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Institute of Municipal Management Congress, Canberra, Monday, 19 May 1997: address on the occasion of the opening.

It is a pleasure for me, both as Governor-General and as Patron of the Institute of Municipal Management, to be with you this morning for the official opening of the Institute's 1997 National Congress.

At the outset I would like to congratulate all those who have devoted so much time and effort to the planning and organisation of the Congress. I welcome to Australia all the distinguished overseas visitors attending the Congress: Senator John Carmichael, the Minister for Housing and Urban Development of the Kingdom of Swaziland; the representatives of overseas fraternal organisations; the delegates who are here as part of an exchange program. To each of you, I say I hope that you see as much of our country as is practicable in the time you are with us and that, when you return to your own homes, you carry with you found memories of Australia and Australians. I also warmly welcome to Canberra the delegates who are attending the Congress from every State and Territory of Australia.

This is a time when local government - as with most other branches of public and private administration - is undergoing rapid change. Amalgamations have been reducing the number of Municipalities, in some places more so than others.

Nonetheless, the significance of local government in the life of our nation and its citizens in no way diminishes. Today, the approximately 770 local councils in Australia employ some 2 per cent of the national workforce and are responsible for spending around $11 billion annually. Equally important, the demand from citizens for the services provided by local government continues to grow. Those services include: public works, recreation, health, community welfare, building and planning approvals, cultural and sporting activities.

At the same time, there are continuing pressures on costs, on budgets, on the need to do more with less. Hence, of recent years, the emphasis on benchmarking, on modernisation, on outsourcing, performance contracts, on regional co-operation between councils, and the like .. on the need, as your Executive Director put it in the most recent Annual Report, for municipal administrators "to incorporate more of a chief executive role, and consequently be providing leadership as well as management".

I mention that pressure for change for two reasons. First, because the impact of change is a continuing one and questions of reform and local government efficiencies will be with those involved in local government for the foreseeable future. And, second, because the pressure for change serves to indicate the importance of the main theme of this year's Congress - `Visions for Communities- Leadership Beyond 2000'. That theme invites you to look up for a moment from the day-to-day practicalities of administration - of solving immediate problems - and to focus upon what might be: upon not only the actual but also tile ideal, upon questions of what future change could mean for your communities. In other words, the theme invites you to be not only intelligent but also imaginative and even visionary.

There is no better place than Canberra for a Conference with such a theme. Our National Capital stands as a testament to the vision, the intelligence and the imaginative capacity of one man in particular, namely, the Architect, Walter Burley Griffin. I'd like to spend a few minutes this morning talking a little about Griffin's plan for Canberra. I do so not just as a tourist promotion for those of you visiting here. But as a person who spent his childhood and a large part of his adult life in this city and who has come to love it. And also as one who enthusiastically defends the city of Canberra against those who malign it from afar or who, while being here, deny its virtues, its beauty and its life.

Walter Burley Griffin was born in Illinios in 1876. He was an associate of the great American pioneer of modern architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1911 he married the gifted architect and draughtswoman, Marion Mahoney. In 1912, the following year, Griffin's plan, complemented by Marion's wonderful perspective drawings, won the international design competition for the new Australian Federal Capital.

The design was a truly remarkable one. Its apparent simplicity hid the complexity of extraordinary ideas. There were the basic geometrical forms: the triangle, with the capital - now the Parliament - the Civic Centre and the defence headquarters at its three points. There was the bisecting cruciform, inspired by the plan for Washington. At either end of the north - south axis stand the Parliament and the Australian War Memorial. Part of the axis is Anzac Parade. The east-west axis is formed by the Lake that now bears Burley Griffin's name. That Lake, formed by the damming of the Molonglo River that flowed through the Canberra plain, was not filled until some 50 often troubled years after the design was first accepted But when it was, as the architect Robin Boyd, observed, the Lake brought the whole design to life "and the faith of many friends of Canberra ... was justified".

What distinguishes the plan above all else, I think, is Griffin's remarkable instinct for space. The way the city sits within - and, viewed from above in the daytime, largely disappears within - the surrounding hills and the landscape. As the late Peter Harrison remarked in his recently-published thesis about Griffin and his plan: "On paper anyone could understand it, on the site it was hard to forget". If you have flown into Canberra from the north at night, and observed the geometry of the city laid out below in lights, you will know exactly what he meant.

Many of Burley Griffin's ideas and insights - on traffic flows, on neighbourhood communities, on the relationship between the built and the natural environment, on new building materials, even to the design of municipal incinerators - were regarded by many as all-too advanced and visionary at the time he propounded them. They have now become standard practice in all good city planning. As civic managers and planners, you are the inheritors of those ideas and insights which were put to the practical test and vindicated for the first time here in this city.

The Peter Harrison whom I have quoted was Chief Town Planner with the National Capital Development Commission, as it then was, from 1959 to 1967. He oversaw much of Canberra's modern development. He argued constantly that the integrity of Griffin's plan, ideas and insights should be preserved and implemented. In the main, but not always, he was successful. And that reminds us of the weight of responsibility which rests on those who, as managers, have to translate the ideas of the visionary into concrete, practical and affordable forms on the ground. Their task is rarely an easy one.

After his success in the international design competition for Canberra, Griffin himself had came to Australia. He was Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction between 1913 and 1920. He was a difficult man for the bureaucracy to work with - "Like a missionary with his plan" one Minister put it - and there were prolonged disputes with the Public Service. Strangely, though, many of those who started out as strident opponents - like the Director-General of Works, Percy Owen - often ended up as the strongest supporters of the plan. And, in a moment of true tragedy in 1920, the then Minister, Littleton Groom, found himself in the impossible position of having to choose between the practical implementation of Griffin's plan and Griffin himself who fought against variations in the transition from vision to reality. He chose the plan. As Peter Harrison wrote:

"One or the other had to go and, given that a choice was inevitable, Griffin would probably have been prepared to accept the sacrifice ..."

Some might see an analogy between the fate of the great American architect who designed this city and that of a Danish architect who, approximately half a century later, designed our country's greatest building.

The significance of the Griffin plan was not only for this city. It embodied many ideas about city planning of more general application - often developed further by others - which now have become part of the accepted aims of suburban planning. Griffin's principles for what he called `domestic communities' are among them. They include the segregation of the main arterial traffic flows from residential areas and the location of schools, churches, shops and playgrounds within walking distance of people's homes. Indeed, many features of the Griffin plan, such as grade separation at intersections and pedestrian overpasses, did not become part of the traffic engineer's repertoire until a generation later.

Griffin was also an early exponent of the need to protect the natural environment. There are few today who would not accept the merit of that vision. The whole concept of Canberra as the `garden city' is very much at one with it. And the principle of dispersing sub-urban employment and shopping centres away from the conventional central business district is an essential tool of all contemporary planners trying to cope with road traffic volumes that neither Griffin nor anyone else at the time could possibly have foreseen.

But that, of course, is of the nature of ideas and visions for communities that are of lasting value They are able to change and adapt to new conditions, often undreamed of at the time they were conceived, and yet retain their essential integrity and their enduring merit. Furthermore, they often have an effect far beyond the particular circumstances that gave rise to them. In your leisure moments in Canberra if you have any, look around this city and consider how the ideas of Walter Burley Griffin, first expressed for Canberra 80 years ago, continue to influence the thoughts and visions for not only this but for your own communities. In so far as this city is concerned, the editorial published in the Canberra Times in 1937 after Griffin's death accurately foresaw what was to be. I quote from it:

"The plan of Mr Burley Griffin has laid down the foundation on [which] the city of the future is to rise. He has created the pattern. The heights to which the city shall rise and the purpose that it shall serve in world affairs remain the task of others. It is a task which belongs in great measure to those who tread Mr Griffin's broad avenues, who enjoy the features of community life embodied in the city design and who may derive inspiration from the vision of a Canberra- to-be first seen by him."

We owe him much.

Communities change in a physical sense - in terms of their size, densities, traffic volumes, land purposes and so on. They can also change in their composition ... in their very nature.

The composition of the Australian population has altered irrevocably since the time when Walter Burley Griffin's plan for Canberra first began to be implemented. At that time, 90% of Australians were descended from immigrants from the British Isles. Today, well over a quarter of our people come from non-English-speaking backgrounds. Since the post-war period, people have arrived here from some 140 different countries, and made an extraordinary contribution to Australia's complex, rich, vibrant and enormously successful multiculturalism They have changed - and I believe greatly for the better - the face and the character of our communities and our country. As you consider visions of planning and of communal leadership as they might be implemented in the next century and the next millennium, one thing I would ask you to do is to re-commit yourselves to the ideal of a tolerant multicultural Australian nation.

Multiculturalism is a long word. However one precisely defines it, its essence is mutual respect for, and genuine tolerance of, all tile different national, racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds and cultures from which we come. All our citizens are and must be subject to the overriding loyalties and obligations of their Australian citizenship and their duties under valid Australian laws. Subject to those obligations and duties, however, they are entitled to cherish with affection, with respect and with pride, the habits, customs, cultures and traditions which they or their forebears have brought from the lands or regions of their birth. They are all also entitled in this land to full equality of treatment by governments and all in the service of government. And, in these times when some Australians feel threatened by manifestations of ugly and ignorant bigotry and intolerance, it is of great importance that those of us who are entrusted, in our different ways and within our different fields, with the exercise of governmental power or authority respect and protect the rights of all Australians in that regard. In particular, we must do everything we can to ensure that each citizens with whom we or those associated with us have contact is guaranteed true equality of treatment in the sense of being protected from any concealed or subterranean prejudice or discrimination.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, let me repeat my welcome to you all this morning. Local government, our third tier of government, is that which is closest to the people. Consequently, the issues that you will be discussing are of importance to each of us. I wish you well in those discussions and trust that your participation in the Congress over the next few days will be both stimulating and rewarding. I also hope that they are enjoyable.

And now, with much pleasure, I officially declare open the 1997 Institute of Municipal Management National Congress.