Thursday, 29 October 2009 Entries

Time to leave a legacy

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating has made no secret of his disdain for Canberra and he had another swipe recently, campaigning to move the national capital to Sydney or Melbourne.

So, the 300 industry and business representatives who attended the Property Council’s October ACT Division lunch were delighted to hear the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, extol its virtues as a capital city “of which Australians can be proud”.

He admitted to being fond of the city and added, “Rightly or wrongly, Canberra is now firmly established as a national capital”.

“Irrespective of debates about Canberra and Parliament House, the Government has no intention of changing that situation,” he said.

It was a light moment at the launch of the Federal Government’s new Commonwealth Property Management Guidelines, a document which gives welcome relief and certainty to building owners and managers.

The guidelines call for greater consistency in the way agencies manage government leased or owned properties in Australia and its external territories.

About 60 per cent of Canberra’s office market is occupied by Federal Government tenants and property costs are one of the Commonwealth’s largest recurrent expenses.

The guidelines are a valuable signal of the Federal Government’s intention to apply a principles-approach to achieve:

  • Value for money
  • Property management planning
  • Efficient and effective design
  • Appropriate accountability, and 
  • Cooperative Commonwealth property management.

Significantly, agency heads will retain flexibility for individual office leasing decisions but there will be improved coordination, cooperation, efficiency and effectiveness in the way they manage properties.

Most importantly they sketch a clear picture of the Federal Government’s progress and priorities as a property owner and tenant in Canberra’s office market, which is the third largest in the country.

Unfortunately, the Minister was less clear about the Federal Government’s intentions for the National Capital Authority, despite the Prime Minister’s announcement the day before of the Commonwealth’s aim to take greater responsibility for improving the long-term planning of our major cities.

According to official estimates, Australia is headed for a 65 percent increase in population by 2050. That will drive the city-based population to 35 million and some of that growth will, inevitably, happen here.

But it can’t be sustained without a long-term strategic infrastructure plan.

While the ACT Government has recently announced a number of infrastructure projects, some very large, we still don’t have an holistic and integrated plan.

The Chief Minister says he wants one, the looming population boom demands one, but we still don’t have a plan that covers demographics, cross-border development and growth, environmental issues, land use patterns, maintenance and infrastructure renewal and priorities.

A plan would allow us to sustainably manage growth and change and it would establish processes that ensure implementation from the ground up, with relevant timeframes and budgets.

The Prime Minister’s cities plan represents a big and brave vision for national infrastructure.

The Property Council urges the ACT Government to do the same for Canberra.

Now is the time to work within a strategic, national and funded framework to develop a grand plan for Canberra.

Now is the time to make the brave decisions and lay the foundations for the sensible and sustainable legacy of a truly green and great city.

Catherine Carter | Thursday, 29 October 2009 12:01 AM | Add Comment