Heritage status of Parliament House
The committee received evidence which raised the issue of the long-term
protection of the design integrity and heritage values of Parliament House. In
particular, submitters were concerned that the concepts which were included in
the brief for the international competition were under threat as changes are
made to the building to meet the demands of occupants, including the increasing
number of people accommodated. This chapter covers the heritage status of
Parliament House, including the intentions of the original architects in
relation to the design integrity of the building and its assets and proposals
to list Parliament House under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation
Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
Design integrity and heritage values
The question of heritage management of Parliament House raises a wider
issue of the preservation of its heritage and cultural value over time and the
original Architect's intent for the building. In order to appreciate the
original intentions for the building, the committee was fortunate to be able to
speak with Mr Romaldo Giurgola, the Design Principal for Parliament House, and
members of the original design team, Mr Hal Guida and Ms Pamille Berg. The design
responsibility for Parliament House included 'not only the building's
conception, siting and architecture, but also the interior design, furniture
design, landscape, and our origination and coordination of the commissioned
Art/Craft Program for Parliament House'.
Mr Giurgola commented that his task, during design and construction, was
to focus on clarifying the principles that define the character and meaning of
the building. These design principles included:
...first, the significance of the building as a democratic
forum for the nation of Australia; second, making the process of government
visible and accessible to the public; third, the building design as a symbolic
sequence of spaces with reference to Australia's historical and cultural
evolution over time; and, finally, the design of Parliament House as a
workplace which was intended to enhance the health and wellbeing of all
occupants, which I think is important because it becomes a model for everyone
to look to.
Mr Giurgola concluded 'it is the integrated whole which
must be understood and preserved within the inevitable process of adjustment
and change which will continue to occur throughout the building's 200-year
lifespan as required by the Parliament's original Brief'.
Ms Pamille Berg also drew attention to the need to maintain the design
intent and integrity of Parliament House over the long-term. She stressed that:
It is not simply a task of saying, 'As long as the flagpole
doesn't disappear off the top of the building and the forecourt does not have
cars parked in it, we're okay.' This is a building which was briefed and
conceived not just to last 200 years but, so importantly, it was a building
about which the brief said to the international design competition
participants: 'This building must carry meaning. It must carry content. It must
carry deep and enduring and multivalent symbolism.'
Mr Giurgola highlighted that the building has now reached a critical
time for its survival intact, including 'the essential and subtle design,
symbolic, and functional relationships inherent within and among its
architecture, interior design, landscape design, designated functions,
furnishings, art program and precincts'.
Mr Giurgola went on to note:
...it is neither very new, which is a time in any building's
life when change is usually resisted, nor old enough to be innately and widely
valued for considered, careful preservation.
The design brief for the building anticipated that some areas of the
building would remain unchanged, while other areas would be subject to change
in the face of changing requirements and technology.
The Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) acknowledged the challenge to:
...preserve the design integrity of the building, and its other
heritage values, while making progressive changes to respond to evolving needs
of the Parliament.
Mr Giurgola submitted to the committee that, after 25 years, appropriate
mechanisms are not yet to be put in place and stated:
Neither the Parliament nor the nation has yet exercised the
urgent responsibility of putting in place the essential strategic policy
framework and professional management-of-change processes capable of preserving
the complex value of this remarkable project for the nation.
The following discussion outlines proposal to protect heritage values of
Parliament House Advisory Panel
In its annual report for 1989–90, the Parliament House Construction
Authority (PHCA) noted that over time, changes to the building will be required
to meet the emerging needs of the building's occupants. The PHCA commented that
'where change is ultimately deemed necessary, it should be carried out in a way
which protects the overall design integrity'. The PHCA noted that it had been proposed
that an advisory panel be established to monitor and advise on proposed changes
to the building.
In November 1989, the House of Representatives agreed to a motion moved
by the then Minister for Administrative Services, the Hon Stewart West MP, to
establish a Parliament House Advisory Panel. Panel members would be appointed from
both Houses including the relevant responsible minister. The chair was to be eminent
current or former member.
It was proposed that the panel would advise the Presiding Officers on
proposals for significant works in Parliament House having regard to
appropriate advice. Mr West stated that 'in this way, expert professional
advice can be obtained on the potential effects of the works involved on the
design of the building. The motion recognises that the effects of works on the
architectural and aesthetic integrity of Parliament House will need to be
considered.' The Presiding Officers were to table reports on proposals together
with statements on intended actions.
In moving the motion, Mr West commented on the significance of the
building and the responsibilities of the Parliament to protect the building
while ensuring its dual role as a functioning Parliament and a premier national
asset were met. Mr West stated:
We as members of this Parliament have a trust as significant
as almost any other we hold as the embodiment of Australia's political
democracy. That trust is to the people of Australia to ensure we preserve what
we have built here on Capital Hill. Since the decision to embark on this
ambitious project was first taken 11 years ago, both Houses of Parliament have
worked hard to ensure the outcome that we and all Australians enjoy. Both
Houses of Parliament have approved the designs and the development of those
designs for the building and its distinctive landscaped precincts. They have
not been the decisions of governments or bureaucrats or architects or anyone
else–only the decisions of this and previous Parliaments.
It was the design approved by the Parliament which has been
built; and it is that design we now hold in trust on behalf of the people of
Australia. We must, of course, recognise that the building is two things: it is
first a functioning Parliament and as such like any other operating entity it
must grow and adapt to the changing requirements of the Parliament; secondly,
it is a significant asset in our national heritage and as such its design must
be protected to ensure its value as a national heritage asset is neither
diminished nor destroyed.
It was the Government's belief that, together with Parliament,
it had a responsibility to maintain and protect the high professional standards
set and attained during the design and construction of this building. It was
this belief which led to the Government seeking to provide for an expert panel
to advise Parliament on proposed changes to the building. It has also been the
Government's belief that no body of people or organisation other than the
Houses of Parliament themselves should be able to decide on works that might
have a significant impact on the design of the building and its precincts.
Mr West concluded:
As originally intended by the Government, the Houses of
Parliament remain as the bodies ultimately responsible for and able to take
decisions on works proposals with a potential to make a significant impact on
the architectural and aesthetic integrity of Parliament House.
While the motion was passed by the House of Representatives, it was
eventually withdrawn in the Senate on 15 August 1991. In commenting on the
proposal in June 1989, the then President, Senator the Hon. Kerry Sibraa,
stated that he and the Speaker had 'serious reservations' about the proposal.
Heritage listing of Parliament House
The heritage status of Parliament House was raised in the mid-1990s. DPS
provided information on the range of proposals for heritage listing of
Parliament House. In 1995, the Australian Heritage Commission (AHC) proposed the
inclusion of Parliament House on the Register of the National Estate. This
proposal was not supported by the Presiding Officers 'on the grounds that the
Joint House Department [JHD] was establishing its own internal procedures for
protecting the design integrity of the building'.
These internal procedures included the development of an Interim Design
Integrity Advisory Committee (IDIAC). Heritage processes under the JHD are
discussed in chapter 4.
A further proposal by the chair of the AHC in October 2003 for the
building to be included on the Register of the National Estate was again not
supported by the Presiding Officers on the grounds that the Commission and its
enabling legislation were about to be replaced.
Following amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation
Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in January 2004, National and Commonwealth Heritage
lists were created. In June 2004, Parliament House and its surrounds were
nominated for the National Heritage List by the Australian Institute of
Architects. The Australian Institute of Architects provided the reasons for the
nomination of Parliament House for heritage listing:
The Institute considers the Parliament House building and
associated landscape to be of outstanding architectural merit and worthy of
national and international recognition for its heritage values. The design
excellence has been recognised by the Institute through a number of awards,
particularly the National Sir Zelman Cowan Award in 1989 and the awarding of
the Institute's Gold-Medal to Romaldo Giurgola in 1988. The Institute's citation
and statement of significance for the place can be viewed on our website under
A preliminary assessment for listing was undertaken by the AHC in 2005.
It reported that Parliament House 'with its flagmast is Australia's national
icon of democracy'. Parliament House was found to have outstanding heritage
value in all criteria used in the assessment.
The AHC formally agreed that Parliament House 'might have one or more National
Heritage values and one or more Commonwealth Heritage values'.
The AHC requested comment from the Presiding Officers who responded that
they wished to obtain legal advice on the effects of including Parliament House
on the heritage lists. Following advice from the Australian Government
Solicitor (AGS), in March 2006, the Presiding Officers responded to the then Minister
for Environment and Heritage that 'we are of the view that it is both
undesirable and unnecessary for Parliament House to be listed at this stage'.
The Presiding Officers also noted that:
...significant changes to the building already require both
parliamentary approval and approval from the National Capital Authority. We
believe that, over the last 18 years, these requirements have operated
satisfactorily to strike the appropriate balance between the needs of a working
Parliament in a changing society on one hand, and the protection of
architectural and other values on the other, and we also believe that those
requirements will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
We do not feel it is appropriate for the nation's Parliament
House, the management of which is by law vested in the Presiding Officers, not
the Government, to be placed under a regime whereby the permission of a
Minister in the executive government of the day will be required in relation to
a variety of building management decisions. We believe that the procedures
already in place under the Parliament Act 1974 and other legislation for
managing significant works are appropriate.
Responding to the Presiding Officers, the Minister commented that AHC's assessment
'provides compelling arguments for Parliament House and Surrounds inclusion on
the National and Commonwealth Heritage lists'. The Minister noted that
Parliament House was subject to the provisions of the EPBC Act and suggested
that it may be possible to list the building and implement management
arrangements without a significant additional burden.
In May 2006, the Presiding Officers confirmed their view that heritage
listing 'at this stage would impose an inappropriate constraint on the
management of Parliament House as the home of a functioning Parliament, and an
inappropriate burden on our departments which they are not currently funded to
In August 2006, DPS received further correspondence from the Department
of the Environment and Heritage noting that legal advice indicated that
Parliament House was already subject to the provisions of the EPBC Act in
relation to actions on Commonwealth land, actions by a Commonwealth Agency and
the requirement to prepare a heritage strategy. It was stated that given these
requirements, 'National and Commonwealth Heritage listing would not impose any
additional obligations, apart from the requirement to prepare a management
Application of the EPBC Act to
As outlined above, correspondence from both the then Minister for the
Environment and Heritage in April 2006 and the then Department of the
Environment and Heritage in August 2006 stated that Parliament House is subject
to the Commonwealth agency provisions of the EPBC Act.
As part of the heritage considerations detailed above, in January and
March 2006, AGS provided advice to DPS that 'Parliament House would be subject
to the Heritage provisions of the EPBC Act and that the Secretary of DPS is
probably a "Commonwealth agency" (under the EPBC Act) and has control
of Parliament House'. However, the then Secretary of DPS, Ms Hillary Penfold,
was concerned that if the advice was accepted, the authority to make decisions
would be transferred from Parliament to an arm of executive government. DPS
noted that the Presiding Officers concurred with this view.
In response to the advice from AGS, DPS proceeded to formulate a
heritage strategy for Parliament House as required under section 341ZA of the
EBPC Act. The AHC noted:
The heritage strategy is a commitment by an agency to
identify and manage its heritage assets within its overall property planning
and management framework. There is also a general obligation (s.341Z) for
Commonwealth agencies to assist the Environment Minister and [Australian
Heritage] Council in the identification, assessment and monitoring of a place's
Commonwealth Heritage values.
In reviewing the draft heritage strategy in November 2008, the then
Secretary, Mr Alan Thompson, raised concerns about 'the possible transfer of
decision-making from the Parliament to the executive government'. DPS sought
advice from Blake Dawson lawyers and noted that:
...more recent advice indicated that in accordance with the Parliamentary
Precincts Act 1988, Parliament House is under the control and management of
the Presiding Officers. The same advice notes that the Presiding Officers are
not Commonwealth agencies.
The advice from Blake Dawson included the following:
Parliament House is under the control and management of the Presiding
Officers (not DPS, not the Secretary DPS).
The Presiding Officers are not 'Commonwealth agencies' and are therefore
not subject to some of the EPBC Act obligations on Commonwealth agencies
(including the obligation to prepare a Heritage Strategy).
'actions' may be undertaken without approval under the EPBC Act if those
actions fall within the scope of Parliament's right to administer its
Parliament has the right to 'administer its own affairs' and this takes
precedence over the EPBC Act. The relevant existing Parliamentary legislation
is the Parliamentary Precincts Act 1988 and the Parliament Act 1974.
In response to this advice, DPS reported that the Presiding Officers:
...considered that the obligations under the EPBC Act for
Parliament House were an issue for the management of heritage in the building
and asked the three parliamentary service departments to develop a broad
definition of parliamentary administration to clarify the authority of the
Presiding Officers in relation to heritage management.
The Presiding Officers also reserve[d] the option of seeking
amendments to the EPBC Act to exempt Parliament House from its most onerous
DPS went on to state that it had consulted with the Chamber departments
(the Senate and House of Representatives) 'about a definition of parliamentary
administration and a draft Heritage Management Framework, accountable to the
The definition of Parliamentary Administration is included in Attachment
A of the Parliament House Heritage Management Framework. In part, it
The Presiding Officers note:
The authority for the Australian
Parliament to administer its own affairs comes primarily from the Australian
Constitution (particularly sections 49 and 50), the Parliamentary
Privileges Act 1987, the Parliament Act 1974 (section 5) and the Parliamentary
Precincts Act 1988 (section 6).
In administering its own affairs
(including the control and management of buildings within the parliamentary
precincts), Parliament is assisted by the three parliamentary departments.
is responsible for administering its internal affairs, including:
supporting both Houses and their
Parliamentarians and their staff;
maintaining the buildings, landscapes,
and objects; and
securing the safety of building
occupants, visitor and the buildings...
retains the right to take decisions about its internal affairs unless and until
there has been legislation that expressly transfers authority or limits
2 That parliamentary administration and operation are not
subject to government policy without the express and separate approval of each
House of Parliament.
3 That the Parliamentary Service departments will plan and
deliver services on the basis of "good corporate citizenship". This
would include services such as...landscape and gardening; building fabric
services; information and technology services (including communications);
visitor support services; and human resources and financial support.
At the Budget Estimates hearing of May 2011, Mr Thompson confirmed that
there was no heritage listing of Parliament House 'at this stage'. Mr Thompson
went on to state that:
...there has been some interest out of the environment
department in the heritage status of this building. Our reading of the
legislation is that it is a building responsible to the two presiding officers
who are not caught up in the environment department's legislation. We are at
the moment developing our own heritage plan for the building but we do not
believe it is subject to the heritage processes.
This view was reaffirmed in correspondence from the Department of
Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities in September
2011 which noted that 'Parliament House is under the control and management of
the Presiding Officers who have the authority to administer the House's own
affairs under a number of parliamentary Acts'. As a result, DPS as a
Commonwealth agency is not obliged to prepare a Heritage Strategy or subject to
other heritage provision of the EPBC Act.
The committee notes, that although Parliament House itself is not
heritage listed, the Parliament House vista is included in the Commonwealth
Parliament House has been listed by the International Union of Architects on
its International Register of Significant World Architecture.
Calls for the listing of Parliament
While it is clear that Parliament House does not fall within the scope
of the EPBC Act, submitters argued that it should do so. The International
Union of Architects, for example, stated:
Parliament House is recognised for its outstanding heritage
values, not only for the building itself, also for the wonderful, specially
commissioned artworks and its spectacular setting. The Department of
Parliamentary Services should promote this complex in its entirety as strongly
as possible so that it is entered onto Australia's National Heritage List.
The benefits of the listing of Parliament House were outlined by Mr Paul
Cohen in his submission as crystallising the heritage values into a set of
written statements that allow Australians at large to appreciate the heritage
value of their Parliament House; conservation is based on an established
statutory system; independent review and overview to ensure that the
conservation process is not subjugated by the normal operational demands on the
agency responsible for the place; professional input that ensures that the
heritage management plan is effective in the short, medium and long term; and
provision of a transparent and open process allowing the Australian community
to participate in the evaluation phase of registration.
The Walter Burley Griffin Society's submission was scathing of the
approach adopted by DPS towards heritage management of Parliament House and its
contents. The Society viewed as 'unacceptable' DPS's 'unilateral action', based
on the Blake Dawson legal advice, to determine that Parliament House would not
be subject to the heritage provisions of the EPBC Act.
Both the Walter Burley Griffin Society and the National Trust pointed out that listing
would provide a statutory requirement to prepare a heritage management plan requiring
public consultation and would provide statutory protection for Parliament House.
The Walter Burley Griffin Society raised concerns with the failure to list
the building on two grounds. First, that it was not until evidence was given to
the committee that it became clear that legal advice to DPS had indicated that
Parliament was not subject to the EPBC Act. Professor James Weirick, President,
Walter Burley Griffin Society, commented 'only when we saw that did we
understand the impediment to moving forward what we thought was a very sensible
and important nomination'.
Secondly, the Society voiced concern with the use of the 'separation of
powers' argument to resist extension of the EPBC Act to Parliament House. The
Society noted that 'separation of powers' had not affected the heritage listing
of the Houses of Parliament, Westminster (listed under the Planning (Listed
Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as well as the UNESCO World Heritage
List) or the United States Capitol (a National Landmark under Historic Sites
Act 1935). The Society stated:
...in both instances, the statutory heritage listing of these
legislative buildings is subject to executive oversight, an arrangement that
brings the heritage management of these places in conformity with all other
listed places in their respective nations, and has provoked no significant
constitutional crises over the years.
The Walter Burley Griffin Society concluded:
The most simple and practical strategy would be to bring
Parliament House under the provisions of the EPBC Act, and for Parliament House
to be inscribed on the National Heritage List in accordance with the nomination
submitted by the Australian Institute of Architects in 2004.
Mr Eric Martin, President, National Trust, suggested that the listing
could be easily achieved and should be 'for the parliament to set best practice'.
He went on to state:
...if each House of Parliament were to support this nomination
and work within the controls that are under the EPBC Act, in my opinion that
minor issue can be overcome. But I believe it is a problem between the Parliament
and the department.
Mr Russell Grove, Acting Secretary, DPS, responded to calls for the
listing of Parliament House and stated:
...over a long period of time...[the] Presiding Officers have
taken the view that Parliament House should not be listed and subject to
executive government decision. That is sort of a fundamental principle...But, as
you would appreciate from the evidence given this morning, these people feel
very passionately about these issues, to the same extent that perhaps Presiding
Officers have up until now felt very passionate about the fact that the
building should not be on the Heritage List and therefore subject to executive
Ms Judy Tahapehi, Director, DPS, added that DPS has consulted the Department
of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities:
One of the things we have also been working towards with them
is any alterations to the EPBC Act which will allow the parliament to be listed
but still remain within the administration of the Presiding Officers. We are
also working towards that. That will enable us to do listing in the future but
still enable the Presiding Officers to maintain administration.
The committee acknowledges the concerns of the Presiding Officers
regarding the listing of Parliament House and possible executive government
interference in parliamentary decision making processes. The committee notes
the evidence from DPS that there are consultations underway to seek a way to
list Parliament House but still allow for the Presiding Officers' role in its administration.
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