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Friday, 16 June 1989
Page: 4255

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Mr President, I draw your attention to an editorial in the Canberra Times on Wednesday which commends a decision by the Minister for Administrative Services, Mr Stewart West, to appoint a six-member committee to report on `any proposed works (either external or internal) which could have a significant impact on the building or its function'. What discussions did the Minister have with the Parliament through its Presiding Officers before taking this apparently unilateral decision? As the Minister stated in his press release on this matter of 9 July that the Parliament now holds the design of the new Parliament House in trust for the people of Australia, do you and Madam Speaker accept the Minister's dictate that responsibility for the building in its function as a Parliament belongs not only with the Parliament, but also with the Government? When did the Parliament forfeit to the Executive Government its right to control the parliamentary functions of Parliament House? Why is the right to appoint all six members of the proposed Committee limited to the Executive Government with the Parliament having no say whatsoever? What role, if any, will the Parliament's own New Parliament House Committee have in this matter? What action do you and Madam Speaker intend to take to ensure that Parliament retains control of its own home?

The PRESIDENT —Senator Michael Baume has raised a matter which is of great conce rn to the Speaker and me and one which I think should be of concern to all honourable senators. The Minister for Administrative Services had no consultation whatsoever with the Speaker or me. I recently received a letter from the Minister detailing the proposal that Senator Michael Baume mentioned. Madam Speaker and I have serious reservations about the matter. As recently as yesterday we wrote to the Minister advising him of our concerns and requesting that the proposal be withdrawn forthwith. I am sure that this is the course of action that all of you would have wished me to take. So that honourable senators are fully informed on the matter, I now table Minister West's letter to me advising of the proposal. I will keep the Senate fully informed on this important matter. If I have missed any part of Senator Michael Baume's question, I will give further advice to the Senate.

Senator Chaney —I seek leave to have that document incorporated in Hansard. It would be of great interest.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

Senator the Hon. K. W. Sibraa

President of the Senate

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2601

Dear Mr President

I am writing to convey to you a decision which the Government has recently made about the protection of the design of the Parliament House, a national asset in which both the Parliament and the Government have an interest.

In April this year at the ceremony to mark the transfer of the formal gardens to the Parliament, I foreshadowed the fact that the Government was giving consideration to this issue. I believe that the arrangements which are set out in this letter complement the Presiding Officers' responsibilities in relation to the building on behalf of Parliament and recognise the importance of providing an opportunity to protect the building which is held in trust on behalf of the people of Australia. In view of the importance of this decision, I am arranging for a media release to be issued shortly after you receive this letter.

In essence, the Government has decided to set in train arrangements which will:

return to both Houses of Parliament the powers to decide on changes to the design of the Parliament House which might have a potentially significant impact on the internal design or function of the building, in the same way that the Parliament deals with building or other works in the external parts of the building and precincts;

establish a six member advisory panel of experts to assess all proposed capital or other works intended to be carried out within the precincts of the Parliament and to report to the Parliament on any capital or other works which it considers might have a potentially significant impact on the design or function of Parliament House;

as its first task, make the panel responsible for advising on regulations which would provide a detailed definition of those categories of works which are to be regarded as having a potentially significant impact.

I have set out at ATTACHMENT A to this letter the details of the Government's decision. The background to the decision and further details about the issues involved are at ATTACHMENT B.

There are some aspects of the decision on which I would particularly wish to comment.

In agreeing to these arrangements, the Government has been concerned to avoid circumstances arising where unregulated alterations to the building's design would occur, comparable in quality to the kind of alterations made to the Provisional Parliament House. A lessening of the Parliament building's value as a national asset would inevitably occur. I am sure you would join me in wishing to avoid the possibility of any resulting criticism of the Government's and the Parliament's failure to act to protect the nation's billion dollar investment.

I should make it clear that the arrangements are to be applied to the entire building, including the Ministerial Wing. The Presiding Officers, the Minister responsible for the Ministerial Wing and the Parliament itself will all have access to professional expert advice on proposed works which may affect the integrity of the building's design.

The arrangements involved are to be given effect through amendments to the Parliament Act 1974. The Government intends introducing the amendments as soon as possible, with a view to securing their passage in the 1989 Budget Sittings.

The decision provides that the appointment of three members of the panel should be a matter for agreement between the Presiding Officers and the Minister responsible for the Ministerial Wing. I believe it would be helpful, as a preliminary step, for us to confer on the process of selecting these members as soon as possible, in the knowledge, of course, that the formation of the panel is subject to the legislation to be put before the Parliament. For my part, I am arranging to approach both the Institutes of Architects and Engineers seeking their cooperation in providing a list of suitable nominees from whom we can make a selection. I would also expect that we could agree on the selection of one of the three professional experts for appointment as the panel's chairperson.

Once the advisory panel is formed, the Government feels that the provision of the necessary secretariat support for its operation should properly reside with the Parliament. Whether this should be through the Joint House Department or some other suitable arrangement is a matter for your judgment. The Government has agreed to funding of $100,000 a year for the panel's operation. This is based on an assessment that the panel would probably need to meet three times a year to consider proposed works.

I am writing in similar terms to Madam Speaker.

Yours sincerely




1. The Government has decided that amendments to the Parliament Act 1974 are to be proposed to provide for the following:

(a) the establishment of a six member advisory panel

(i) having the functions of considering and assessing all proposed capital or other works intended to be carried out within the precincts of the Parliament (as defined by the Parliamentary Precincts Act 1988;

(ii) reporting to the Parliament on any capital or other works considered by the panel to have a potentially significant impact on the design or function of Parliament House (see paragraph 2 below);

(iii) comprising the Chairpersons of the Australian Heritage Commission and the National Capital Planning Authority, both on an ex officio basis, a representative of the Department of Administrative Services, and three other members recognised as being among the most experienced and respected in Australia in the professions of architecture and engineering, and with legislative provision to enable the group to co-opt other professionals whose expertise is not already represented on the group; and

(iv) whose members are to be appointed for three year, renewable terms, with membership to be agreed between the Presiding Officers and the Minister responsible for the Ministerial Wing of Parliament House (currently the Minister for Administrative Services).

(b) for any proposed capital or other works within the precincts (as defined by the Parliamentary Precincts Act 1988) which are the subject of reports made in accordance with sub-paragraph 1 (a) (ii) above

(i) reports from the Presiding Officers or the Minister responsible for the Ministerial Wing, are to be laid before each House of Parliament at the same time as the reports in sub-paragraph 1 (a) (ii) above; and

(ii) each House, by positive resolution, is to approve of a proposal for capital or other works before proceeding with the works.

2. The Government has also agreed that:

(a) the detailed definition of those categories of works with potentially significant impact (see sub-paragraph 1 (a) (ii) above) should be considered by the panel at its first meeting;

(b) regulations defining the relevant categories of works should be prepared after advice from the panel, and be considered by Government before being made; and

(c) costs for remuneration, travel and expenses for advisory panel members should be set at $100,000 per annum.



Background to the Government's Decision

1. During the design and construction of the Parliament building, both Houses of Parliament were empowered by the Parliament House Construction Authority Act 1979 to approve the design of the building and its surrounds. The ultimate decision on the building's design lay with Parliament itself which had access to professional expert advice from the Parliament House Construction Authority (PHCA) about design and construction issues.

2. The situation now is that some aspects affecting design require Parliament's approval; some involve the Presiding Officers only; responsibility for others is unclear. No provision exists for expert assessments of any proposed capital or other works in the building or its precincts.

3. The provisions of the PHCA Act empowering both Houses to approve internal design charges were superseded by proclamation of the Parliamentary Precincts Act in August 1988. Responsibility for decisions on changes within the building thereby passed from the Houses of Parliament to the Presiding Officers.

4. Power to change the design of the outside of the building and external precincts still lies with the Houses of Parliament through the Parliament Act 1974 which provides for positive resolutions of both Houses before carrying out building or other work. Whether internal courtyards are covered by the Parliament Act is not immediately apparent.

Issues Considered

Where should responsibility lie for approval of capital or other works with the potential to alter significantly the building's interior or exterior design or precincts

5. During design and construction, PHCA balanced two objectives: producing an efficient, functional national Parliament; and producing an asset forming a premier part of Australia's national estate and heritage.

6. Responsibility for maintenance of the first objective has passed from PHCA to Joint House Department (JHD). Continuing responsibility for the second has not passed to any organisation. Five parliamentary departments and the Executive can decide to alter the building or its precincts and in doing so perhaps compromise its value as a national heritage asset. None of these organisations is responsible for retaining or protecting the design of the building as approved by Parliament, or for maintaining a balance between the two objectives.

7. Protection of national heritage assets is well recognised through both practical and legislative means but such assets are often not given adequate protection until they have acquired historic significance by which time they may have been irrevocably altered. Effective protection arrangements need to be instituted for Parliament House before any significant alterations are made.

8. The Government believes that the Parliament is the most appropriate body to be responsible for future decisions which might have a significant impact on the building and its surrounds. It has therefore decided to revert to the arrangements applying before August 1988, when positive resolutions of both Houses were required to approve actions that could result in significant changes to the design of the building. The Parliament Act 1974 provides for such resolutions with regard to buildings or other work in the external parts of the building and precincts; it is logical therefore to extend its scope to cover the interior of Parliament House.

9. Only those few proposals judged as likely to have a significant impact on the building's design should come before parliament itself. The situation would be comparable to the ten year design and construction period during which Parliament considered the design and its development on no more than 4 or 5 occasions.

Whether it is possible to retain the building's and precinct's design integrity as completed, by ensuring professional expertise is used to design and assess proposed changes

10. While changes to the building will be required over time, works carried out through JHD are not assessed qualitatively or against the existing design. Advice similar in range and expertise to that available to PHCA during the design/construction phases is not available for JHD to use in assessing proposals. The Government is aware of an arrangement between JHD and Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp Architects whereby their advice is sought on how best to implement changes. This does not appear, however, to extend to assessments of the impact of changes on the existing design. Nor is there a regulatory requirement for the advice from the Architect to be sought, acknowledged, heeded or reported to Parliament. In any event, the arrangement is only part of a much larger structure needed to encompass properly all changes to the building.

11. Just as it was essential for PHCA to have access to and use a range of architectural and engineering expertise to develop the design and construct the Parliament, the Government considers the same should hold for any future capital or other works. That is, Parliament will need access to a similar or expanded range or expertise and it will need to be required to take that advice into account if the integrity of the building design is to be maintained effectively.

12. The Government has determined to establish by legislation an advisory panel of experts to report to the Presiding Officers and to the Minister for Administrative Services (in his capacity as Minister responsible for the Ministerial Wing) on all proposed capital or other works in the precincts, inside or outside the building. The advisory group is to comprise three professional experts drawn from the spheres of architecture and engineering and the Chairpersons of both the Australian Heritage Commission and the National Capital Planning Authority on an ex officio basis, as well as a representative from the Department of Administrative Services. The panel will have power to co-opt other experts where this proves essential to its function.

13. The Government has decided that the panel's membership is to be agreed between the Presiding Officers and the Minister responsible for the Ministerial Wing.

14. The legislation will make it mandatory for the panel to report to Parliament whenever it considered proposed capital or other works might significantly affect the master plan of the building's design as embodied in the developed design report on new Parliament House approved by parliament in November 1986, and as embodied in the building formally handed over to Parliament during 1988. Mandatory, tabled panel reports, together with reports from the Presiding Officers seeking positive resolutions of both Houses of parliament to undertake such significant capital or other works anywhere within the precincts would thereby enable Parliament to take informed decisions on proposals with potentially significant design impacts.

15. By requiring panel scrutiny of all proposed capital or other works (regardless of their purported significance) all parties with powers to propose works would be obliged to use appropriate expertise either to prepare or advise on proposals before they are subjected to the mandatory panel scrutiny. To neglect such steps would run the risk of the panel declaring the proposal's impact significant due to poor or amateur design and results in reports to Parliament. Obliging the use of appropriate expertise should promote the avoidance of ill-considered, and often unsightly alterations that were the result of 60 years of unregulated modification of the Provisional Parliament House.

The guidance which could be given on alterations which might have a potentially significant effect on the building's design

16. Many elements make up the integrity of the building's design. Affecting any of them potentially affects the whole. Rather than attempting to define `potentially significant effects' immediately, the Government considered that a more practical alternative would be for the panel to start with the approved design as constructed and fitted out and to assess detailed definition of categories of works to be covered, having in mind the following specific aspects:

(a) quality of design and the finishes of the building and precincts which comprise the national asset;

(b) ceremonial or public areas or those seen by official parliamentary or government guests-broadly, the areas within the curved walls and along the east-west axis across the House and Senate entries;

(c) main fitout features including artworks (internal and external), furniture, light fixtures, signage;

(d) displays and display areas.

17. Once the Government has considered the panel's assessment regulations will need to be made defining the categories of work.