Thursday, 24 November 2011
National Capital and External Territories Committee; Report
Debate resumed on the motion:
That the House take note of the document.
'Monuments and archaeological pieces', said former Mexican President Vicente Fox, 'serve as testimonies of man's greatness and establish a dialogue between civilizations showing the extent to which human beings are linked.' How very true. The German playwright Frank Wedekind said it best: 'Monuments are for the living, not the dead.' Across Australia, particularly in state capitals and the regional cities made rich in the mining booms of the 19th century, stone monuments literally glorify a golden age. Ballarat and Bendigo have some outstanding monumental pieces and architecture, preserving a heritage and history which made these Victorian centres great.
Queen Victoria, Britain's longest serving monarch, still reigns over our metropolitan cities, including those in the two states named in her honour: Queensland and Victoria. Particularly striking is Sydney's larger-than-life bronze statue of Captain James Cook, standing on a cylindrical granite shaft and tiered granite base. The Hyde Park memorial to the mighty English cartographer and navigator, whose greatness should always be accurately depicted in the school curriculum, faces towards the Sydney Heads and shows Cook holding a telescope in his left hand whilst proudly pointing his right hand skywards.
Perhaps the most common of all the monuments dotted across this wide, brown land are those that stand as proud yet sombre tributes to those who fell on the battlefields and in the trenches of the Great War of 1914-18. Memorials evoking the spirit of Anzac are everywhere, from the acclaimed design masterpieces of the magnificent Australian War Memorial here in Canberra and those in the capital cities through to the stone soldiers—silent sentinels—gazing off into the distance atop columns of names of men who never made it home to their rural, regional and remote towns. It seems that every city, town, village and district has a war memorial in some shape or form, and that is wholly appropriate. Memorials are important.
'What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments but what is woven into the lives of others.' The Greek statesman Pericles said that nearly 2,500 years ago. He was right of course. There are plenty of great people who do not have great statues to ensure that their actions echo across the centuries. Nonetheless, monuments play a significant cultural and historical role in guaranteeing that tradition survives, perpetuating those deemed by their peers worthy of perpetuating and honouring causes and battles won and lost. To this end the parliament's National Capital and External Territories Committee has recommended a completely new process for approving national memorials. This is a noble venture.
The committee's report, Etched in stone?, following the committee's inquiry into the management of the National Memorials Ordinance 1928, recommends that the ordinance be repealed and replaced with a Commemorative Works Act. This would follow the same lines as those operating in Washington DC. The main features of the new legislation are: a definition of commemorative work covering both national memorials and national monuments; the formation of a national memorials advisory committee, a committee of historical, cultural and subject experts to consider commemorative intent; the establishment of new and binding criteria for commemorative works to underpin the assessment process; the development of a memorials master plan to guide future works; and a two-pass approvals process for commemorative works.
At the first pass, memorial proponents must meet commemorative criteria and have an achievable budget. Proposals for commemorative intent are to start by motions in both houses of parliament and be approved on the recommendation of the National Capital and External Territories Committee. At the second pass, design and location are to be agreed upon. Approval to proceed is to be given by the National Capital and External Territories Committee on the proviso that heritage and environment assessments and realistic financial budgets have been reached and community consultation has been made. This approval is to be final and binding. The committee has fulfilled its task.
Australia's history is a rich tapestry of interesting people and events. In my home town there are significant landmarks documenting Wagga Wagga's remarkable past. There is the Wagga Wagga beach monument to the intrepid explorer Charles Sturt, who visited the area on his trek of discovery in 1829. In Collins Park, a white concrete and marble obelisk, generally surrounded by colourful flowers, is dedicated to the memory of Saddler Joseph Palazzi, the first man of the 1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles regiment to be killed in action in the Boer War of 1899-1902. Thoroughbred horse racing enthusiast Barney Hyams approached me some time ago with the idea of erecting a suitable local monument to the memory of Arthur 'Scobie' Breasley, the Wagga Wagga boy who became the Queen's jockey and who won the 'blue riband of the turf', the Epsom Derby Stakes, twice—1964 and 1966. It is a suggestion which has merit.
After this morning's extraordinary and historic events just after parliament began, you can be sure there will be no statues moulded to the memory of how the present Prime Minister will do anything and say anything to keep her job.
I just want to make the point that the Speaker, Harry Jenkins, did a splendid job in difficult and trying circumstances and that, given his sacrifice today, perhaps a bronze bust of him ought to be made and placed at the ALP's Sussex Street headquarters in Sydney, where so many of Labor's faceless powerbrokers plan and plot to keep this crisis government in power so that they can forever remember what he gave up to stay true to the party.
Dr Leigh interjecting—
Finally, I concur with the view of the National Capital and External Territories Committee's chair, Senator Louise Pratt, who said:
National memorials are a permanent representation of the nation's history and culture. We need a sound mechanism in place to ensure that national memorials are rigorously assessed for their commemorative intent, design and location before people commit money and resources to the final outcome. The committee believes that the National Memorials Ordinance is past its time and that the proposed Commemorative Works Act will provide a simple, modern and effective mechanism to take its place.
Etched in stone? fulfils its objectives and I commend it to the House. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
National memorials are a crucial part of the nation's collective memory. They bind a nation together through one of the most powerful of unifying forces—shared history. The National Memorials Ordinance 1928 came about at a time when Canberra's population was under 10,000, and Lake Burley Griffin was just lines on a map. It was instigated by Prime Minister Stanley Bruce when parliament had just moved to Canberra and rapid development was underway in the new national capital. The recommendations arising from the inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories into the administration of the National Memorials Ordinance 1928 reflect Canberra's transformed milieu and how Australia's management and use of national memorials can be improved.
In seeking to improve the management of the capital's national memorials, the committee found it instructive to look at the case of Washington DC. Washington, like Canberra, is both a national capital and a planned city. Both are sites for the expression of the national aspirations of their people. Both are governed by a detailed planning regime that balances the legacies of the past with the needs of the present and the potential of the future. Part of the challenge is in choosing appropriate subjects for commemoration and choosing suitable designs and locations for new monuments and memorials. This process must balance the competing desires and interests of the different stakeholders.
We on the committee found that one of the key strengths of the Washington model is that the planning stage involves broad constituencies. Washington's National Capital Planning Commission has 12 members, representing federal and local constituencies. Each member represents a different section of the community and brings different perspectives. No one entity dominates the process.
As many Canberra residents made clear in their submissions to the inquiry, the need for local consultation and input in the development of national memorials is paramount. While memorials and monuments are of national significance, Canberrans live with the consequences of their designs and management on a daily basis.
The committee recommended, as the member for Riverina has pointed out, that the National Memorials Ordinance 1928 be repealed and replaced with an Australian commemorative works act, based on the United States model. The act would provide for a two-pass assessment process for national memorials—the first pass focused on commemorative intent, the second pass on character and locations. Time does not permit me to go into the detail of our recommendations, but I commend what is a very bipartisan report to the House.
I would like to use this opportunity to thank the committee secretariat, particularly Peter Stephens and the indefatigable William Pender, for their work on this report. To the many Canberrans and representatives of national organisations who took the time to put together submissions for the inquiry, to give evidence and to engage so deeply with this process: thank you.
As this is perhaps my last parliamentary speech for the year, I would also like to use this chance to briefly thank my hardworking staff, Louise Crossman, Gus Little, Claire Daly, Lyndell Tutty, Ruth Stanfield and Nick Terrell, as well as my team of terrific volunteers, including Ken Maher, Barbara Phi, Alex Dixon, and Gerry Lloyd. I would also like to thank the interns who have worked in my office during the year, including Hariharan Thirunavukkarasu, Louisa Detez, Angela Winkle, Jessica Woodall, Huw Pohlner and William Isdale.
I am pretty sure that after our 3 am finish on Wednesday I was the only MP who was woken at 6 am by a four-year-old entering the bedroom. My two wonderful boys, Theodore and Sebastian, are more than a full-time job, and I would like to acknowledge my extraordinary wife, Gweneth, as well as my parents, Barbara and Michael, for all their help during the year. Our families bear much of the burden of this job, and I could not do it without them.
Main Committee adjourned at 12:24