Local, Independant and Effective

Second reading - Albury Wodonga Development Corporation Abolition Bill

Posted October 23, 2014


CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (10:21):  I rise today to speak about the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2014. I would also like to acknowledge my colleague the Minister for Small Business: how lovely it is to have you in the House. In his book The experiment: Imagining the Albury-Wodonga National Growth Centre, Bruce Pennay states, 'On its instigation in 1973, the Albury-Wodonga National Growth Centre experiment was hailed as a novel and imaginative project.'

It was a pilot scheme that was extended to influence the urban settlement patterns right around Australia. It was a 'bold venture', a brave attempt, to solve a longstanding problem. It involved three governments working cooperatively on an 'exciting adventure'.

Today we are about to abolish the corporation; but, before we do that, it is important to take the time to look back on the history and purpose of the corporation. Most importantly today, I would like to acknowledge all the good work done by key stakeholders and individuals in the life and deeds of the corporation. Also, as a parliament we must talk about how we can continue the grand vision of those parliamentarians of the 1970s.

The story of the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation is a political story. It is also a community story and, for me, it is a very personal story. Albury-Wodonga is my local community and its growth and development have in many ways matched mine. I was 21 when it was established and, 40 years later, it is with a degree of sadness that I stand in this House and make this speech, because, in saying goodbye, I am not convinced that we have clarity on the way forward.

As the previous speaker mentioned, on Tuesday in this House we acknowledged the work of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. We spoke of his vision and his commitment to regional development. Together with Tom Uren and Malcolm Fraser, he saw the need for urban policies and complementary regional policies which would, together, relieve the pressure on our cities and create demand for regional living. Forty years later, I believe many of the reasons for establishing 'the Corporation', as it became known, still exist.

The corporation may well have been the tool created to drive the experiment, but the Albury-Wodonga growth centre experiment was about stretching hands across a border. It was about people coming together as a community to be more effective and efficient in how they lived their lives. Delivering the vision and the agreement was a community process desperately wanted by our local councils and by the community. As the previous speaker explained, in 1974 a tripartite agreement between the Australian government and the states of New South Wales and Victoria resulted in the creation of the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation. The initial role was to plan and develop Albury and Wodonga into a major inland city by the turn of the century; and, to assist in achieving the objectives, large tracts of land were compulsorily acquired in the Albury-Wodonga region with funds provided by the Australian government. The state corporations held title to the land and were responsible for land acquisition, management and disposal. With the passage of this bill, all the remaining land passes back to the Commonwealth.

In 1989, the partner governments changed the emphasis and direction of the Albury-Wodonga project. The development corporation's new role was to promote and foster growth and development, including economic development, in the region. The Australian government also required the corporation to provide monetary returns on the investment generated by property development on sales acquisition and the disposal of land. So we had to pay our way.

In 1995, the Australian government called for an accelerated rate of return on its investment through the sale of all corporation assets over a period of five years. But, responding to community pressure, in 1997 the ministerial council reviewed the decision to dispose of land and the rate of return was not achievable. The council recognised that market forces would ultimately determine the pace and amount of return from asset disposal. The council agreed that the corporation would retain responsibility for asset disposal. The council also confirmed that the two state governments would seek to withdraw from the project once appropriate legislation could be enacted.

Legislative changes to enable the winding-up of the joint government scheme for the development of Albury-Wodonga and the withdrawal of state governments were finalised in early 2004. The state corporations were dissolved on 1 March 2004 and all their assets, obligations and liabilities were transferred to the development corporation for ongoing management, development and disposal.

In June 2005, the government announced that the corporation would exit its land development activities by completing current work in progress over the ensuing 12 months. The corporation was to then concentrate on the sale of land, with strategic input from an advisory committee consisting of representatives of state governments, local councils, local business and the local community, over a 10-year period. In recognition of its withdrawal from land development activities, the corporation now operates with the business name Albury-Wodonga Corporation.

The Australian Government announced in the 2014 federal budget that it would implement a policy by 1 July 2015 of ceasing the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation, with remaining property management functions consolidated into the Department of Finance.

Now to talk of achievements. The corporation provided significant cash returns to the Commonwealth government. The corporation's 2012-13 annual report lists $100,746,477 returned to the Commonwealth government over the period 2007-8 to 2012-13—not an inconsiderable return on investment. The original land purchases and acquisitions by the corporation totalled approximately 24,000 hectares—9,000 hectares in New South Wales and 15,000 hectares in my state of Victoria.

There are other key achievements which I would like to have recognised by the parliament—and I would like to acknowledge the current CEO of the corporation, Peter Veneris, and also the Parliamentary Library. In its time the corporation developed over 6,000 residential lots in 27 different housing estates. It developed and placed on the market 2,481 home sites in and around Albury and 2,317 in Wodonga. It established nine industrial estates with serviced industrial lots. In addition to the sale of land to the private sector, the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation sold or provided land for a broad range of sites for community, educational, service, sporting and utility uses. It built over 500 short-term urban rental houses on the estates in Albury and Wodonga. These houses were built as part of a transitional accommodation scheme for key employees moving to the area.

The corporation planted over three million trees and shrubs in the area, in one of the biggest urban reafforestation programs ever undertaken in Australia. It transferred approximately 3,700 hectares of land to state and local governments for environmental purposes. Included in these transfers were approximately 1,100 hectares of environmentally sensitive land identified in three threatened species conservation strategies commissioned by the corporation. Having regard to the Australian government's requirement that the corporation dispose of its land assets, the corporation agreed to transfer those lands identified in the threatened species conservation strategies to state and local governments with an agreed level of funding for future management totalling approximately $11 million. The corporation also provided significant in-kind financial support for economic development organisations and various community groups.

At its peak in 1975-76 the corporation employed over 100 staff. I would like to acknowledge the local leadership of the corporation, including current board members Dr Andrew Watson, who is the interim chairperson, Carol Judd and the previous chairperson, Bill Hanrahan. Mr Hanrahan's term as chairperson expired on 31 December 2013 after he had spent 17 years in the role. I would particularly like to note the work of Angela Munro, a mentor to me who gave outstanding leadership to our community. Previous CEOs included Ron Dennis and Brian Scantlebury. In the early years, and prior to adopting the corporate model of a board and CEO, there was a full-time chairperson, Gordon Craig; deputy chairperson, New South Wales, Richard Howell; and deputy chairperson, Victoria, Mel Read. I would like to acknowledge their contribution. There were of course numerous other board members during the past 40 years of the corporation's existence. And to all the Albury-Wodonga councils and shires and their staff, thank you for your work.

As noted earlier in this speech, I grew up with the vision of Albury-Wodonga, and in my professional life became an active player in the development of this region. It is because of the corporation that I eventually chose to make this area my home. I was attracted to its commitment to regional development and the importance of infrastructure, quality education, transport, jobs and manufacturing industries—and manufacturing continues to be the largest employment sector in Wodonga, employing 13.5 per cent of the workforce—as well as its commitment to parks, bike tracks, landscapes and hills covered in bush, wonderful sporting facilities, community hubs, excellent health services, a fine arts community and a wonderful multicultural society. It makes my life a pleasure to live in Albury-Wodonga.

Talking of a great place to live, this is an aspect of the corporation which I particularly want to acknowledge: its commitment to community engagement and development and building social capital. Some wonderful women taught me and us the skills of community development and community building—how to welcome people and bring them into your community with wonderful welcome packs, how to introduce people to neighbourhood houses and how to use education as a tool of community engagement. These women understood connectivity. They understood belonging. They totally understood that it is people who make a community. To Kath Davies, to Shirley Rutherford, to Liz Waters, a most sincere thankyou.

Strong communities are a feature of Albury-Wodonga and region, and so too is our commitment to preserving and enhancing the environment—the hills, the river, the creeks, the flood plains and the regional parklands and recreational lakes that have been created. For all this, I would like to acknowledge and thank Sue Campbell, an amazing landscape architect. I know others were involved, but, Sue, you and your team have given us a magnificent legacy.

In closing this chapter in the lives of the community of Albury-Wodonga, it is important that I remind this parliament that the work of building the community and building regional Australia is not done. Many of the reasons for this most visionary intervention by government still exist. Our border anomalies are too many to mention. The New South Wales government, to its credit, has employed a commissioner to address these anomalies. I believe it is time for the Victorian and Commonwealth governments to consider matching this appointment so that serious work can be done on the many outrageous red-tape barriers. Our need, as a community, to constantly battle the authorities based in Melbourne, Sydney and even here in Canberra takes up far too much of our time, energy and resources—most recently with the announcement of the boundaries of the Primary Health Networks and my question to the Minister for Health on Monday. We are better than this. We should do better.

I am here to remind all governments that Albury-Wodonga is one community, that the river is not our defining feature and that we expect governments to respect our need and our desire to work collaboratively and cooperatively. And, to the future, what is the legacy we will put in place for the next generation of regional Australians, our children's children? I call on this parliament to begin work on serious policies for regional cities—policies to enhance regional living; a clear vision for a decentralised country linked by excellent transport infrastructure, both rail and road; access to mobile phone and telecommunications coverage so that, wherever we are in the country, we can use our phones; measures to ensure that our educational outcomes are equal to those of our city cousins and that we have strong regional employment opportunities powered by innovation and creativity.

In closing, I put this challenge to the parliament. In the 1970s, it was Gough and Malcolm. Today, can Bill and Tony and Albo and Warren and Barnaby do in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 what our ancestors did in the 1970s, or will it take more Cathys, Tonys, Robs, Andrews, Rickys and Johns to be elected to this place as Independents for the serious wake-up call to be heard?

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