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4 Aug 2016

ASER (Restructure) (Facilitation of Riverbank Development) Amendment Bill

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 16:38 ): I rise to speak to the ASER (Restructure) (Facilitation of Riverbank Development) Amendment Bill 2016. I speak on behalf of my Liberal colleagues. The Liberal Party is seeking information on the Riverbank project. It has not been provided to date. As a consequence, the Liberal Party has formed the view that it cannot support the passage of the bill at the third reading without it having had an opportunity to consider the information requested. The Liberal Party will support the second reading and going into committee.

The bill seeks to amend the ASER (Restructure) Act 1997 to enable the initial construction works for the redevelopment of the Festival Plaza Precinct to commence. The original act was passed by the former government to create specific arrangements for the ongoing management of the site. In particular, the act allows for individual leases and commercial interests on the site, as well as shared management and common facilities and services. Just prior to the 2014 state election, the government announced a commitment to redeveloping the precinct. The government also announced that an agreement had been reached between the state government and the Walker group.

The government asserts that the passing of this bill is required to allow the redevelopment to proceed, thereby allowing the government to fulfil its contractual commitments to the Walker group. The government is to contribute $180 million and the Walker Corporation is to contribute in the order of $430 million to the development. The government contribution comprises of $90 million to the Adelaide Festival Centre upgrade, $30 million to the Adelaide Festival Centre car park, and $60 million to the public realm and surroundings.

As I understand it, the Labor government has entered into a contractual arrangement with the Walker group, which has previously been granted certain rights as the government’s preferred partner for the redevelopment of the plaza site. The Walker group has the right to build a new commercial office tower and a retail development. The Riverbank Authority has been tasked with facilitating the design, engaging with stakeholders and taking oversight of the project. There is also an agreement with the Casino operators SkyCity regarding the Casino expansion.

I have reviewed the concept visuals and we were advised that there has been some positive feedback. Given the government’s notorious record on public engagement, I do not place much faith in the processes capturing the public’s mood. The project envisages a complete redevelopment of the Festival Plaza and Station Road precinct. The development includes a plaza and a uniting footbridge (I am not sure what other type of bridge there is given that a bridge must span two sides), a public realm with artwork, water features and interactive spaces, restaurants, and cafes and bars (perhaps an area where there can be the potential to be a declared public precinct, something we will debate later when we reconvene), the redevelopment of the Elder Park frontage of the Festival Centre and a 24-storey office building.

Some of the words used to describe the design concept for the proposal upon completion are ‘a place of discovery’; it will contain ‘delights and divisions and showcase the best SA has to offer’; ‘a compelling destination’; ‘an engaging place that welcomes people from all walks of life’; ‘an event-ready space—a place that offers a different experience every time, that celebrates the seasons, and is brought to life by a balance of curated and spontaneous activities.’

Yet amongst all these wonderful epitaphs, commercial realities will prevail as they always inevitably do. A large office tower will overshadow the precinct and this parliament. Land will be made available to expand activities to facilitate gambling. It is ironic that the commercial necessities of making available prime real estate to developers will result in a tower that overlooks the house of the people. If built, it will be a symbol of this government placing the commercial needs of developers over and above the needs of the people it serves. It will be a temple to poor public accountability and poor development and a perverted vision of what is in the public’s interest.

From the recent examples of pitiful public architecture in this city, I personally find it difficult to believe that the stated aesthetic ambitions will actually be achieved. Public architecture in this state in recent memory is firmly founded on mediocrity and has in recent tradition given birth to creations that are scarred with an uninspiring and unimaginative aesthetic. Let us hope that beyond the conceptual drawings what will actually be created will be world class rather than a poor copy of a soulless Melbourne outer suburb shopping mall.

The designs appear to have been conceived in the abstract without any homage to the cultural and historical heritage or the traditions of the city. There appears to be no concession in the design to meet the needs of the society that the area is meant to serve. This is made abundantly clear from the trite and overused expressions used to describe the concept design. There is no heart and soul in the design. The only design concept that is clearly apparent is the economic calculations of the developers.

There is no worship of beauty and the best our society has to offer. The design is not culturally rich, inclusive or relevant to the state and its past and future peoples; rather, it is sterile and reminds me of shopping precincts the world over. There appears to be no ambition to make it distinct and embody all that is excellent in South Australia. When completed, it is unlikely to be a Gestalt; it is global but it is not timeless.

In order to enable the construction works on the site to commence, the bill will permit increasing the development site to accommodate the SkyCity expansion and plaza; temporary suspension of ancillary rights to allow works to proceed; restructuring of leases and ancillary property rights in the area following completion of the project; and renaming the act the ‘Riverbank Act’ because it will encompass a much larger area of ultimate consideration in precinct master planning and the like.

The opposition accepts that the amendments to the act as contained in the bill will, if enacted, facilitate the development of the proposal. At the same time, the development could proceed with each party to the development entering into a series of contractual undertakings. I note therefore that the legislation is not technically necessary, but the various stakeholders consider it desirable and have requested the same.

The Liberal opposition has requested certain information contained in the development. This information has not been forthcoming. The Liberal opposition does not believe the bill should pass into law until the release of this information and an opportunity to digest and debate the same. Until this information is provided, we will oppose the passage of the bill. Our position has not changed since it was articulated in the other place by the shadow attorney, the member for Bragg. The government has failed to disclose three significant pieces of critical information:

•the contract between Walker Corporation and the government;

•particulars of the proposed announcement by the Premier of a new art gallery; and

•correspondence between Mr Walker and the former minister for planning and urban development.

The last item has been the subject of an initially successful FOI application by the member for Bragg in the other place, yet it is still to be released.

This project is an important endeavour by the state. It involves the giving up of uniquely located state land, as well as a considerable monetary investment in the name of the people. The project involves contractual relationships with the Walker Corporation and the Casino. Full and frank disclosure of the arrangements should be made to the parliament to ensure that principles of transparency and accountability are upheld. It cannot be said that in recent memory the government has had a good record on large commercial arrangements.

One only needs to consider, more recently, the Gillman transaction and the difficulties surrounding that transaction, and the fact that the ICAC commissioner made findings in relation to two bureaucrats for maladministration. This does not provide the opposition with a great deal of faith in the government’s management of large projects, particularly those approvals that it wishes to hurry through this place. With those comments, I complete my remarks.

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