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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE NATIONAL CAPITAL AND EXTERNAL TERRITORIES
30/03/2009
Immigration Bridge Australia proposal

CHAIR —Welcome. I will explain how I propose to manage this final session today. At the table we have individuals we have asked to come and present. We have a range of people, some who are for and some who are against the proposal. We have tried to have a range of views put forward. Because the committee is keen, as far as is manageable within our time frame, to hear from individual submitters, we would like to invite each of you to make a three- to four-minute presentation to the committee. It is most important to me that you get your chance to have your statement recorded in Hansard for the purposes of this inquiry, If we have time for follow-up questions, we will use that time. But we do not want to deprive you of what we consider a very important opportunity to have your say.

The committee does not require you to give evidence on oath, but 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. We have received a submission from each of you, except for Mr Rebikoff—but you are here to make your statement. Do you have a submission that you wish to present to the committee?

Mr Rebikoff —I want to incorporate that as part of the submission that I will forward to the committee once we have concluded this hearing.

CHAIR —So you will furnish the committee with a submission later?

Mr Rebikoff —Yes.

CHAIR —That is fine. Mr Rebikoff, would you like to make an opening statement—and I will be timing you.

Mr Rebikoff —I am a former chairperson of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia as well as the chair of the ACT Migrant Resource Centre. I want to make the very important point that the Immigration Bridge is a very important monument, a commemorative project designed to highlight the contribution of migrants since 1788 but especially in the last 50 or 60 years. I want to also make the point that this is a monument; it is not a memorial. Therefore, any previous comments should be re-examined as far as looking at it as a memorial.

I should also make the point that this has Australia-wide acceptance by multicultural communities. As someone who has been involved with multicultural communities across Australia for almost 30 years, I can say as an expert in this area that multicultural communities are strongly behind this project. It is an important project that not only acknowledges the vital role of immigration to Australia but also is an important acceptance of multiculturalism to this country, which has served as a beacon to all countries overseas in the way it has been able to settle people from all over.

Anna Burke made a comment earlier that the project is open to all communities. Even when I was chair of the Migrant Resource Centre, people from the Sudan and from what I call ‘new and emerging’ communities also had put in stories towards the Immigration Bridge project. Therefore, as has been mentioned previously, the project is open to all communities—past, present and future. It will allow up to 200,000 names, and that takes into account new and emerging communities that will come out in the years ahead.

As a person who is very much involved in the multicultural community scene, I think it is fair to say that any suggestion of rejecting such a proposal would not only be devastating for the multicultural communities but also send a very bad signal that Australia has not embraced or acknowledged the value of immigration or the importance of the multicultural society that we have in Australia today.

CHAIR —You need to wrap up, Mr Rebikoff.

Mr Rebikoff —In 2009 Australia is acknowledged as a multicultural society with close to 50 per cent of the population being from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. Mr Morison, do you have comments to make?

Mr Morison —I am appearing privately, although I should add that I was once a traffic engineer and planner with the National Capital Development Commission. The idea of a footbridge across the lake at this location was probably inspired by the indicative Parliamentary Zone Review of March 2000 which, at pages 60 to 61, showed building sites replacing the approach roads at the southern end of Commonwealth and Kings Avenue bridges. The NCA’s subsequent draft amendment 53 sought to clear the way for a development scheme that included a pedestrian way on the extended alignment of King Edward Terrace, across Commonwealth Avenue via traffic lights, and extending across the lake to Acton Peninsula. In response to strong community based submissions to its inquiry in April last year, the joint standing committee recommended that draft amendment 53, Albert Hall Precinct, not proceed and that proposed changes to traffic conditions south of the lake on Commonwealth Avenue also not proceed.

Although the NCA does not appear to have yet acted on the spirit of that recommendation, DA53 cannot in effect proceed, because its envisaged removal of the approach roads to the Parliamentary Zone always was and will remain wildly impractical. In fact, there is growing justification for all of these connections, because, despite the southward shift of Parliament House, which was thought to be the reason for their being there, we still have a substantial Parliamentary Zone workforce plus the collective lakeside attractions of the National Gallery, Reconciliation Place, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Science and Technology Centre and the National Library, and visitors, especially those from interstate, need a safe and efficient means of gaining access to these institutions.

A major preoccupation of the NCA in making a case for DA53 was the excessive use of King Edward Terrace by through traffic, especially heavy vehicles. The NCA’s punitive solution to this problem, which was removing all the roads, was to create T-junctions with traffic lights on the main avenues. But its recent, more positive, approach to traffic management for King Edward Terrace has gone some way toward achieving the Parliamentary Zone review’s objective of giving it a ‘main street’ character with the installation of traffic signals at Parkes Place West and a roundabout at Dorothy Tangney Place. Further traffic calming could be achieved, for example, with speed humped pedestrian crossings and cobblestone surfacing.

DA53 provided the developmental underpinning essential for a pedestrian bridge across the lake via continuity of points of interest for pedestrians, convenient parking close to the bridge and a nearby source of potential users. Without that developmental underpinning, there is no justification for a lake crossing at this location.

I just wish to add another point. There has been justifiable criticism of the way so much space is devoted to surface car parking in the parliamentary area and the lack of a pay system of parking which would make it feasible to replace these free parking areas with parking structure. That now looks as though it might be moving as a result of the ACT government publicly pushing the Commonwealth to agree to a structured parking station. I would ask that this could be further assisted with the help of positive recommendation from the committee.

CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Morison. We will have to leave it there. Can you conclude?

Mr Morison —Given the contextual developments since the PZ review and the standing committee’s recommendation that DA53 not proceed, there is clearly a need for the committee to recommend to the national planning authority that a new plan be prepared for the Parliamentary Triangle.

CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Morison. Mr Daniel Gleeson does not appear to be here. Mrs Bischoff?

Mrs Bischoff —I am in favour of the concept of the proposed Immigration Bridge. When learning of the project, I felt it would be a wonderful way to commemorate my family’s forebears’ arrivals in Australia. This project also appealed to other family members who live interstate and overseas. It involved much research, enabling an appreciation and knowledge of our family’s departure points, arrivals and early days in Australia, and the migration book is of interest too to my family. I understand that there is a commemorative memorial to early arrivals in Sydney near the Maritime Museum, but the Immigration Bridge concept in Australia’s national capital is more appealing. The concept of the proposed bridge was of much interest for many reasons. It appealed as a pedestrian bridge, as opposed to a vehicle bridge, encouraging visitors to the capital to pause and study the names of early arrivals in Australia and also to note entry points, arrival dates and countries from which they had emigrated. Much thought, too, had been put into the design of the rail.

I believe Walter Burley Griffin would have approved the architectural concept. I refer to Professor Ken Maher, the Australian architect of the year, who said recently that it was time to revitalise Civic and Canberra’s key public places and to make them more attractive and accessible. The proposed bridge would help to achieve these aims. I commend the Immigration Bridge Australia organisation, a registered not-for-profit organisation, which has kept contributors informed of the progress of the concept by newsletter. I also commend it for its choice of architect and the internationally renowned engineers Arup.

This committee should appreciate that thousands of families from all over Australia have registered their ancestors’ details on the proposed bridge and I am sure would like to state their approval of the project here today. I appreciate that there are concerns that the proposed bridge is too low and would preclude yachts cruising under it and also that the points of entry and exit on both sides of the lake are of concern. Maybe the proposed bridge could be sited elsewhere on the lake. I believe that these issues could be addressed by the designers so that this innovative Immigration Bridge project can be achieved, preferably before the year 2013. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, Mrs Bischoff. Mr David Townsend?

Mr Townsend —I am a retired journalist and public relations consultant. I have lived in Canberra for more than 40 years, and I have a strong but non-expert interest in the city’s design and development. I am a regular lake user as a sailor and as a volunteer on the National Museum’s historic paddle steamer.

The proposed Immigration Bridge, whatever its final design, would detract from the heritage values of the lake and central Canberra by introducing an ill-suited and unnecessary structure into a much-loved landscape that is a key feature of the central national area. I believe from what I heard this morning that it would be very difficult for IBA to meet the criteria that were outlined by NCA people this morning—their conditions for the acceptance of a development application.

The concept, wherever it originated, seems to be based on a mistaken view of trying to stick to elements of Griffin’s design despite the realities of an evolving city that have rendered the original concept irrelevant and inappropriate. The bridge would result in a loss of amenity for lake users, particularly sailors, for whom there would be considerable safety issues and limitations to the sport’s development on the lake. I agree with the views expressed to this inquiry by the Canberra Yacht Club, the YMCA Sailing Club, Yachting ACT and others.

I think it is time that IBA be asked to provide financial information that could allow us to gauge just how realistic the proposal is—for example, how much money have they raised in subscriptions, and how likely is major commercial sponsorship? Have they sufficient resources to proceed to a final design within their stated time frame? Even if an estimated $30 million or more could be raised to build a bridge as a privately financed venture that is not an inclusive national memorial or monument, there would be serious concerns about the proponents’ aim to make it a gift to the nation, with future costs transferred to taxpayers. If there is support for commemorating immigrants in Canberra by paying for their names to be displayed publicly, there are better, cheaper and more appropriate ways. Walls along the lake shore have been mentioned before.

For what they are worth, I offer two comparisons. One is Ellis Island, in New York, the literal gateway to the New World for millions of people. A private foundation, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, has raised enormous sums of money to restore the statue and subsequently buildings on Ellis Island. For US$150, names of immigrants can be engraved on a wall of honour along the foreshore. Currently there are 700,000 names. The other example for comparison is the Welcome Wall at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, which opened in 1997. Names can be inscribed on it for $105. In May this year, it is expected to hold 20,000 names—this in a city of over four million citizens, every one of whom is either a migrant or descended from migrants. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, Mr Townsend. Mr Forster?

Mr Forster —I am here as a private citizen of Canberra, but I have to admit, too, to being a very involved member of the Canberra Yacht Club. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on what I believe is the first public exposure of this concept. I just want to make four points. I think the idea of the bridge and its location is ugly. I think the idea of a bridge there is unnecessary. I think it will be intrusive. And I think it will be costly to the taxpayer.

It is ugly because it will intrude on what is now a visually very attractive part of Canberra and the lake. It is unnecessary, because I do not believe that tourists want to walk around Canberra. On average, they are only here for two or three days, and they want maximise their time during their short stays inside institutions, not walking across the lake to one particular institution and back again.

It will be intrusive because on both foreshores there has to be some infrastructure which will take up some very valuable space. We do not know about how much or in what format, but the ends of where the bridge will be are very attractive areas. And it will be certainly intrusive on the boating activities. That part of the lake is at the leeward end of the prevailing breeze, and it is a difficult enough area already for sailing and boating with the waves bouncing back and forth off those stone walls. It will certainly intrude on the youngsters who are sailing in increasing numbers in that part of the lake.

I am also concerned about some of the comments I have heard from some people, perhaps on radio, that it would be nice to stroll across the lake. I think that comment has to have been made in ignorance of what is really involved in this bridge. People have not been told of the real nature of the bridge, how big a structure it will be and what is needed at each end, or about the costs to government of the necessary infrastructure, roadwork and so on. If I were asked for an alternative area for a bridge—if a bridge is what is intended—then I would wonder about the area between Sullivans Creek and Springbank Island. It seems to me that Springbank Island is not used very much, and maybe that is a way of people getting to Springbank Island and back.

There is a point that arises out of the Pedal Power submission. I am just a bit concerned about the potential for conflict between cyclists and pedestrians if you have people trying to look at plaques on the side of the lake, stopping and looking, and cyclists going by. I raise that as an issue. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Mr Shannon —I appear as a private citizen and lifetime resident of Canberra. Three generations of my family lived and farmed on this very area. I should also say that I have also held senior positions in the National Capital Development Commission. From my perspective, this inquiry is effectively about two apparently unrelated proposals. Firstly, there is the NCA proposal to construct a pedestrian bridge linking the museum to the central area. There is no evidence of pent-up demand or significant need for such a link. A pedestrian bridge on this location would add nothing of consequence to the transportation infrastructure of the city, and I believe it would have only minimal impact on attendances at the museum. I would also be confident that no Australian government could be persuaded to give any priority to the allocation of budget funds for this project. Secondly, there is the proposal to commemorate the contribution of Australia’s immigrants. This is a worthy suggestion which could be met in a variety of other ways, and there is no pressing argument that it should be associated with a bridge. An important feature of this proposal, however, is that it includes a money-raising scheme. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that NCA and IBA would be mutually attracted to the idea of combining the two proposals, thus giving some justification for the bridge construction and at the same time apparently removing the need to seek government funding. It might be described as a marriage of convenience.

What is missing from this rationale is serious consideration of the impact which this structure will have on this part of the West Basin of Lake Burley Griffin. In order to reduce the effect it will have on yachting conditions, the bridge must be very high above the water level. Now that the IBA has decided to incorporate a solar roof and full enclosure, this will add several more metres to the overall height and bulk of the bridge. It will be higher than the highest point of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, it will be about level with the roof of the museum and it will require extensive access ramps at each end. The bridge will dominate the view from any vantage points around this part of the lake and will be detrimental to the beauty and serenity of this area. IBA’s statement that ‘its elegant and unobtrusive design sympathetically frames the lakeside environment’ is an absurd and grossly misleading proposition.

I am also concerned that, in the absence of any formal approvals or guarantee of such approvals, IBA has been allowed to proceed as though approvals are a foregone conclusion and that design decisions are theirs alone to make. Surely the NCA, as the custodian of the lake and as agent of the Commonwealth, at the very least has responsibility to define design criteria which take account of the importance of this location and the need to protect and enhance the area. I would have expected a considerable direct involvement in every design decision. In fact, I believe the design and construction responsibility should be taken over by the NCA if this project proceeds.

The project is ill conceived and ill advised in this location. Any benefit to the development of the national capital will be insignificant. It will do irreparable visual damage in the West Basin and will impair conditions for the yachting community. It should be abandoned and the funds raised applied to another form of commemoration of immigrants which would be more accessible and capable of later expansion if needed.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Mr Bailey —I come here as a private individual. I am currently the President of the Australian Anglo-Indian Association of Canberra and also the founding president of the National Federation of Anglo-Indian Associations of Australia. I visit the lake at least thrice in two months, bringing tourists around. I come out as an honorary guide. The first thing I do is to go over to Regatta Point to listen to the nine-minute documentary to learn all about Canberra. Then I take my visitors to face the lake. The picture looks beautiful. There are lots of trees and buildings and there is the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. But there is something lacking: life. A lake should have a good, high bridge right over with yachts going under. That would make a perfect picture. That is what we do not have at present. We have to see this take place.

The Immigration Bridge should go ahead as a permanent monument in the nation’s capital to record the contributions migrants have made to Australia and the opportunities that Australia has given to its migrants and has gained from its migrants. The Immigration Bridge can go down in history as a gift to Australia from the many migrants who have settled in Australia since the end of World War II—even since its foundation. Migrants from all over Australia make full use of the golden opportunity to become part of Australian history by registering their names for a place on the handrail of the bridge for just $110 per person as the contribution.

The bridge will also provide a historical insight to the many countries from which many thousands of people migrated, especially over the past 60 years, and will serve as a wonderful memorial to their children and grandchildren. When they see their relatives’ names on the handrail, they will really appreciate it. In addition, the design of the classic solar roof bridge—which is self-funded—across Lake Burley Griffin in the nation’s capital will highlight Australia’s architectural and engineering ingenuity. The bridge would be constructed at a sufficient height not to interfere with the users of the lake and, in fact, would enhance the heritage value of Lake Burley Griffin. As an Anglo-Indian migrant, I say the bridge will be a lasting and unparalleled showpiece that will bridge all Australians through this link with one multicultural past, present and future. We also need to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of those who had the vision for such a concept and pay tribute to those individuals involved in progressing the Immigration Bridge project.

Before I finish, I am sure there are some people in this room who would be wondering at the term ‘Anglo-Indian’. I suggest they go to the Immigration Bridge website and go into the ‘Migration stories’ section. My story is recorded there. Depending on which way you view it, it is on the second page or last-but-one page. If people go there and have a read of my story, they will get a good knowledge of the Anglo-Indian community. We number about 40,000 who were born in India and migrated to Australia. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. We have about seven minutes or so before we need to conclude today’s hearings, so I thank all of you for your statements today.

Ms BURKE —I do not have a question. Just a clarification: the committee has no ability, Mr Rebikoff, to reject or accept the proposal. It is not in our hands. If there are any statements made or questions put by any person in respect of any committee member and our non-commitment to multiculturalism forward from today, I would take that as a great offence. I actually took your comment as an offence. I am not sure you meant it as that, but I did take it as that. My statements have in no way, shape, size or form indicated anything other than a huge desire to actually have something for multiculturalism. My comments earlier today were to ensure that, if it is a status project, how do we keep going in recognising the great contribution that migration has made? I am just saying—and I am not going to enter debate—but the concern raised the minister of bringing forward the proposal is more about the whole process around the implications as opposed to the project. We need to divorce those two things. With a lot of these issues, emotions run high. I commend the group and their tenacity and longevity in getting it forward. I probably have some concerns about something that cannot be added to, like some of those other walls have. That was my actual statement earlier today. But we as a committee have no authority. As the NCA quite clearly indicated, they are the ones who will make the determination when and if an application goes forward.

CHAIR —I would like to also make a statement to clarify this issue. This committee is not investigating the merits or otherwise of a commemorative structure for immigration and immigrants to Australia. In fact, whilst we have had some discussion about the suitability of the style of commemorative structure that has been proposed, there has been no question or no contention about the merits of commemorating migration and the role of immigrants to Australia. I want to make that very clear.

Mr Rebikoff —I appreciate what you have said, Madam Chair, and also what Ms Burke has said. My comments were not made to offend you or anybody.

Ms BURKE —No, and, as I said, I take that point.

Mr Rebikoff —I think this issue has become quite emotional in the context of what has been developing about it. I think there is such great support within the multicultural communities. It is very similar to the campaign that I was involved with when we were trying to get SBS brought to Australia and throughout Australia. It was not meant to offend, but I appreciate what you said and I appreciate the comments from Madam Chair.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, Mr Rebikoff. Can I just conclude by asking Mr Bailey one question: given your support of this particular commemorative structure, do you have a view on whether it needs to be this bridge, as we have seen the concept presented, or whether another appropriate commemorative structure to commemorate the role of immigrants to Australia would satisfy you?

Mr Bailey —I have been following the bridge from the time it was introduced and launched in Canberra in December 2006. I have been fully engrossed and involved it in from Canberra and with those all over Australia—among not only the Anglo-Indians but other migrants and the children of migrants from all over the world. Everyone seems to like it and the way it has been presented by Immigration Bridge Australia. That is the way we have absorbed it and that is how we would like to stick with it.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. Could I ask you the same question, Mrs Bischoff? You mentioned in your submission that you were open to perhaps other configurations of a commemorative structure. Would you be happy if that were to be the outcome rather than the conceptual bridge as currently proposed?

Mrs Bischoff —I would prefer to see the bridge as it is proposed. I think it is very elegant. My late husband, I think, might have approved; he was an architect. I have difficulty seeing it elsewhere. The idea of Springbank Island, which is not that far away, would be okay, but then I wondered whether there would be so many visitors coming further down the lake. If they are going to the museum or to Albert Hall, they would be more likely to use the bridge as it is proposed at the moment. I prefer the concept as it is, where it is, really.

CHAIR —Thank you all for appearing before the committee today. We have run out of time, but I hope you feel that you have had the opportunity to place your views on the record. You will be sent a transcript of your evidence today and you will be able to make corrections of facts and numbers. Thank you all for your attendance.

Committee adjourned at 4.15 pm