Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Amendment Bill 2017

I commend the minister for his second reading speech and its content and brevity, and I'll do my utmost to match that in a bipartisan way. Labor supports the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Amendment Bill 2017. The aim of the bill before the House is to improve the governance, transparency and accountability of the National Capital Authority.

The amendments in the bill give the NCA board responsibility for, and power to, govern this important agency. At present, the NCA's chief executive and not the authority is the accountable authority under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act. This arrangement does not provide decision-making within the NCA with sufficient oversight and transparency, nor does it provide the requisite support to the minister. Establishing the authority as the accountable authority and enabling it to give specific directions to the chief executive will allow it to become involved in NCA operations and clarify the current authority-chief executive relationship.

The bill also provides for related amendments that support the authority in satisfying its responsibilities as the accountable authority and update the planning and land management act to make it consistent with established policy on public sector governance. This includes making all authority members officials of the NCA so as to engage the PGPA Act provisions concerning the duty of officials—notably care and diligence. There are related amendments to clarify the minister's existing powers by obliging the authority to comply with ministerial directions other than where this conflicts with its performance of powers under the PGPA Act, and by specifying that such amendments are legislative instruments.

I was curious to investigate the provenance of this particular amendment, because I am concerned that an authority such as the National Capital Authority is free to carry out its important task in a way that is based on the expert, impartial and enthusiastic advice of the authority members and the members of the staff of the authority. I was concerned that this instrument, or this particular amendment, may, in some way, interfere with the capacity of the authority to fulfil those functions. I thought the best place to go to ensure that this bill would not have any unintended consequences was to a key stakeholder in the National Capital Authority, the ACT government, who have a keen interest in ensuring that they work hand in hand with the National Capital Authority. I ensured that my office consulted with the Chief Minister's office to ensure that they had full vision and full support of the amendments before this legislature. I'm reliably informed that they have, and that they support the key amendments that are subject to this legislation.

The bill also includes amendments to clearly delineate the different responsibilities of the authority as the accountable authority under the PGPA Act—and the chief executive as the head of the statutory agencies for the purposes of the Public Service Act 1999.

The Australian government has direct responsibility for locations and functions that reflect Canberra as the national capital. The Australian Constitution provides that the seat of government of the Commonwealth shall be determined by the parliament, and shall be within territory, which shall have been granted to, or acquired by, the Commonwealth, and shall be vested in and belonging to the Commonwealth. Under the constitutional provision, the Commonwealth remains the owner of the land in the Territory even after granting self-government.

It's a matter of history that Australia's national capital officially came into being in January 1911, when title to 111 square miles of land in the district of Yass, Canberra, was passed to the Commonwealth by the state of New South Wales. The Seat of Government Acceptance Act of 1909 provided that the territory would be acquired by the Commonwealth for the seat of government and that it would be known as the Federal Capital Territory. As outlined on the National Capital Authority website:

Canberra's function as the Seat of Government and as the nation's capital have been the basis for the establishment of Australia's principal governmental, judicial, cultural, scientific, educational, and military institutions. It has resulted in foreign governments establishing diplomatic missions and residences, and in an increasing number of national organisations and institutions seeking a presence in the capital.

The gradual accumulation of important national functions has been accompanied by a growing awareness of Canberra's significance in Australia's national and international life.

Any visitor to our national capital during the festival of Floriade will testify to these facts.

The role that the National Capital Authority plays in Canberra is incredibly important. It was established by the Commonwealth to reflect the Commonwealth's interests and to carry out its intentions, consistent with the original design of the national capital. Its role is to ensure that planning decisions maintain the national significance of Canberra's streets and precincts, while ensuring that residents enjoy all of the amenities of a livable city. The National Capital Authority has the task of designing and caring for our National Capital Estate, a vital Commonwealth asset and an internationally significant precinct.

The NCA also prepares, administers and reviews the National Capital Plan and proposes amendments as necessary. The National Capital Plan is, in effect, the blueprint that gives effect to the Commonwealth's interests within the borders of the Australian Capital Territory. It ensures that Canberra and the territory are planned and developed in accordance with their national significance. More specifically, the purpose of the National Capital Plan is to ensure that the Commonwealth's national capital interests in the territory are fully protected without otherwise involving the Commonwealth in matters that should be the prerogative of the Canberra community. This is a delicate balance. The National Capital Authority is a statutory authority established when the ACT was granted self-government in 1988 to manage the interests of the Commonwealth in Canberra, especially the planning and management of major Commonwealth assets in nationally important areas. These assets are a broad collection of public open spaces, lakes, dams, memorials, infrastructure and buildings.

It is important to put on the public record that nothing within the amendments that are before the parliament today is intended to derogate from the important delegation of power from the Commonwealth to the ACT Legislative Assembly to manage the affairs of the Australian Capital Territory when it comes to the delivery of territory based services and the management of the municipal functions of this wonderful city. An example of that is the Canberra Light Rail project, which is on foot at the moment. As you would expect, the National Capital Authority works closely with the ACT government in relation to several of the key development projects, including this important light rail infrastructure project and the City to the Lake development.

In respect of the light rail project, we welcome the 2012 decision by the ACT Labor government to build the light rail network for Canberra. We think it is a national-capital-building project which will be enjoyed by not just the residents of this fine city but all of those who come here to visit. Light rail stage 1 is well under construction, and the 12-kilometre route is expected to be operating in the later part of this year. Light rail stage 2 is another 12-kilometre corridor from Canberra City to Woden through the Parliamentary Triangle. This will require consultation with the National Capital Authority. I am confident that the good graces of this parliament, its ministerial representative, the National Capital Authority, the Legislative Assembly and its executive officers will ensure that this important project will be seen through for the benefit of not just the residents of the Australian Capital Territory but all Australians who come and visit this wonderful city. The minister said in his second reading speech that this is a non-controversial piece of legislation—and it is. Labor supports it, but we do so in the understanding that the grant of legislative authority to the ACT government was a genuine one and this parliament should not unnecessarily interfere in the ordinary affairs of that legislature.