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Monday, 14 October 1985
Page: 1189


Senator VIGOR(9.43) —The Australian Democrats will support the second reading of the National Capital Development Commission Amendment Bill. In the Committee stage we shall move several amendments to ensure greater Australian Capital Territory community input into the National Capital Development Commission. We want safeguards so that the future development of the NCDC will be fully integrated with the self-government structure that will emerge within the Australian Capital Territory. If we were in the Government's position, we would also have drawn further on the recommendations of the White Committee of Review of the Role and Functions of the National Capital Development Commission, as proposed by Senator Lewis, to set in train arrangements that recognise the wider regional role of the Australian Capital Territory. This could have been done without compromising future relationships with the governing body of the Territory. However, I believe that if we had gone that far, the Bill would no longer be the Government's and it might simply have been allowed to lapse without any benefit to residents of the Australian Capital Territory. In fact, I understand that the Government will accept some of our proposed amendments, thereby giving the people of the Australian Capital Territory an NCDC more in keeping with what they have been asking for over the years.

I turn now to the Bill as presented by the Government. A cynic might well sum it up by claiming that the Government just wanted to get the appointments to the Commission completed and then everything else would look after itself. However, I think that that appraisal is a little harsh. I am certain that the Government is busily looking at the future changes which will have to be made to the NCDC to make it fit into the Government's idea of self-administration for the Territory. However, matters concerned particularly with the social and environmental consequences of decisions have to be dealt with right away.

The Australian Democrats will seek to write into the NCDC's charter an obligation to have regard to the social and environmental consequences of its decisions. I know that the Commission has already come some way towards this after receiving sustained public criticism on this score before the White Committee reported. Earlier this year the Commission established a social planning and development branch with about 15 to 20 staff to `produce social-climate assessments and needs assessments in areas of concern to the Canberra community'. That is a very important step. I believe that the hand of the responsible officer will be strengthened by a little legislative backing.

Residents of Canberra will be aware of the public reaction of the NCDC's proposal for a transportable homes park at Duffy in the Weston Creek area. That type of proposal would not have surfaced if the NCDC were under an obligation to consider the social consequences of its decisions. On a smaller note, the provision of emergency telephones on the sides of the parkways and major roads well away from the nearest houses would probably be budgeted for automatically. Problems such as the controversy over alterations to lease conditions near the city centre may not have arisen if the NCDC had had to bear in mind the environmental consequences of what it was doing.

The question of the NCDC's taking a wider regional role is not taken up in the Bill despite the findings of both the White Committee and the Vinson Review of Welfare Services and Policies in the Australian Capital Territory. The Australian Capital Territory provides services to a much larger population outside its borders. Unless this is taken into account and provision is made for proper planning, we will continue to find situations such as the chronic shortage of nursing home beds, which exist at the moment. Similarly, there are questions of land use outside the Australian Capital Territory borders and of the co-ordination necessary for decisions to complement each other rather than to stand in stark contrast with each other. I urge the Minister for Territories (Mr Scholes) and the Department to take up these matters both in connection with the NCDC and the general process of transition to self-government within the Australian Capital Territory.

Recommendation 8 of the White Committee was that the Commission be restructured into a five-member body of whom two would be nominated by the House of Assembly. The Government instead, as Senator Lewis said, has opted for three full time commissioners and four part time commissioners, all of whom the Minister was to appoint. At least two of the commissioners would be residents of the Australian Capital Territory and at least one would live outside the Australian Capital Territory. Apart from that, we have no guarantees of local involvement in the planning of our national capital.

I believe that the situation is unacceptable. When the Australian Capital Territory is on the verge of self-government, we should definitely involve the House of Assembly in selecting the members of this body. We will move an amendment to the Opposition's proposed amendment to achieve that end. Earlier this year we found that the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) started with a view that she alone would make appointments to the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority, but eventually she relented and two Assembly members elected by the House of Assembly have gone on to the Schools Authority. I believe that it is very important that local people be involved in local matters. I am reminded that under the previous Government the Minister, Mr Hodgman, started with a view that he should decide the members of the National Exhibition Centre Trust. Eventually, he relented. One member of the House of Assembly was nominated to that body.

The running of the NCDC cannot be divorced artificially from the government of the Australian Captial Territory. There is a clear inter- relationship, and there are clear consequences for the residents of the Capital Territory. As a result of this, the Australian Democrats want to see a real input from the House of Assembly into the composition of the National Capital Development Commission. We also want to make sure that the commissioners have, when combined, expertise in areas which are essential to an understanding of the work that they must do in planning our national capital. We do not want to see commissioners relying only on the advice given to them. We want to see them asking the right questions. We want to see them being actively involved in the planning process and we want them to understand what they are doing. If that were done we would not expect the Commission to divide down the middle very often. However, we believe that if there were a tied vote it would be better for the matter to pass in the negative so that some more acceptable compromise could be thrashed out, and we will be moving an amendment to achieve that. I do not think that there is any point in hustling the Commission along on a matter of possible national importance. It is very important that we should have a Commission that acts in a reasonably concerted way.

Since the inception of the NCDC in 1957 only once has the last resort in the dispute settling procedure been called upon. The ministerial directive has been used only in the case of the erection of the Black Mountain tower. I think this should be a lesson and we should make certain that any decision which is very close is properly explained. We want to make sure that the people of the Capital Territory have as much information as possible before them in any of these dispute situations and we shall be moving amendments designed to have both sides of the story before the people if a dispute is deep seated or if a ministerial call is made upon the Commission. Similarly, we want to see the quarterly reports of the NCDC put before the House of Assembly after the Minister has tabled them in the Parliament. This is only reasonable, as the Assembly represents the people of Canberra.

Finally, we want to make sure that the structure and operations of the NCDC remain relevant. The White Committee recommended in paragraph 5.48 of its report that the Commission's performance be reviewed every 10 years. We support that review process, together with an earlier one in 1990. At that stage, in 1990 we would expect some of the self-government matters to have settled down a little and a lasting relationship between the National Capital Development Commission and the new form of government to have been established. We would like to have a future government coming back to the Parliament after the first review. At that time the integration of the NCDC into the self-government arrangements for the Australian Capital Territory should be possible. We call for the review in 1990 to look at that relationship between the two bodies. We are hoping to encourage future governments to do so by getting them back to the Parliament to prolong the part time appointments beyond 1992. This is the process that we propose to make certain there is a sunset clause in the legislation. We understand that the Government is not willing to support this amendment but we will still be moving it in the Committee stage of the debate. I believe that it is extremely important that we do not just get reports tabled in Parliament which the Government can ignore. If the legislation has a sunset clause in it the Government must act, if it is going to save the Commission.

I now turn to the specific amendments which we are proposing and which I will be moving in the Committee stage of the debate. In clause 6, which describes the membership of the Commission, we will be moving:

The members of the Commission shall include persons who have professional qualifications and substantial work experience in one or more of the following disciplines:

(a) accounting and finance,

(b) architecture,

(c) corporate or business management,

(d) engineering,

(e) social and environmental planning,

(f) town planning,

(g) public administration,

(h) such other disciplines as are prescribed-

that is, by regulation-

so that at least 5 of those disciplines are represented by those members.

I understand that neither the Government nor the Opposition is prepared to support this amendment. The Government has circulated an amendment which has come out of a negotiating process which does not have the requirement that at least five of those disciplines shall be represented. I believe that the Government will be moving that amendment in the Committee stage.

We also intend to move-I understand that both the Government and the Opposition will be opposing this:

A person shall not be appointed as a part time member for a period that extends beyond 1 July 1992.

The reason for this is that there is a need for the legislation to come back to Parliament to be considered by the Parliament in the light of our experience of self-government in the Australian Capital Territory. Our third amendment, which I have already mentioned, is aimed at making certain that we do not get decisions made in haste and regret them at leisure. We wish to leave out the casting vote provision and make certain that, if there is a tied dispute within the NCDC, the question shall be resolved in the negative. The next amendment that we will be moving refers to the environmental effects of the decisions of the NCDC-a very important aspect. We will be moving:

In performing its functions under this Act, the Commission shall have regard to the social and environmental effects of its decisions, and nothing in this Act shall be taken to imply that the performance of the functions and the exercise of the powers of the Commission are not subject to the operation of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974.

This will guarantee that the Commission will always have before it the requirement to take into account matters of environmental importance. We will also be seeking to make certain that the reporting procedures which take place between the Minister and the Commission are carried out in the open and are available to Parliament, and to achieve that end we will be moving a number of amendments which relate to the reporting both from the Minister on his directives to the Commission and from the Commission on its replies to such directives.

Another small matter has been brought up by the Government. I understand that both the Government and the Democrats have on the list of amendments to be moved in the Committee stage an amendment to make certain that certain skills are available on the National Capital Planning Committee. We will be moving that a landscape architect, who may be selected from a list of landscape architects submitted to the Minister by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, and a scientist with a special knowledge of, and experience in, environmental matters be appointed to the National Capital Planning Committee. We heard from Senator Lewis that the Opposition will move to include three members appointed by two-thirds of the House of Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory. We will move an amendment to the Opposition's amendment to make certain that two of the persons shall be selected by the Minister from a list of four persons provided by the Assembly. We will also move an amendment to the Opposition's amendment aimed at providing a sunset clause to the legislation if the review report to be presented to the Parliament is not tabled by 1 July 1990.