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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5807

Senator Crossin asked the Minister for Finance and Administration, upon notice, on 27 June 2002:

(1) What is the amount of revenue generated from the sale of Commonwealth heritage properties over the past 3 years.

(2) What is the Government's current position with respect to the disposal of heritage property.

(3) Is it a fact that decisions about the disposal of heritage properties are made on an agency by agency basis; if so, how does the Government ensure that heritage values are not compromised under these arrangements.

(4) Does the Government have any plans to establish a whole of government policy which balances considerations of financial return to the Government with environmental or heritage values to the community.

(5) Does the department have any system for identifying heritage-listed properties when it is planning to dispose of property.

(6) Did the department notify the Australian Heritage Commission (AHC) in relation to the proposed sale of two properties listed on the Register of the National Estate at Myilly Point in Darwin; if so, on what date did this notification occur.

(7) Did the department seek advice about the proposed sale; if so, what advice was given.

(8) In the case of a tendering or expression of interest process, does the department involve the AHC in selecting the successful bid when disposing of a property listed on the Register of the National Estate; if not: (a) how does the department use the advice of the AHC in relation to disposal of these properties; and (b) is there any system for weighing heritage considerations against the financial gain to be made.

(9) Why is the disposal of the Myilly Point properties being done by an `expressions of interest' process while the heritage-listed property in Hartley Street Alice Springs was granted in freehold title to the National Trust in 1998.

Senator Abetz (Special Minister of State) —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) Over the past three years (1999/2000 to 2001/02) the Department of Finance and Administration has sold properties with heritage values recognised by listing in a heritage Register by either the Australian Heritage Commission (AHC) or a State/Territory heritage authority, for sale revenue totalling some $37 million ($30 million of this total was from the sale of one property - the Cameron Offices at Belconnen ACT).

(2) The Government's position is that the Commonwealth should own property only where there is an efficient economic reason for doing so, or where it is otherwise in the public interest. This reflects the Government's view that the Commonwealth should not be a property investor, and should focus its scarce resources on core functions. At the same time, the Government acknowledges the importance of heritage issues generally, and is particularly sensitive to the heritage values inherent in some of its own Commonwealth properties. The ongoing protection of heritage values is an important public interest consideration in divestment decisions.

(3) There are several portfolios of Commonwealth owned properties managed by different agencies, including the Departments of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Finance and Administration, as well as individual buildings, such as the National Library and Gallery, which are controlled by the user agency. Divestment decisions are made by the agency responsible for the property portfolio, its Minister and/or the Government depending on the significance of the divestment. The environmental and heritage values of Commonwealth properties are protected by the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 which bind Commonwealth agencies and Ministers in their decision making.

(4) The current legislative framework will be further enhanced by the environment and heritage legislation amendment bills currently in passage through the Parliament. The primary responsibility for this legislation rests with my colleague the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, the Hon Dr David Kemp MP.

(5) Yes.

(6) Yes. The formal notification occurred on 6 December 1999.

(7) On 30 December 1999 the AHC wrote to the Department of Finance and Administration indicating that it appreciated the Department's commitment to the heritage values of the Myilly Point houses, ensuring their long term protection through preparation of a conservation management plan, investigating appropriate contractual mechanisms and consultation with the Northern Territory Government to ensure its commitment to the protection of the properties.

(8) No. (a) AHC advice is obtained, accepted and implemented to ensure the ongoing protection of heritage values via mechanisms that include conditions of sale, conservation management plans, restrictive covenants and State and Territory heritage legislation. (b) Yes.

(9) Transfer of the heritage house at 86 Hartley Street, Alice Springs to the National Trust was negotiated in 1997. Since that time, the Government has implemented major reforms to the ownership and management of Commonwealth property because it is committed to strong financial management, full accountability and value for money for the Australian taxpayer. The Government is also committed to ensuring the preservation of the Myilly Point heritage houses, and the `expressions of interest' process will assist development of a strategy for their long-term ownership and management.