MINISTER FOR SUSTAINABILITY, ENVIRONMENT, WATER, POPULATION AND COMMUNITIES
Senate Question No.322
Senator Ludlam asked the Minister representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, in writing, on 6 December 2010:
With reference to the New Acton Nishi development in Canberra and to the question on notice no. 141 submitted during the Budget Estimates of the Environment, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee in May 2010 regarding the same development:
(1) (a) Was the Minister advised by experts in both the Australian Heritage Council (AHC) and the department of significant impacts of the New Acton Nishi development on National Heritage; if so, was this advice rejected in favour of expert advice provided by the developer; and (b) in making this decision, did the Minister also consider beneficial impacts such as economic or social matters on National Heritage.
(2) Given that the AHC is described on its website as the ‘principal adviser to the Australian Government on heritage matters', are the AHC members among the best heritage experts in Australia.
(3) How often does the AHC comment to the Minister on such development proposals.
(4) Are the department's heritage experts also among the best in Australia.
(5) Who was the heritage expert who provided advice for the developer.
(6) Is the developer's heritage expert regarded as one of the best in Australia, for example, are they on the top 10 list of experts who might be recommended by the AHC.
(7) Why did the Minister ignore the advice of the AHC and the department in favour of the developer's expert.
Senator Conroy: The Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities has provided the following answer to the honourable Senator's question:
(1 ) (a) The former Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts received advice from the Department and comment from the Australian Heritage Council, both indicating that the New Acton Nishi development would be likely to have a significant impact on the National Heritage values of the Australian Academy of Science building. The Minister also received information in the referral provided by the proponent, which included documents prepared by the proponent's heritage advisers. Consistent with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), the Minister also considered public comments received in relation to the referral of the development. The Minister considered all of the information provided and came to the view that the development was not likely to have a significant impact on the National Heritage values of the Australian Academy of Science Building.
(b) The Minister's Statement of Reasons for his decision is at Attachment A.
(2) The Australian Heritage Council Act 2003 requires members of the Council to have substantial experience or expertise concerning heritage. The members of the Council meet those criteria. The Act does not require the Minister to form a view as to whether a person appointed to the Council is or is not among the best heritage experts in Australia.
(3) This is the only instance to date where the Australian Heritage Council has provided comment to the Minister on whether a proposed action is a controlled action.
(4) The Department's heritage officers have a range of heritage-related skills. No work has been undertaken to determine whether a staff member is or is not among the best heritage experts in Australia.
(5) The proponent's referral documentation included heritage advice from Paul Cohen of Cambell Dion, and Jennifer Hill and Elizabeth Gibson of Architectural Projects Pty Ltd. The proponent included advice from Dr Graeme Gunn of Gunn Dyring Architects, who advised principally on the context, urban design and architectural quality of the development, but who also advised on the ‘historical impact' of the development.
(6) Whether a person is or is not among the best heritage experts in Australia is a matter of opinion. The Australian Heritage Council does not keep a ‘top ten list' of experts.
(7) The Minister's Statement of Reasons for his decision is at Attachment A.