite a lot of sunshine as well, so grass will be growing very fast. How regularly are the grassed areas around the triangle being mown at the moment?
Prof. Aitkin —We have a new contractor, but I will let Gary answer that.
Mr Rake —On average they are still being mown at the same rate they were. We are lucky with the grass around the triangle in that the majority of it is irrigated anyway, so the recent rain has not resulted in a particularly increased rate of growth for us. If anything, it has slightly reduced the amount of irrigation that we have had to put in. In some of the unirrigated areas, the grass is growing faster and nature strips do get away from us from time to time, but our general schedule, I believe, is still every second week in irrigated areas and every six weeks in unirrigated areas.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I note that the unirrigated areas around the southern end of Kings Avenue Bridge are like a jungle at the moment. I assume they are coming up for their mowing very soon.
Mr Rake —I am sure they will be now!
Senator HUMPHRIES —Very good! That is the answer I like. How many staff and what resources are thrown into this by the contractor? You said it was a new contractor, Professor Aitkin. Who is the new contractor?
Prof. Aitkin —Citywide. They are an established open space maintenance company based in Melbourne which contracts up and down the eastern seaboard. They won quite a hotly contested tender process. We were very happy with the response that came in, and we have been happy with their transition and early efforts. I do not have numbers available on their workforce; I am sorry. We have found that they have been able to do the job as well as the previous contractor and have managed to attack a couple of longstanding problems—for example, some of the hedges around the Parliamentary Zone that had not had a clip for a little while.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I will quickly squeeze in one more question to do with vegetation. It is about the trees. I understand you have a large number of trees being removed at the present time. There was a notice the other day under the EPBC Act to deal with a number of trees. How many trees are we talking about that were covered by that notice and are going to be removed?
Mr Rake —There are 563 trees to be removed. This is the third stage in our engagement with the community on the removal of these trees—and I should say that it is removal and replacement. About this time last year, we first announced our intent. At that point we thought there were around 600 trees that would need to be removed. We made an initial referral under the EPBC Act that attracted a mandatory statutory consultation process. To make sure that interested members of the community had all of the information they needed to participate in that process, we held some public meetings that included a short roundtable information session followed by a walk out in the estate, where we went and looked at some of the individual trees that would need to be removed. What we were trying to do was show people that we are not cutting down healthy trees; we are cutting down trees that are either dead or so close to dead that they cannot be retrieved.
Of the 563 trees that we are removing, we will be replacing all but 96. We have expert advice that some of the initial planting spacings were too tight. Charles Weston had a deliberate strategy when establishing the national capital of planting trees close together to get an immediate landscape effect, with the intent that someone would come back 10 or 15 years later and thin them out. The thinning never occurred; and, if we tried to put trees back in the original spacing, the new ones just would not survive. So there are 96 that will not go back in. But we have also identified 94 spaces where trees have been removed in the past and not replanted, and we will go in and replant those trees. So there will be a net loss of two trees this time around.
We have also engaged Yarralumla Nursery to plan ahead. This problem will be with us. We manage 20,000 trees. They are among the older trees in the national capital. They are going to reach the end of their useful lives over the next decade or two. In the areas we work in, to remove and replace these big trees can cost $2,500. If you have 20,000 of those, you have a $50 million problem over the next couple of decades. So we are trying to plan in advance how we are going to deal with that. Yarralumla Nursery is already growing the trees that we will need in the next five to 10 years for that replanting program.
Senator HUMPHRIES —They are the same species as the trees that are being taken away?
Mr Rake —For the most part, it is the same species. The only departure from that would be if we have a species that is fundamentally no longer suitable for the climate—unlikely to survive a drying climate—or if a tree has become a weed species, in which case we would try and find a less invasive species. That presents some new challenges. There are trees here in the Parliamentary Zone and the incense cedar is the best example—these are trees that are not commonly grown in nurseries or are not available in nurseries anymore. So Yarralumla Nursery will go out in the fruiting season and collect seed and grow the replacement for the tree that will be removed in ten years’ time.
Mr ADAMS —Coming from Tasmania we manage trees and we name most of our millions of trees. Do you think you are getting through to the stakeholders and the people who are concerned about the cutting down of trees that trees are a living organism and some of them get old and some of them get diseased?
Mr Rake —I think we are. Across Canberra it is quite a contentious debate. Touch wood, not to bring it on myself, we do not seem to attract the same criticism that our colleagues across the lake attract with their removal process. The only difference I can find is that when we did our consultation process we asked people to come for a walk with us to look at that trees. It is labour intensive but for those most vocal critics we can talk in advance rather than talking around a stump.
Mr ADAMS —I take it public transport is going into your planning when you talk about car parks and, from a public health perspective, getting people to think about walking. I take it public transport is put into all the planning. Are there any links between somebody building a building and the transport companies?
Mr Rake —It is taken into account. The ACT government manage the public bus service, but it is taken into account in their route planning. I will give you an example of a change that we are likely to see in the next few years. Given the increase in the working population in Barton—mostly Commonwealth employees—the ACT government is looking at building a bus transfer station, a mini interchange, in the Barton area to improve the public transport there. Within the discussion paper dealing with parking management we have the need for change to the public transport system as one of the mandatory questions. That is the one of the things we are looking at.
Mr ADAMS —Is the issue of designated land a matter of getting the principles right between the ACT government and the authority?
Prof. Aitkin —In 1988, it was agreed that there is national land and that is the Commonwealth’s, and it was agreed there is territory land and that is the territory’s. Then there were some grey areas which got different names—designated land or areas of special requirement. As time has gone on, it would seem to us in the authority that the simplest system for defining land and who is responsible for it and the simplest set of principles that everybody agrees for the land—for example, they are not going to build on Mount Ainslie or Black Mountain, or on any of the hills. That is out. I think we could be pretty close to that. We do have good relationships with the ACT government. We are not in any sense at crossed swords all the time. They are doing a major study of tree management in the urban woodland and I sit on the reference group, so there is a straightforward relationship of partnership there. If they do something which we think is pretty sensible, will do the same ourselves. We borrow from each other a great deal but it is a mistake to see us in a state of hostility or at war. It is not like that at all. There are a small number incidents occur, which then become blown up into a major fracas. I cannot predict when the next one will occur.
Mr ADAMS —That is politics.
Ms BRODTMANN —Can we get an update on the Brodburger, where that is at? And concerning the community consultation for paid parking I notice it is the 24th and the 28th.
Mr Rake —The public information sessions, yes.
Ms BRODTMANN —The public information—could you give us an update on how that is going to work?
Prof. Aitkin —We are still working closely with the ACT government and the owner of that business to identify a suitable site. We do not believe they can remain on that site in the long term. We have expressed that view. I understand the ACT government have formed a similar view, that it would not be proper for them to remain on that site in the long term. We are nearing agreement on an alternate site. I probably cannot go beyond that at the moment.
Ms BRODTMANN —Is it in—
Prof. Aitkin —It is close.
Mr Rake —Agreement is close—physically and in a time sense. The business owners would not agree to move to a site that was not going to keep the majority of their clientele attracted.
Prof. Aitkin —In the interlocking of everything that occurs in this city, one reason the proprietors may wish to move is that their car park is now full of people who have moved from a car park in Barton to the free car park—
Ms BRODTMANN —Down at the lake?
Prof. Aitkin —Yes, down at the lake. So that is now chock-a-block.
Mr Rake —Sorry—that changed just last week because the ACT government has put time limiting on that car park.
Prof. Aitkin —Will they police it?
Mr Rake —Yes, I am sure they will.
Ms BRODTMANN —And community consultation?
Mr Rake —We are getting a good response with the RSVPs on community consultation. We are pulling out all of the stops to let the public have their say on the IGC review on parking management. We have an online website where people can do anything from simply voting yes or no to support a comment through to writing a short post online, through to uploading a detailed submission. They can come along to a public consultation. We are running one of those on a weekend and one on a week day. We are trying to make ourselves available in a way and at times so that those who are interested can come and contribute.
Mr ADAMS —Is the quality control all right?
Mr Rake —I have not eaten there and I shan’t.
Senator HUMPHRIES —You might change your mind about it.
Dr LEIGH —Mr Rake, I commend you on the Web 2.0 consultation. I think that is really important. After 17 December, when submissions close, what is the time line from there?
Mr Rake —As I said earlier, there is no fixed time line. We would like to have a position recommended to government by the middle of 2011, so we are seven or eight months away from that. But it will really be bound up by how quickly the committee comes together, noting that we have Commonwealth interests and ACT interests. We are very open to the idea of putting alternative views within the report. If there is a dissenting view we will report that to move the process to a conclusion rather than bog it down in endless negotiations.
Prof. Aitkin —To summarise it, we are the managers of the process, not the owners.
Senator HUMPHRIES —I want to follow up the comments you made, Professor Aitkin, about the dysfunction in having two planning regimes in the city. Of course, this committee’s report a couple of years ago on the way forward recommended that there be a process of consultation between the two governments to sort out that delineation. You reported previously progress on that negotiation. Where does it stand as of today?
Prof. Aitkin —I think much as it was when we spoke to you last.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Which is not very far.
Mr Rake —No. The process of that committee was interrupted by the election and a change in the administrative arrangements whereby we now work with a different department. Indeed, I have a meeting this afternoon to kick that process off again. I believe there have been some initial discussions between the Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and the ACT government, and this afternoon we will make our next contribution and try to get that process back on the rails. The authority itself has been putting a lot of thought into articulating our position and really trying to make sure that it does not get involved in things that it does not need to.
Senator HUMPHRIES —Okay, but someone has to drive this process forward at some point. It is a serious level of dysfunction that operates here.
Prof. Aitkin —And inaction as much as dysfunction. We both blunder along not unhappily but it is so inefficient.
CHAIR —Is it an improved mandate that you need to change that dynamic?
Prof. Aitkin —Yes, I think that is a good way of putting it.
CHAIR —Thank you for your attendance here today.
Prof. Aitkin —Could I make a final short statement?
Prof. Aitkin —I recognise that many of you are new to this, and we on the authority would be delighted to take you anywhere you want to go, let you see anything you want to see and, within the limits available to us, provide you with all the information you might wish. It is a rich and diverse subject, the national capital. I have been chair for two years and I am still learning new things almost every day. Please feel that we are a source to your committee.
CHAIR —Thank you for that invitation. I look forward to taking you up on it and I am sure my colleagues do too. There were some requests for information exchange, so if you could please provide that additional material to the secretary—
Prof. Aitkin —We will.
CHAIR —You will be sent a copy of the transcript, to which you can make corrections of grammar or fact. As Hansard may wish to check some of the details of your evidence could you please see if they have any questions before you leave.
Resolved (on motion by Senator Humphries):
That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.
Committee adjourned at 1.29 pm