Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Heritage status of Parliament House


3.1        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

3.2        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'.[1]

3.3        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.[2]

3.4        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'.[3]

3.5        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.'[4]

3.6        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'.[5] Mr Giurgola went on to note: 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.[6]

3.7        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.[7] 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.[8]

3.8        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.[9]

3.9        The following discussion outlines proposal to protect heritage values of Parliament House.

Parliament House Advisory Panel

3.10      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.[10]

3.11      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.

3.12      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.[11]

3.13      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.

3.14      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.[12]

3.15      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.[13]

Heritage listing of Parliament House

3.16      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'.[14] These internal procedures included the development of an Interim Design Integrity Advisory Committee (IDIAC). Heritage processes under the JHD are discussed in chapter 4.

3.17      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.[15]

3.18      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 Community/Heritage Buildings.[16]

3.19      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.[17] The AHC formally agreed that Parliament House 'might have one or more National Heritage values and one or more Commonwealth Heritage values'.[18]

3.20      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.[19]

3.21      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.[20]

3.22      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 bear'.[21]

3.23      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 plan'.[22]

Application of the EPBC Act to Parliament House

3.24      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.

3.25      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.[23]

3.26      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.[24]

3.27      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.[25]

3.28      The advice from Blake Dawson included the following:

(i)             Parliament House is under the control and management of the Presiding Officers (not DPS, not the Secretary DPS).

(ii)            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).

(iii)          'actions' may be undertaken without approval under the EPBC Act if those actions fall within the scope of Parliament's right to administer its internal affairs.

(iv)           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.[26]

3.29      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 heritage provisions.[27]

3.30      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 Presiding Officers'.[28]

3.31      The definition of Parliamentary Administration is included in Attachment A of the Parliament House Heritage Management Framework. In part, it states:

Parliamentary Administration

The Presiding Officers note:

(i)       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).

(ii)     In administering its own affairs (including the control and management of buildings within the parliamentary precincts), Parliament is assisted by the three parliamentary departments.

(iii) Parliament is responsible for administering its internal affairs, including:

(v) Parliament retains the right to take decisions about its internal affairs unless and until there has been legislation that expressly transfers authority or limits decision-taking.

The Presiding Officers expect:


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.[29]

3.32      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.[30]

3.33      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.[31]

3.34      The committee notes, that although Parliament House itself is not heritage listed, the Parliament House vista is included in the Commonwealth Heritage List.[32] Parliament House has been listed by the International Union of Architects on its International Register of Significant World Architecture.[33]

Calls for the listing of Parliament House

3.35      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.[34]

3.36      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.[35]

3.37      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.[36] 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.[37]

3.38      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'.[38]

3.39      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: 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.[39]

3.40      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.[40]

3.41      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.[41]

3.42      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 government decision.[42]

3.43      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.[43]

Committee comments

3.44      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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