Historic Houses Amendment Bill
HISTORIC HOUSES AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 18 November.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN (Treasurer, Minister for Energy, Minister for State and Regional Development, Minister Assisting the Premier, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [11.17 a.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate, and I commend the bill.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS [11.19 a.m.], by leave: I move Opposition amendments Nos 1 to 4 in globo:
No. 1 Page 5, Schedule 1, proposed section 7A. Insert after line 4:
(3) In acquiring the museum officially known as the Museum of Sydney on the site of first Government House, nothing in this or any other Act authorises the official name of that museum to be changed.
No. 2. Page 6, Schedule 1. Insert after line 13:
10A Restrictions relating to Government House
(1) Despite any other provision of this Act, the Trust is not authorised to sell, mortgage, lease, grant any licence in respect of, or otherwise dispose of, Government House unless it is authorised to do so by another Act of Parliament.
(2) Except as provided by subsection (3), nothing in this Act permits Government House to be used for any purpose other than:
(a) as the Governor’s principal place of residence or office, or
(b) as a venue for performing official, charitable or public functions or functions that are held for benevolent or philanthropic purposes or other related purposes with which the Governor may concur.
(3) In order to increase public knowledge and appreciation of the historical significance of Government House and the role of the Governor, and in order to promote Government House as part of the heritage of this State, the Trust may permit:
(a) admission of the public to Government House at suitable times to view items of historical significance, and
(b) the use of Government House for activities of an educational nature,
but only with the concurrence of the Governor.
(4) In this section, Government House means the building, known as Government House, situated on the land dedicated for Vice-Regal Residence under section 25 of the Crown Lands Consolidation Act 1913 by notice published in the Gazette on 2 November 1917 at page 5994, together with all its grounds, and includes any part of such building or grounds.
No 3. Page 6, Schedule 1. Insert after line 15:
Omit "with the approval of the Governor (which may be given in respect of any case or class of cases)".
Insert instead "in accordance with a resolution passed by both Houses of Parliament".
No. 4 Page 6, Schedule 1. Insert after line 21:
Omit the paragraph. Insert instead:
(b) where the property (being real property) was acquired subject to a condition - in accordance with the condition and a resolution passed by both Houses of Parliament, or
(c) where the property (not being real property) was acquired subject to a condition - in accordance with the condition or section 12.
Insert after section 11(2):
(2A) A reference in subsection (2) to real property does not include a reference to Government House as defined under section 10A.
 Section 12 Disposal of certain property (other than real property)
Amendment No. 1 seeks to entrench the name Museum of Sydney on the site of first Government House. That site is an historic precinct and therefore attention should be paid to the name of the site. Some people are concerned - concern that is echoed by Friends of the First Government House Site - that in the future the words Museum of Sydney will be removed from the first Government House site. The establishment of the first Government House on the site is an important part of our history, and this amendment is a modus operandi to entrench the name in legislation.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN (Treasurer, Minister for Energy, Minister for State and Regional Development, Minister Assisting the Premier, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [11.22 p.m.]: The Government opposes the amendments moved by the Hon. J. M. Samios. The purpose of the Opposition’s first amendment is to ensure that the official name of the Museum of Sydney on the site of first Government House cannot be changed. The Government believes that it is inappropriate and unnecessary to legislate such a specific measure. In fact, such a measure would prove ineffective. Legislation cannot impose such a control in perpetuity because subsequent amending legislation could enable a name change to be made. The Historic Houses Act does not include references to specific properties, and it is not the intention of such legislation to include those specific provisions.
The Historic Houses Trust does not intend to change the name of the Museum of Sydney on the site of first Government House. The site is a significant part of Australia’s history and has been honoured and strengthened by the opening of the museum. The site will always remain the site of the first Government House, regardless of what Parliament legislates. It is ironic that a number of lobby groups that fought against the current name being used before the museum opened now appear to be working for the site to keep that name. It is a little like the classic case of the moving bus stop. A member of the Labor Party caucus once campaigned vigorously for many months, if not years, to have a bus stop changed from one location to another. However, when the bus stop was moved he received representations from another constituent and he then campaigned just as vigorously to have it put back where it was originally. However, we did not know this until it was pointed out to us.
Amendment 2 seeks to restrict the trust from selling, mortgaging, leasing or granting any licence in respect of, or otherwise disposing of, Government House. Under the conservation and management plan, the Governor’s formal consent is required to list the property in the trust, or to any subsequent action by the trust to lease parts of the building to outside organisations. Let that be clear: the Governor’s formal consent is required. The conservation and management plan identifies a small area that may be used by other organisations for short periods of time; the agreed framework for use precludes any long-term leases. The plan provides for space for the management of Government House and for cultural programs, but not for any large organisations. The Government does not intend to grant such long-term leases and any assertion that it would sell Government House is nonsense.
Amendment 2 also seeks to ensure that Government House cannot be used for any purpose other than the Governor’s principal place of residence or office, or as a venue for the performance of official, charitable and other related purposes. The Governor and the Government have formally adopted a framework for the use of Government House, and subsequently the Government has approved the conservation and management plan to protect Government House in the future. The plan has been developed in close consultation, and over a significant period of time, with the Governor and the Office of the Governor to ensure that it incorporates all the Governor’s requirements. The authority of the Historic Houses Trust to manage Government House has the support of the Governor and is made on the basis that Government House and the surrounding grounds
continue to be available to the public when not required for the official purposes of the Governor.
Amendment 2 would also permit admission of the public to Government House to view items of historical significance and the use of Government House for activities of an educational nature, with the concurrence of the Governor. I do not know why the Opposition has included that provision in its amendment: that is what already occurs. It is unclear from the amendment whether the Opposition wants to restrict the public activities that occur at Government House. The Historic Houses Trust has opened Government House to the public with resounding success and without curtailment of or disruption to the Governor’s official duties. The Governor continues to use Government House on a regular basis. He approves and supports the opening of Government House for the enjoyment of the public.
The public has wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to share in the pleasures of Government House, to appreciate its heritage and dignity, and to gain a better understanding of its role in this State and country. Government House was opened to the public in March 1996 and since then more than 170,000 people have enjoyed their visit. The unprecedented level of public access and every activity and function have had the full concurrence of the Governor. The Opposition’s proposal could again exclude the public from this significant public building and its grounds. Government House would then become a stuffy place that few people would see. It would be open only to a privileged few, such as members of Parliament.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: And the boy scouts.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: It would be open only to a small group. If my recollection serves me correctly, fewer than 10,000 people per annum visited Government House before the changes were made; 170,000 people have visited Government House since the changes were made. Opposition amendments 3 and 4 seek to replace the Governor’s approval for the trust to sell, mortgage or otherwise dispose of its real property with the requirement that such action be only by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament. The purpose of amendments 3 and 4 is to take away the power of the Governor. They are completely unworkable and will result in the work of the Historic Houses Trust grinding to a halt. Like many cultural statutory bodies, the trust enters into leases on a regular basis to allow the opening of cafes, restaurants and shops, and for a range of other purposes.
It is ludicrous to suggest that every time the trust needs to renew a cafe lease, for example, it would need to seek a resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Such a requirement would result in delays and loss of revenue, and scare away potential commercial operators. The bill is designed to streamline operations and cut red tape. The Opposition’s proposal will result in a nightmare of red tape and additional costs to the trust. I should like to dispel the myth that has developed in the past couple of days that, somehow, I sold the carpet at Government House. I can assure honourable members that I did not sell it. Nor did I sell the mantelpiece. I do not know what happened to the mantelpiece, although I have heard some stores about it. I certainly had nothing to do with the removal of the carpet.
The Hon. J. H. Jobling: Where did it go?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Mrs Samuels informed us that it had been rolled up to improve the acoustics for recitals. The carpet is still there. It can be put down by the Governor at any time he wants.
The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby: What a pity it is not relaid when there are no concerts.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I quite like it without carpet. Tastes have changed. I remember when I was a young fellow that it was the be-all and end-all to have a house with wall-to-wall carpet. Only old fogeys want wall-to-wall carpet now. Nowadays, trendy houses and apartments have all timber flooring. Only old fogeys want carpet, with its dust and its propensity to upset people with asthma and other allergies.
The Hon. Dr Marlene Goldsmith: What happened to the carpet?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I am not going to let you get your hands on it! That disposes of the silly amendments moved by the Hon. J. M. Samios, who should know better. I am sure that someone else prepared them for him. I am quite confident that the Committee will do the sensible thing and reject them.
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS [11.32 a.m.]: I should like to address comments made about the words "the Museum of Sydney on the site of first
Government House", which appear in the first amendment. Friends of the First Government House and others in the community expressed, not unreasonably, some concern about the name "Museum of Sydney" because it is on the site of the first Government House in Bridge Street.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: It was the first Government House museum.
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS: Yes. It was indeed a feat for an island nation to be able to point to its first Government House site, and there has been a move, naturally, to have the museum to carry the name "first Government House". It was considered, however, that the name "Museum of Sydney" would reach a larger number of people in marketing terms and, therefore, was accepted as the name for the building on the site of the first Government House as an acknowledgment of the history of the site. It is easier now to remove the words "on the site of first Government House" than it would be if they were entrenched in legislation. Even though it would be possible for subsequent parliaments to change the name, it could be done without debate in the Parliament. This is a reasonable amendment.
Amendments 2, 3 and 4, which were drafted last year, remain pertinent. The Government has a philosophical difficulty with the amendments, which acknowledge the important role of Government House in our history, in our contemporary society and in our future. Government House is not meant to be a museum. Government House relates to the heritage, the history and the early colonial settlement of modern Australia - all matters provocative for those who would deny our history. These amendments will ensure that nothing will occur precipitously to Government House by way of sale, mortgage, or lease arrangement. It has been said that the conservation and management plan for Government House on which the trust is working will not interfere with the reasonable use of Government House. But it will.
Part of the proposal relates, for example, to developing the west wing for appropriate arts organisations able to vacate at short notice. Those words were used in a letter sent to one of the Independent members by the arts policy adviser. What does "developing the west wing" mean? It presumes an interference with the west wing, the possibility of refurbishment, the possibility of restructuring an important historic building. Whilst that may be done with all the good will in the world, it will be done for a purpose that is not akin to what Government House is about. These amendments go to the heart of our history, and a determination by the Opposition that our history, as encapsulated in the presence of Government House, is preserved. The Opposition fully supports public access to Government House, which, together with the Governor, has played an important role in the history and the government of our nation.
If I recall correctly, when Governor Sinclair finished his term in office, reference was made to 23,000 or 26,000 schoolchildren having gone through Government House. The Opposition does not deprecate that important role of Government House. These amendments are basic to the preservation of Government House, which is not meant to be a museum. Government House is an important part of our history and our government and it is a modus operandi for reaching out to the public. Over many years Government House has been an appropriate venue for the arts, but always under the aegis of the Governor.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [11.41 a.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party supports the fair and reasonable amendments moved by the Hon. J. M. Samios. Members of the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Christian Democratic Party and other honourable members are looking forward to the day when New South Wales has a governor who regards Government House as his or her principal place of residence. That is the basis of the amendments moved by the Hon. J. M. Samios. Members of the coalition have said that, when they win government at the next election, they will restore Government House as the Governor’s principal place of residence.
The Hon. M. R. Egan: What if the Governor of the day does not want to live in a drafty old house?
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: I said in debate on this legislation yesterday that the appointment of the Governor would be dependent upon his or her accepting that condition. The Governor would not be forced to live in Government House. The Government would simply say, "We expect you to live there. We entered into an agreement with you before you accepted the position." There would be no controversy. I believe that 10,000 eminent citizens would line up to become Governor of this State if they could live in Government House.
The Hon. M. R. Egan: The Prime Minister will not even live in the Lodge.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: He does not dislike the Lodge; he dislikes Canberra. These
amendments will ensure the continuity of Government House as the Governor’s residence. The amendments also seek to give clear-cut authority to the Governor to agree to anything that happens to Government House. At this stage that refers obviously to the current Governor, His Excellency the Hon. Gordon Samuels. I assume that this legislation will be in place when the new Governor is appointed, and he or she will take up that role. The amendments specify that the concurrence of the Governor is required, so this provision would apply to the present Governor and any future governors.
The amendments are reasonable. The Government said that it does not propose to change the name of Government House, so it should simply accept the first amendment. The other amendments are straightforward. The Leader of the House, when replying to debate on the second reading, made reference to a cafe. Does the Government intend to put a cafe in the dining room or ballroom of Government House? That is precisely the sort of thing we do not want to happen. The Governor should be able to veto any such irresponsible decisions. It would be an act of vandalism to put a cafe or kiosk in Government House.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY [11.45 p.m.]: The Australian Democrats support the amendments moved by the Hon. J. Samios. Rather than be called the Historic Houses Amendment Bill it should have been called the Government House bill. Decisions relating to Government House should not be left in the hands of the Historic Houses Trust, the board of which is incapable of making such decisions. Few members of the board have a knowledge of historic houses, architecture, fine furniture and history. That was the burden of my remarks yesterday. This would be a good opportunity for the Treasurer to recoup some of the costs that he imposed on himself when the Government decided, upon the appointment of our current Governor, that the Governor should be permitted to remain in his own home rather than reside at Government House. The Auditor-General has reported that the cost of that mistake has been more than $600,000.
The Hon. M. R. Egan: That is just not true.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY: Is the Leader of the Government suggesting that the Auditor-General is giving false figures in his report?
The Hon. M. R. Egan: No, I am saying that his logic is wrong, as I pointed out in the House. His logic is absurd and bizarre.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY: I hope that New South Wales is not going down the path taken by Victoria with regard to the independence and integrity of the Auditor-General. However, it would be possible to conduct tours of Government House for a fee and thus raise revenue for the State. Nothing in these amendments would prevent the use of Government House in the way that the Government has proposed: for the public to attend concerts and other official functions. I am made more firm in my decision to support the amendments of the Hon. J. M. Samios by the suggestion that the Government wants to take unto itself the power to put people permanently into the west wing of Government House. That cannot be done without altering the structure of the building.
It does not matter whether the Government proposes to put into the west wing the archeological society, the genealogical society or any other learned society; it could not be used on a permanent basis without its structure being altered. When members of this Parliament are moved into the Nightingale Wing of Sydney Hospital, structural alterations will have to be made to that building. If this bill becomes law in its present form, the structure of the west wing of Government House will have to be altered. For those reasons I support the amendments moved by the Hon. J. M. Samios.
Question - That the amendments be agreed to - put.
The Committee divided.
Insert "(other than real property)" after "any property" in section 12(1).
Mr Bull Mrs Nile
Mrs Chadwick Rev. Nile
Mr Cohen Dr Pezzutti
Mrs Forsythe Mr Ryan
Mr Gallacher Mr Samios
Miss Gardiner Mrs Sham-Ho
Dr Goldsmith Mr Rowland Smith
Mr Hannaford Mr Willis
Mr Kersten Tellers,
Ms Kirkby Mr Jobling
Mr Lynn Mr Moppett
Mrs Arena Mr Obeid
Dr Burgmann Mr Primrose
Ms Burnswoods Ms Saffin
Mr Corbett Mr Shaw
Mr Dyer Mrs Symonds
Mr Egan Mr Tingle
Mr Johnson Mr Vaughan
Mr Kaldis Tellers,
Mr Kelly Mrs Isaksen
Mr Macdonald Mr Manson
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendments agreed to.
Progress reported and leave granted to sit again.