National Capital and External Territories Joint Committee

by leave—I want to thank the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories for her work as well. This report is about fostering and promoting the significance of Australia’s national capital; I think the title says it all. It is a Capital for all Australians. Initially, I do want to thank not just the chair but also the rest of the committee and all of those groups, organisations and bodies who came along and presented to us at those hearings. Their great passion and commitment to whatever institution or group they were representing was commendable and gave the committee very valuable information and advice. I do—as the Chair has—want to thank Fran Denny and her very capable team in the secretariat for their work, the way they approached this and what they’ve delivered for us through the terms of reference: for the national institutions to convey a dynamic, representative national story; to be a source of pride and international recognition; to raise the profile and to focus on the character, values and identity of Australia—which we should be so proud of, because I am—to highlight our sporting, cultural and tourism potential; and to consider future infrastructure needs.

As the previous minister in this role, I had the national capital within my scope. I love the capital very much. It was a great privilege to serve in that role. What we see around us here, in my mind, is the vision, the planning and the development of Walter and Marion Mahony Griffin. We see it to this day. It needs to be preserved, which is in part what we’re about with this report—to not just preserve it but to enhance it for the future in what is our national capital. I certainly have a particular love for the work of Charles Weston and the two million trees and shrubs he planned and planted between 1911 and 1926. Every time I arrive from Western Australia, every day I walk into this place, one of the great pleasures is to see what changes there have been in the colours, in the foliage and in the constant plantings that remain that are quintessentially Canberra. That’s such a treat for someone from rural and regional Australia who doesn’t get to see this in their own electorate. We’re seeing that ongoing legacy today. I’m very proud of that.

I’m also quietly proud of commissioning, when I was the minister, those two wonderful sculptures of Dame Dorothy Tangney and Dame Enid Lyons for the Parliamentary Triangle. They were the first two female federal MPs, elected in 1943. What a wonderful thing that we now have the sculptures of these two fabulous women right next to Old Parliament House, where they first walked in together. I hope that is something that is celebrated forever.

In the recommendations we talked about so many of our national institutions. We did acknowledge the need for people to be able to move around Canberra and that same Parliamentary Triangle efficiently and effectively, without having to use their own vehicles. It was something that came up regularly. We made practical recommendations about public transport, shuttle buses and constant stopping at different institutions so that people could move easily from one to the other. It’s really important to be able to do that with the points of interest.

I thought the practical recommendations around a Canberra pass were excellent—a ticket that allows people entry to a range of institutions and that lets them get on and off the bus. They choose wherever they go. They use the same ticket. They walk in and make the most of it. These are great offerings for the National Capital Authority to pursue, from pedestrian and footpath access through to providing information and support beyond private vehicles.

There was strong support for the government to prioritise the Sydney to Canberra rail option and work with the ACT and New South Wales governments to increase the train services and the number of carriages—a very good thing. No doubt those of us who live in regional and remote Australia certainly need far better access. It was something that I took up with those who came and spoke to us. We actually explored, when we talk about a capital for all Australians, how do those who can never get here ever and there are some who can never and will never—still be part of this and enjoy the experience? We talked about digital marketing campaigns that were recommended to promote the digital access to national collections, so you can still enjoy these whether you’re in Canberra itself or in a very rural, regional or remote part of our country. To actually enable that option for remote participation so that it continues to be a capital for all Australians is something I feel very strongly about. We should not have to miss out just because we can’t afford to travel if we’re from a remote area. We should be able to enjoy all of these wonderful institutions and what they’ve got to offer in this digital way. There were other recommendations for regional and remote access and the need for touring exhibitions to take more of these exhibits physically from Canberra and our national institutions to the people in their communities. It creates such an interest and a direct connection back to Canberra.

For me, one of the key recommendations was around the proposal to review the current PACER program for schools, to provide a much better opportunity for as many Australian schools as possible to come to Canberra. I’m from WA and I know there are members from other states and territories—it’s a huge cost. It’s a cost on the parents and on the school community, as well as what’s provided through the parliament here and the Commonwealth. But one of the great benefits in their lives is to come to Canberra as a school student. So don’t just review the actual opportunities to get here, review the one-size approach as it doesn’t necessarily work for some schools or their students because they might have particular focuses in those schools that want to visit different institutions, and smaller institutions, rather than those that are currently on the lists.

I had a school of my own here not so long ago. They were from Georgiana Molloy Anglican School in Busselton. It’s one of the furthest places from here. In hearing what they got from that, it was just precious to visit them afterwards and say: ‘What was it that you got out of this, and will you come back with your family or friends at a particular time? Did you enjoy what you saw? What stood out the most? What about your capital meant the most to you when you were here? What were your favourite sights and experiences?’ They will never forget that and what they shared with their friends. Even the things they may not have liked or appreciated at the time will resonate with them as they go through life. They actually came to their national capital, and I’d love to see more young people have that opportunity.

We did make recommendations around upgrading Canberra’s sporting venues to support national and international events. We are, after all, a very proud sporting nation, and where better to see that than in our national capital at appropriate times. We do need to maintain the AIS as a world-class venue and up to world-class standards so our athletes can get all the help they need to achieve. We actually made recommendations around the redevelopment of the National Convention Centre. It is the ‘National’ Convention Centre. It needs to be internationally recognised but fit for purpose, not only as a showpiece but as a venue that will do the job that’s needed of a national convention centre.

For me personally, previously in this role I was very supportive of the development of Stage 88. I think it’s a beautiful venue, and there’s much more that can be done and enjoyed there. So I think it’s a very worthwhile investment.

I want to just thank everyone who came, once again, and the committee and our secretariat. I’m looking forward to the government’s response to the recommendations that we’ve made in this report.