Manuka Oval Redevelopment

Speech in the ACT Legislative Assembly

5 May 2016

The Canberra Liberals welcome this discussion about the Manuka green unsolicited proposal. It is good to be chatting about this in the open. I think much of the heightened interest about this proposal has come about due to an actual or perceived idea that too much is happening in the back room rather than in public.

However, it has to be said that the actual proponents have been public with a lot of information about their ideas, primarily via their website. Members of the opposition were briefed on the proposal in February, the week the proposal went live. A huge amount of high quality design and conceptual work had obviously gone into the proposal.

The opposition believes that there is a role for unsolicited proposals in Canberra. There is a need to gather thoughts, ideas and investments that are outside the square. Many governments around the world use unsolicited proposal processes to help foster such ideas. The purpose is to get worthwhile ideas whilst respecting the intellectual property of the owner or proposer of the project.
The government’s framework states:

The ACT Government recognises the valuable ideas and innovations that the private sector can generate and the real and tangible benefits that can flow to the ACT economy. By having a process to manage Unsolicited Proposals, the Government can ensure that value to the community can be delivered from genuinely unique ideas.

Where a mutually beneficial outcome between a Proponent, ACT Government and the Territory can be demonstrated, the ACT Government intends that successful bidders receive a fair return for their efforts, particularly for genuinely unique ideas.
This would require a Proponent to bring one or more of the following:

1. A unique proposition not currently under ACT Government consideration;
2. A unique technology;
3. A unique service offering; and/or
4. A considered innovation or entrepreneurship with benefits to the Territory.

I would note that I think it is unfortunate that the first line of the March 2015 guidelines for unsolicited proposals, which are in the background section, states:

The ACT Government is committed to improving the facilitation of infrastructure delivery within the Territory.

Whilst that is, of course, a statement with which all would agree, the suggestion is that unsolicited proposals are primarily about infrastructure delivery. This should not be the case. Whilst infrastructure can be part of the framework, other proposals, such as software and system improvements, are obvious examples where IP can and should be protected for unsolicited proposals. Whilst these are not excluded in the current framework, they should not necessarily come across as being secondary to physical infrastructure.

Whilst we frequently hear in the media and in public discourse that there is a need for new ideas and more imagination, sometimes when such ideas are presented they can be too big or too unsettling, for various reasons. The Manuka green proposal has certainly brought to the public attention the unsolicited proposals process in Canberra. To my knowledge, and I think to public knowledge, this is the biggest proposal brought forward under the framework.

As part of the process, the Manuka green project group have undertaken a number of consultation sessions. Their website states:

This has included over 30 meetings with key members of the Inner South Canberra Community Council and key stakeholders and associations in the area including Telopea Park School, Manuka Traders and Kingston Traders.

I also understand that there is a consultation session planned for Monday, 11 May in the Bradman Room at the Manuka Oval from 4 pm to 7 pm.

There have been some concerns raised about the details of this project. Some of these include the scale of the development; others include parking and traffic. However, there are some concerns about the integrity of the process, too.

The opposition has supported and will support sensible and affordable improvements to Manuka Oval at the right time. Manuka Oval is iconic for Canberra and we support its continual improvement. Of course, the detail of any upgrade, the cost and how it is to be paid for are all questions that need answering.

One of the key issues has been the silence of the government. Whilst commentary on the proposal may not be consistent with the framework, the government could at least give Canberrans a clearer picture of the way forward. The lack of confidence about the path forward or even the options for paths forward is regrettable. Whilst the government may say that commentary is not part of the process, why did the Chief Minister, on 21 April, give a rolling commentary on the height of the buildings on 666 AM radio? In that interview he flagged that a height limit of about three to five storeys would be appropriate. Why has he also not given a rolling commentary on the number of car parks, the traffic, the seating capacity, the procurement method or any other issue? Why did he simply choose the height?

There are issues with this process that are of the government’s making. It is well known that this government has its problems at the moment. It is a government that goes from announcement to announcement with no long-term plan. It is a government that no longer operates like a cabinet government but operates as a one-man, one-directorate show. We all know how the Chief Minister’s directorate meddles in everything and is a big vacuum where policies, initiatives and information from other agencies and other directorates go in and quite often nothing comes out.

The problems are not limited just to the internal systems. What about underlying integrity issues with the government? We all know about the Ms Fitzharris issues. We all know about this government’s very cosy relationship with certain lobbyists and consultants, as they are seen as the only way to get things done. We all know that this government is embroiled in various issues surrounding the Brumbies. And, of course, we all know about the dodgy deal with UnionsACT. Of course, there is much more to come.

This is a government that has integrity issues. The commonality for all these issues is a government which is complacent, a government with integrity issues, a government which is conducive to lobbyists and lobbying, a government which has had its day.

The Manuka green proposal depends on an unsolicited proposal framework which is administered properly and features impartial adjudication. Labor is not capable of this. Unfortunately, there is little to no confidence in the community that this Greens-backed Labor government can actually run this process through. Therefore, regardless of the merits or attributes of the Manuka green proposal, I have grave doubts that this government can fairly assess it.

I move:

After paragraph (1)(f), insert:
“(g) notes that new ideas and opportunities can arise out of unsolicited proposals;
(h) the Manuka Green proposal has included some ideas about how to improve the facilities at Manuka Oval for Canberra’s benefit;
(i) the Manuka Green proposal has elements which have been welcomed and others which have been controversial;
(j) the unsolicited proposals process requires an assessment by a government with integrity;
(k) the current ACT Labor Government is embroiled in a number of probity and integrity issues; and
(l) there is a lack of confidence that this Government will be able to fairly adjudicate any unsolicited proposal.”.