Monday, 22 October 2018
Joint Standing Committee on National Capital and External Territories; Report
On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on National Capital and External Territories I present the committee's report, entitled Commonwealth approvals for ACT light rail, together with the minutes of proceedings.
Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).
by leave—As our Commonwealth seat of government, our national capital, Canberra, is home to Australia's principal government, judicial, cultural, scientific, educational and military institutions and holds special meaning not only for its residents but for all Australians.
The Commonwealth and this parliament have a responsibility to safeguard Canberra's character and heritage. The committee has sought to facilitate the simplest possible Commonwealth approvals process for the light rail project. We did not seek to slow or hinder the process, but rather to provide certainty for the ACT government and to the people of Canberra. We want to ensure that time and money are not wasted pursuing a route that is not endorsed by the Commonwealth and therefore is not feasible.
The light rail stage 2 project passes through and adjacent to a number of key cultural and heritage sites. Like all projects and proposals in these areas, it must be consistent with the legal requirements imposed by the National Capital Plan. The plan provides for public transport and sets out the location of transport corridors suitable for express public transport systems, such as light rail. I'd like to reiterate this point: the existing National Capital Plan provides for express public transport systems, such as light rail, already. The National Capital Plan has been considered by the Commonwealth and has been considered by this parliament, and those express public transport routes, such as light rail, are provided for in the National Capital Plan for Commonwealth Avenue, Kings Avenue and State Circle already.
However, the committee has found that elements of the route alignment proposed by the ACT government are not consistent with the existing National Capital Plan. The ACT government proposes that light rail cross directly through the Parliamentary Zone, deviating from the routes that are provided for in the National Capital Plan. If the ACT government were to pursue a route that is consistent with the plan, it could do so with confidence knowing that that plan, as I just explained, had already been considered by the Commonwealth and by this parliament, and therefore approval for that route already exists. What wouldn't be approved already are the works required to complete the project, but the certainty that can be obtained from following a route consistent with the National Capital Plan is certainly there.
However, if the ACT government chooses to pursue a route alignment that deviates from the National Capital Plan, it is this decision that will unavoidably add further complexity and time to the approvals process. That's why the committee is of the belief there should be a two-stage Commonwealth approvals process in the event the ACT government remains committed to its choice of route—that route that is only partially consistent with the National Capital Plan and that has elements of the route that are inconsistent with the National Capital Plan.
The ACT government would work with the National Capital Authority to ensure Commonwealth approval of the route alignment by way of amendment to the National Capital Plan. Following this, the usual Commonwealth and parliamentary approval processes, which focus on detailed works and considerations, can commence. This two-stage process will ensure that the ACT government does not risk investing in the necessary and considerable funds for the development of detailed designs and assessments for a route that may not be approved or is even feasible.
The committee has made other recommendations in relation to specific heritage aspects of the light rail project, including those areas that the committee believes should definitely be using technology of wire-free running. The committee welcomes the ACT government's proactive approach in seeking guidance and advice, both in the preapplication discussions with the National Capital Authority and throughout our inquiry. It is important to ensure that this cooperation continues in the most efficient way, not to slow down the project but to ensure that it can proceed lawfully and effectively with this parliament and this Commonwealth having the necessary processes in place to consider the impact of this project on those important national capital areas that are important not only to Canberrans but also to all Australians.
We thank the ACT government and the National Capital Authority, in particular, and we thank all of those who participated, particularly those residents of the Canberra area who participated, for their contributions. As chairman of this committee, I particularly thank Gai Brodtmann, the member for Canberra, for her participation as the deputy chair; the members of our committee, who have taken approach to this issue; and the very capable secretariat staff, who have worked very well in ensuring that we can all better understand what, at times, seem very complicated Commonwealth and parliamentary approvals processes for this project.
by leave—As Deputy Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the report of the inquiry into Commonwealth and parliamentary approvals for the proposed stage 2 of the Australian Capital Territory light rail project. I'd like to take this opportunity to associate myself and colleagues from this side of the chamber who are on the committee with the comments made by the chair. As the chair has mentioned, we have very productive and constructive conversations and a very productive and constructive relationship in the committee. We are all working to ensure that we deliver the best deal for those in the external territories, those associated within the Antarctic policy, and also those who are very much associated with our wonderful national capital here—particularly the area that is covered by the National Capital Authority and, through that, the parliament. So thank you to the chair for his comments and for the contribution that his side of the chamber have made in what I think is a very enjoyable committee, and one that really does deliver quality advice and reports in its area of responsibility.
This inquiry investigated what should and would be done in terms of necessary Commonwealth approvals for light rail stage 2 in the ACT. It was not an investigation as to whether stage 2 should go ahead. The chair and I were at pains to make this clear—that this was not an investigation into the pros and cons of light rail and it was not an investigation into the pros and cons of stage 2 of the light rail project. It was about looking at what the next steps would look like. It's important to note that the inquiry had bipartisan support and was welcomed by the ACT government.
The terms of reference for the inquiry included the relevant parliamentary approval processes for works within the Parliamentary Zone; the roles of the National Capital Authority and the Australian government and the associated approval processes; possible impacts on the Parliamentary Zone and parliamentary precincts, including any impacts of the heritage values and the national importance of the Parliamentary Zone and our national capital; and the identification of matters that may be of concern prior to formal parliamentary or Australian government consideration of the project.
This inquiry gave the committee the opportunity to explore the heritage value of the parliamentary precinct, as well as the roles and approval processes of the parliament, the ACT government, and relevant Commonwealth and ACT government agencies. We were very, very keen to get an explicit understanding of that through this inquiry, because the proposed stage 2 of the light rail project crosses the historic and iconic parliamentary precinct of our nation's capital. Because of this, we need to ensure the approval processes for this project respect the heritage value and history of this significant area. That's particularly of importance for me as the member for Canberra, because the proposed stage 2 area of the light rail project crosses into my electorate, which is an area full of government agencies, cultural agencies, scientific agencies, educational agencies and military institutions that hold significant and special meaning for my community here in Canberra, but for all Australians.
Like in all states and territories, it is the responsibility of the local government to improve the public transport network for residents and visitors.
The ACT is in a unique position, as to this responsibility, in requiring approvals from the parliament and an investigation by the committee. So the ACT is unique in that it has these Commonwealth agencies that are involved in influencing the way that it can manage some of its decisions, and this is particularly the case as to stage 2 of the light rail.
The committee developed six recommendations in the inquiry, and I just want to run through those. The committee recommended: that it be notified by the responsible minister of any work applications or amendments to the National Capital Plan relating to the light rail project, prior to its tabling in the parliament; that, if the ACT government chooses to pursue a different route to that of the National Capital Plan—and the chair of the committee has outlined where we're at, in terms of the status of it being partially consistent with the National Capital Plan—then there should be a two-stage process for seeking Commonwealth approval, and the chair has outlined in broad details what the process is; that the National Capital Authority should require any light rail bridge design on either the Commonwealth or Kings Avenue bridges to adhere to a range of standards regarding design, size and visual impact; that any light rail on or crossing major roads, including Commonwealth Avenue, State Circle and Kings Avenue, should be wire free; that the placement and appearance of light rail stops, landscaping and signage should be unobtrusive and complementary to the heritage value of nearby buildings, views of parliament and the character of the Central National Area and Parliamentary Zone; and that the removal of any trees with heritage value be met with an appropriate replanting and landscaping strategy that maintains heritage values in the Central National Area and the Parliamentary Zone. Speaker, you will be aware that, in that area, particularly just over the road, on Commonwealth Avenue, there are trees that were planted by Weston which are an integral part of the national capital's history—deeply connected to the history of Canberra and the beginning of this city as the national capital.
There is a lot of good about this report and the fact that it aims to—and I hope it does not just aim to but does—provide clarity to the ACT government, to Commonwealth agencies who are involved in this, and to the parliament and the committee about the next steps for the proposed stage 2 of the light rail. I commend the report to the House.