Monday, 20 June 2011
Australian Capital Territory Centenary
The centenary of the founding of Australia's national capital is now less than two years away. While the historic month of March 2013 will no doubt be crammed full of community celebrations and commemorative events, I note with real interest that the centenary program, under the guidance of creative director Robyn Archer and her team, will evolve over the entire year, focused on 12 carefully chosen, themed months and embracing the four different seasons to mark the special birthday of the unique inland city on the edge of the Australian Alps.
We know that the full program will be announced in September 2012, so the next 15 months will be vital in finalising the detail of what already promises to be a superb 'big book' publication of the list of cultural, commemorative, history and heritage activities. The Australian government's contribution to the centenary, announced in the recent budget, is timely indeed and a welcome affirmation of the partnership agreement with the ACT government signed in late 2008. I will return to the budget shortly, but first I will give a little context.
Over the past few years, we have had several milestone Canberra centenaries meaningfully recognised: the so-called 'battle of the sites' of 1902 to 1908, which eventually determined where the capital would be placed; the Seat of Government Act 1908, giving the final nod to the option somewhat mischievously labelled the 'Yass-Canberra'; the exhaustive survey of the capital area and surrounds under the watchful eye of Charles Robert Scrivener, the most respected surveyor of his generation; the start, in June 1910, of the exhaustive border survey of the federal territory, which would take almost five years to complete; and, on the first day of January 1911, the commencement of the Federal Capital Territory—recognised and celebrated by the Commonwealth parliament with a splendid exhibition in the Presiding Officers gallery entitled 'Devotion, daring and sense of destiny: surveyors of the early Commonwealth'. The exhibition ran for three months, up to Canberra Day this year, and was seen by upwards of 200,000 visitors from right across the country, and no doubt many overseas visitors as well.
Yet it is, I think, fair to say that, while recognising the heritage significance of this cluster of commemorative signposts in recent years, it is only in the last couple of months that we have finally arrived at the business end of the centenary build-up. For on 30 April 2011, less than two months ago, the national capital—and the nation—remembered with pride the announcement, exactly 100 years earlier, of the remarkable international competition to design Canberra. The Centenary of Canberra team grasped this prized opportunity to announce a bold new project destined to run right through to 12 March 2013. Entitled 'Capithetical', it is itself a design competition for a hypothetical Australian capital city, open to aspiring and established designers and planners across Australia and across the world. I understand that initial stakeholder interest in the competition, just like 100 years earlier, has already been enormous. Capithetical aims to do a number of things, including: encourage the most innovative thinking about cities today; examine the original world competition a century ago, which we know was won by Marion Mahony-Griffin and Walter Burley-Griffin; and speculate on the roles to be played by capital cities throughout the 21st century and beyond. It a very exciting and potentially controversial concept certain to generate cutting-edge discussion and debate globally about our mature national capital, our beloved 'bush capital', our pre-eminent 'capital city in the landscape', so described, and we will all learn from it.
In her Canberra Day Oration in March this year entitled 'Seed now, blossom in 2013, flower for another hundred years', Robyn Archer stated:
The program for the Centenary is based on the very highest ideals, and couched in the very finest streams of creativity we can find, nurture and afford. The celebration becomes a year-long showcase of the best of our thinking and achievement. Yes there will be fun, and joy and awe, but in the service of ideals and values that are pivotal to the nation’s future.
I cannot help but be struck by the potent connection between the ACT government's imaginative mapping of the 2013 Canberra centenary and the lofty sentiments, nearly 100 years earlier, of Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher when he spoke at the Foundation Stones naming ceremony on 12 March 1913. On that momentous day, Prime Minister Fisher articulated a simple, powerful vision for the Australian capital city to come. He said:
Here, on this spot, and in the near future, and, I hope, the distant future too, the best thoughts of Australia will be given expression ... I hope this city will be the seat of learning as well as of politics, and it will also be the home of art.
Prime Minister Fisher's speech was delivered towards the end of a productive three-year period of Labor government from 1910 to 1913, during which he embarked with intent—and, I have to say, in the face of constant criticism from his conservative political opponents—on an energetic nation-building enterprise on behalf of his country. He recognised the roles—practical, administrative and symbolic—that the national capital would be called on to play in the future and legislated accordingly. Fisher positioned Australia for the many challenges of the new century ahead.
In circumstances not dissimilar, the Labor government today, under Prime Minister Gillard, is determined to deliver on its own nation-building commitment. A number of items in the recent May budget bear further testimony to a determined commitment that transcends the relentless carping of the opposition. Night after predictable night, the opposition turns up for stunt after stunt, with no policy substance to contribute to the public conversation. In the meantime, Labor gets on with the job of governing, acutely conscious of its community, heritage and, above all, its necessary nation-building responsibilities. Thus, in recognition of the importance of the forthcoming centenary of our nation's capital, the government has allocated $6.8 million to date as its contribution to the centenary program to ensure that the specifically national elements of the program are properly funded as part of a close partnership with the ACT Labor government.
This centenary program allocation is just one part of a much wider federal investment here in the ACT this financial year. There is investment in a number of important infrastructure projects, as well as in ACT schools, health, families and jobs. There is an allocation of $82.2 million to ACT road infrastructure improvements—most notably $42 million to the upgrade of Constitution Avenue, which will enable the National Capital Authority to begin to shape this major thoroughfare as the premier inner-city boulevard that Walter and Marion Griffin originally intended. ACT schools will benefit from the Smarter Schools National Partnerships program, with some 30 territory schools funded through the $17 million made available by the government over the life of the partnerships program. For example, funding at Richardson Primary School will enable new teachers to do tailored courses aimed at overcoming barriers to student learning. Also, $2.3 million has been allocated to the ACT health sector to improve critical outreach and training courses, $2.9 million has been allocated to support Koomari in the ACT, $790,000 has been allocated to support the work of the Community Programs Association, and $141,000 has been allocated to establish 19 broadband terminals at seniors kiosks around the ACT. In addition, some 6,700 ACT families in this financial year are eligible for an extra $4,200 for their 16- to 19-year old children to assist with cost of living expenses, while some 7,300 apprentices are eligible for the trade apprentice bonus scheme.
Defence and security has been bolstered, with $34.7 million allocated to new and upgraded facilities at ADFA, $83.6 million to HMAS Creswell, and $30.6 million to the new ASIO facility. I am also very pleased about the $33.9 million that has been allocated to the Australian War Memorial over a number of years to ensure that the institution can meet its increased commitments in the years leading up to the milestone centenary of Anzac and Gallipoli in 2015. (Time expired)