Legislative Council

GOVERNMENT BILL: Adelaide Riverbank Development

August 4th, 2016

On the 4th of August 2016, Mark spoke in opposition to the ASER (Restructure) (Facilitation of Riverbank Development) Amendment Bill 2016.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: In the 1980s, the Adelaide Station and Environs Redevelopment, or the ASER project, led to unprecedented changes in public land use in Adelaide. Of course, over many years, the Parklands had previously been redeveloped in some areas for public use, particularly the institutional uses along North Terrace. The minister makes this point in his second reading speech, but I will refer to that later. What made the ASER project so controversial were the major and overt commercial activities that were allowed on the public Parklands. This included the long-term alienation of public land and public buildings for the Adelaide Casino, the Hyatt Hotel, the Riverside office complex and the Convention Centre.

The government is now proposing for that trend to continue, with further alienations and effective privatisations. The bill before us purports to be a fairly routine suite of practical measures that will make the redevelopment of the Riverbank Precinct proceed more smoothly. The bill will clarify the complex web of access and other property rights that exist amongst the various lessees and stakeholders. However, despite that fairly benign purpose, the elephant in the room is the redevelopment of the Festival Plaza Precinct itself and whether this is in the best interests of the people of South Australia. In my view, it is not.
That is not to say that elements of the Festival Plaza redevelopment are not without merit. Like the curate's egg, parts of it are quite good. I, for one, have said to anyone who will listen that I welcome the bulldozer down on the Festival Plaza. I think it is an area that is underused, poorly designed and could be greatly improved. However, the good elements of the redevelopment are overshadowed by the dodgy deals and the inappropriate privatisation of some of the most important public spaces in Adelaide.

I will say that I am not a Johnny-come-lately to this issue. In fact, I think I am the only member of parliament who has made public submissions in writing and in person to the Development Assessment Commission in relation to this development. It is something that I have followed very closely. The Greens do not support the further alienation of the Parklands for exclusive private development. We do not support the Walker Corporation office tower proposed for the land behind Old Parliament House. We do not support giving yet more public land to the Casino. So, why would we support this bill?

I would like to explore the Casino issue first. The bill proposes to expand the area of public land available to the Casino for its proposed expansion. The area of land involved is an irregularly shaped piece to the north of the existing Casino and railway station building heading towards Torrens Lake. This is additional public land which is part of the Adelaide Parklands that is being alienated for the Casino.

As members would recall, the Casino expansion will include 500 new poker machines and 110 extra gaming tables. This is particularly concerning when one considers that casino gamblers are three times more likely to be problem gamblers and moderate-risk gamblers than other punters. Furthermore, the prevalence of problem gambling associated with electronic gaming machines (pokies) is directly related to the accessibility and availability of pokies.

The question for the Greens is whether or not we should vote for measures that make the Casino expansion more likely to proceed, with all its inherent community harm. I think the point is well made by the Adelaide Park Lands Preservation Association, who make the very simple but telling point that there are thousands of casinos around the world, but only one city surrounded by a park. Not surprisingly, the government has anticipated this objection, which is why the minister, in his lengthy second reading contribution, listed all the existing alienations of the Adelaide Parklands. I will not go through them all but the minister says:

… it is important to address arguments put by some that th is represents an alienation of P arklands to commercial interests. Nothing about this project represents anything extraordinary in terms of  the institutional zone in the Park lands. 

All along North Terrace, what was once open park lands has been developed to support a range of public and private interests. All of this is entirely consistent with the park lands legislation and with the long-term patte rns of use of this part of the park  lands. 

The minister goes on to read an extensive list:

Two universities, a hospital and new health care precinct, an office building, a convention centre, a gym, a zoo, a cemetery, two railway stations, a school and soon to be another, two major sporting arenas, a wine centre complex, an organic nursery … 

And it goes on. I think the point to make about that is that effectively what the government is saying is that the future direction of the Parklands should be a continuation of the past, with each generation alienating yet a little bit more. Every few years we privatise a little bit more. In my view, that is a recipe for the ultimate fragmentation and dismantling of the Parklands.

It is only through strong legal protections, a supportive local council and a vigilant community sector that this process has slowed over the decades. Again, I am not sure whether any other members of parliament were in attendance in Rundle Mall on that infamous day when former minister Kevin Foley—a great advocate for building new buildings in the middle of the Parklands—had his famous altercation with protesters. Again, it is an issue where I am just making the point that I have been involved with it for many years.

In relation to the Walker Corporation development, the Greens' position is that the Walker development is the wrong approach to developing this important public land. In his second reading speech, the minister said:

The integrity of the process by which Walker became the government's preferred partner and the value-for-money proposition that this project offers cannot be seriously questioned. 

Mr Acting President, I question it and I know I am not alone. I am not just talking about the millions of dollars that the Walker Corporation has given to the Labor Party—and the members opposite usually arc up when I say that; it is a nationwide figure not a South Australian-specific figure. They are big donors to the Labor Party. I am talking about the more mechanical aspects of tendering and the contract that resulted.

As members might recall, I was dragged into the District Court by the Walker Corporation, who were desperate to keep their plans for the Festival Plaza secret. They objected to the release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act, and they even appealed against the Ombudsman's finding that documents surrounding this development were in the public interest and should be released. Using their appeal rights under the Freedom of Information Act, the Walker Corporation delayed the process with legal tactics until they deemed the documents to be old and stale enough to be of no great interest, and then they dropped their appeal just days before the trial was due to begin.

I understand that the member for Bragg, in another place, has had similar experiences in trying to access documents concerning this development, this alienation of public land. According to the minister's second reading speech he says:

 The legislation is essential to allow for the redevelopment project to proceed on time and for the government to fulfil its contractual commitments to Walker Group Holdings Pty Ltd for the upgrade. 

It goes on:

 In addition, the legislative changes will also support the mooted casino expansion by SkyCity Entertainment Group Ltd should it proceed. 

In relation to Walker Corporation, the question then is: what about these contractual commitments?

The member for Bragg, as I understand it, has been through the wringer with Walker and still does not have access to those documents. The Liberal Party position, as I understand it, is that they are not going to allow this bill to proceed until they get access to the documents, and I can tell you that the Greens will join them in that call.

These are important accountability documents. There is no question of commercial confidentiality. There is only one company that is dealing with the government on this. There is no competition. Why should we not see the deal that was struck between the Walker Corporation and the government? Again, the Greens do not support the Walker development so why would we support the bill that facilitates it?

I suspect that the government knew that it would have a fight on its hands in relation to this bill. I do not think I have seen such a long second reading speech for a bill like this for a long time. It goes to over 10 pages. I think the language in the second reading speech is bordering on the desperate. The government basically exhorts us to support this bill which it claims is a no-brainer. I think there are plenty of people with plenty of brains who take a different view, but I think the government's overreach is best exemplified in the remarkable claim by the minister in his speech where he said, and I quote:

 …we in the government would argue it is entirely consistent with the values expressed in the national heritage listing for the  park  lands which reflects Colonel Light's original vision for this uniquely Adelaide asset. 

I looked pretty hard but I could not see any reference in the official record, or in any of Colonel Light's writings, that identified that a Casino hotel or a 26-storey office tower was an integral part of his vision for Adelaide. I could not see it. However, I do want to put on the record what the official record does say about the Adelaide Parklands. As members would recall, the Adelaide Parklands are nationally heritage listed. If you go to the Australian Heritage Database—it is a lengthy listing—I will read the bit under criterion (g) social value. The record reads:

The Adelaide Park Lands has outstanding social value to South Australians who see it as fundamental to the character and ambience of the city. The Park Lands with their recreation areas, sports grounds, gardens and public facilities provide venues for individual and group activities and events, meetings and passive and active recreation. The Park Lands also have significant social value due to the range of important civic, public, and cultural assets and institutions within it. 

It does not say anything about casinos, casino hotels or effectively private office towers. That does not get a guernsey in the Australian heritage record. The record goes on:

The present Adelaide Parklands Preservation Society— 

I think it is actually 'Association'—

is the latest in a long history of community groups dedicated to protecting the Adelaide Park Lands. These have included the Park Lands Defence Association  ( 1869-87 ) , the  Park Lands Preservation League ( 1903 ,  1948 )  and the  National Trust of South Australia. The longevity of the involvement of community groups in campaigning for the protection and safeguarding of the Park Lands is exceptional. 

That is what is in the record. These very groups who seek to protect the integrity of Adelaide's Parklands are the ones who are now being criticised as having no brain by the government and no vision for the future.

We have a unique heritage and history here in South Australia that is being put at risk by this development. Our public land, and our Parklands in particular, are increasingly being lost to private and commercial interests, despite protections that were supposedly put into legislation, such as the Adelaide Parklands Act 2005.

The Greens are not prepared to vote in favour of continuing this trend and, as a result, will be voting against this bill.

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