Geoscience Australia (GA) seeks approval from the Committee to proceed with the Main Building Refresh Project, Geoscience Australia Building, Symonston, ACT. The proposal is to refurbish and modernise the interior of the main building.
The estimated cost of the project is $17.5 million (excluding GST).
The project was referred to the Committee on 16 February 2017.
Conduct of the inquiry
Following referral, the inquiry was publicised on the Committee’s website and via media release.
The Committee received two submissions and one confidential submission. A list of submissions can be found at Appendix A.
On 31 March 2017, the Committee conducted a public and in-camera hearing. A transcript of the public hearing is available on the Committee’s website.
Need for the works
GA has occupied the Main Building since 1997 and since this time, there has been no significant fit–out works. In 2013, when GA renewed its lease until 2032, the new lease included an incentive from the building’s owner to fund a refresh of the interior space.
The lease includes a requirement to repaint every seven years and replace floor coverings every ten years. GA discussed this obligation at the public hearing, noting that ‘both jobs have been deferred well past the lease obligations’.
At the public hearing, GA told the Committee that the combination of a lease incentive, the age of the building and the opportunity to make other improvements has led to the works being proposed. GA stated:
The building and fit-out has performed well. … The existing fit out includes, for example, communications and cabling infrastructure that has not seen a significant upgrade since construction in 1997. Without an investment in the fit-out at this stage, it would be unsustainable through to the end of the lease in 2032 given it has already been in place for nearly 20 years.
GA’s submission noted the potential benefits of making improvements:
… employees now have access to LCD / LED monitors, smartphones, tablet PCs, mobile broadband and Wi-Fi networks, which all provide efficiencies that can be accessed more effectively by incorporating a more flexible design into a refreshed fit-out.
According to GA, the proposed fit-out is aimed at increasing occupational density to 14 square metres per occupied workpoint. At the public hearing, GA told the Committee:
The refresh design aims to provide an approximate built density of 13.55 square metres across the current 14,870 square metres of usable office area. Once the project is complete, it is likely that Geoscience Australia will have the opportunity to sublease at least an estimated 2,800 square metres within the main building, further improving density across the site. Staff and other stakeholders have been provided regular and varied opportunities to comment on the fit-out and continue to be consulted on a regular basis.
GA cited other issues prompting the works:
The fit out ensures the efficient and effective provision of services to the Australian Government, industry and other stakeholders.
Work health and safety issues need addressing.
Scope of the works
GA’s submission described the scope of the proposed works:
Demolition of internal walls to create an open floor plate in specific locations;
Removal and replacement of partition walls and bathroom cubicles;
Removal and replacement of doors, windows and screens;
Resurfacing of floor, wall and selected ceiling surfaces;
Installation of kitchen and bathroom amenities and fixtures;
Installation of joinery items;
Furniture, fittings, workstations and loose furniture;
Mechanical, electrical, communication and fire services.
In its submission, GA explained the rationale behind the proposed new workstation component of the works, stating that it would install an:
… improved fit-out to allow flexible workspaces that better take advantage of modern technologies and will facilitate the ability for mobile working within the building and improve the delivery of core services from the facility.
In support of its installation of new workstations, GA told the Committee that it constructed a ‘prototype area’, so that stakeholders ‘could provide direct feedback on particular elements of the design’. This prototype was completed in February 2017, and was funded separately to the Main Building refresh project.
A submission from the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) questioned some aspects of the proposed works on behalf of its members.
Specifically, CPSU stated that it was concerned that staff may have to work in cramped conditions so space can be set aside and subleased to a third party. Additionally, the CPSU told the Committee that it held concerns about situating staff in open plan space, as it may not be conducive to completing work or research tasks discreetly and undisturbed.
GA responded to this concern at the public hearing, indicating that staff and other stakeholders have been provided with ‘regular and varied opportunities to comment on the fit-out and continue to be consulted on a regular basis.’ In addition, GA noted that a prototype area had been created so direct feedback could be provided.
The CPSU submission also raised concerns about the work health and safety issues which exist at the current premises.
At the public hearing, GA provided further detail on the work health and safety issues:
Some of the areas that we have been looking at are in terms of rectifying any overarching issues associated with, for example, building code and disability code changes that have occurred since construction. For example, that would be increasing the number of bathroom facilities to the current code.
Finally, the CPSU was concerned that the project scope does not include plans to repair water damaged ceilings. GA told the Committee that small repairs to sections of ceiling affected by water damage would occur as part of routine maintenance activity.
Cost of the works
The project has a budget of $17.5 million. GA provided further detail on project costings in its confidential submission and during an in-camera hearing.
The Committee is satisfied that the costings for the project provided to it have been adequately assessed by the proponent entity.
The Committee has considered issues of concern and the information provided during the inquiry. Geoscience Australia should continue consulting with staff about changes to their work environment at the Main Building. The Committee is satisfied that the project has merit in terms of need, scope and cost.
Having regard to its role and responsibilities contained in the Public Works Committee Act 1969, the Committee is of the view that this project signifies value for money for the Commonwealth and constitutes a project which is fit for purpose, having regard to the established need.
The Committee recommends that the House of Representatives resolve, pursuant to Section 18(7) of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, that it is expedient to carry out the following proposed works: Main Building Refresh Project, Geoscience Australia Building, Symonston, ACT.
Proponent entities must notify the Committee of any changes to the project scope, time, cost, function or design. The Committee also requires that a post-implementation report be provided within three months of project completion. A report template can be found on the Committee’s website.