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Government Records about the Australian Capital Territory

Continuing role of the National Capital Development Commission

Image 12: National Capital Development Commission stand at the Home Show, Canberra, 1974.

Image 12: National Capital Development Commission stand at the Home Show, Canberra, 1974.
ArchivesACT 2013/4700/5
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During their terms in office, the Whitlam and Fraser governments made sweeping changes to the Territory's administration. The ACT Health Commission was established in 1975 to manage the Territory's health facilities. The ACT Schools Authority was established in 1976, thus ending the involvement of New South Wales in the operation of the Territory's schools, an arrangement begun in 1912 (both discussed in later chapters).136

In its ongoing role as Canberra's development agency, the National Capital Development Commission continued its program of urban expansion through the Y-plan, and was responsible for the construction of several iconic buildings and structures. These include the National Athletics Stadium, now Canberra Stadium (1977), Googong Dam (1979), Black Mountain Tower (1980), High Court of Australia (1980), National Indoor Sports Centre (1981) and National Gallery of Australia (1982).

The commission built a series of major office complexes to house public servants. Campbell Park Offices were built in four stages, with each building housing 700 workers; stage 1 was completed in 1973 and stage 4 in 1976. Cameron Offices, today noted for their architectural significance, were built at Belconnen between 1970 and 1976 as a series of nine interconnected wings that would accommodate up to 4000 public servants. The complex was sold in 1999 and several wings have since been demolished. Benjamin Offices, also located at Belconnen, were built in two stages, with the second completed in 1980.

Recreational facilities were also expanded. Lake Ginninderra, the first lake to be built after Lake Burley Griffin, was constructed between 1973 and 1974, while Lake Tuggeranong was completed in 1987.

Although the commission was responsible for project design and management, actual construction was often coordinated by the Department of Works and its successors, with the commission acting as a client to the department. The department's records provide a wealth of information about construction projects from this time.

ACT Heritage Library
Photographs of construction of Cameron Offices, 1969–76 HMSS 0179
Volumes of press cuttings, relating to the planning and development of Canberra, 1971–89 A9133
Folders of media releases relating to the ACT, 1976–91 A9662
National Archives
Heritage photographs, 'HP', 1920–97 A10982
Contract agreements, 1947–77 A1307
Correspondence files, 1951– A976
Correspondence files, 1958–89 A1340
Civil plans, 'CC' (Canberra Civil), 1959–97 A2713
Job files, 1960–75 A2159
Historical series of plans, blueprints and maps, 1971–97 A6134
Job and design files, 1977–96 A6095
Project files, 1982–90 A10990
Correspondence files, 'S' (Sensitive Projects), 1983–87 A10866
Project files, 1990–92 A10992

Committee of Review of the National Capital Development Commission

On 16 June 1982, Minister for the Capital Territory Michael Hodgman announced the appointment of a committee to review the responsibilities and activities of the National Capital Development Commission. This followed the Review of Commonwealth Functions (Lynch Committee), which recommended that consultants of international standing review and report on an appropriate reduction in responsibilities and activities of the commission.137 The committee's Chairman was George M White, Architect of the Capitol, Washington, DC.

The committee was asked to report on five specific items: the appropriate balance of responsibilities between the public and private sectors; responsibilities appropriate to the commission; the appropriate allocation of functions between the commission and the Department of the Capital Territory; the extent of regulation of land use and design and siting; and any special planning consideration that should apply to Canberra because of its role as the national capital and seat of government, and having regard to the fact that all land was owned by the Commonwealth and developed and administered under the leasehold system.

The committee's report, which contained 54 recommendations, was presented to Minister for Territories and Local Government Tom Uren on 6 July 1983.138 First, the committee concluded that the planning and development of Canberra should remain the responsibility of a single organisation and, thus, the commission's responsibilities should be widened to allow it to play a major role with respect to Canberra's future development. Second, it proposed that decision-making, participation and accountability for Territory planning should be more open; a wider role for the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the ACT was thus envisaged. Another major recommendation was that land administration should remain with the restructured commission (land ownership and control should continue to be a Commonwealth responsibility).

National Archives
Correspondence files, 'R' (Review), 1982–83 A5808
Correspondence files, 'G' (General), 1982–83 A5809
Correspondence files, 'S' (Submissions), 1982–83 A5810
Minutes of meetings, 1982–83 A5811
Transcripts of proceedings, 1982–83 A5812
Canberra progress and development, report of the Committee of Review, 1983 A6386
White Committee report on the National Capital Development Commission, 1983–84 A1209, 1983/1086 parts 1–3
National Library
White Committee, 1983–84 (Tom Uren) MS 6055, series 12, folders 11–15, box 71

Metropolitan Canberra Plan

In 1984, the commission published its Metropolitan Canberra: policy plan, development plan for Canberra's future development.139 The plan had been in preparation since 1980, including a period of public consultation, and was the successor to the Y-plan (discussed in Chapter 5). It set a 20-year timing horizon, assuming that Canberra's population would grow to 400,000, instead of the previously envisaged 500,000.

The commission considered two options: the Concentrated Plan and Dispersed Plan. In the former, commercial and retailing facilities were concentrated in Civic, Woden and Belconnen; with the latter, facilities would be dispersed as before. The commission opted for the Dispersed Plan, essentially confirming the continued establishment of more new towns. The priority was Gungahlin and work was to begin as quickly as possible. The commission decided that neither Civic nor Woden was designed for concentrated development.

In May 1985, the plan was referred to the Joint Committee on the ACT. The committee presented its report in May 1987, criticising the commission's continuing policy of dispersed development.140 It noted that urban consolidation was now a major issue, and that business, community groups and residents supported consolidation rather than continuing dispersal, because of energy and transport costs, and declining school numbers. The committee also recommended the deferral of Gungahlin's development in favour of consolidating existing areas.

Metropolitan Policy Plan Review – Canberra Vacant Land Study NC–79/01079
Metropolitan Canberra Policy and Development Plan 84/8160
Metropolitan Policy Plan Review, 1982 NC–82/00175#8
Metropolitan Policy Plan Review, 1980 – data sources – land and housing NC–80/01495
Metropolitan Policy Plan Review, 1980 – data sources – open space NC–80/01149
Metropolitan Policy Plan Review, 1980 – data sources – employment planning NC–80/01148
Metropolitan Policy Plan Review, 1980 – data sources – engineering servicing NC–80/01147
Metropolitan Policy Plan Review, 1980 – data sources – urban intensification NC–80/01146
Metropolitan Policy Plan Review, 1980 – data sources – retail planning NC–80/01145
Metropolitan Policy Plan Review, 1980 – data sources – tourism planning NC–80/01144
Metropolitan Policy Plan Review, 1980 – data sources – industry planning NC–80/01143
Metropolitan Policy Plan Review, 1980 – data sources – transport evaluations NC–80/01142
Metropolitan Policy Plan Review – north-east Tuggeranong NC–80/01121#1 and #2
Metropolitan Policy Plan Review – physical structure of towns NC–80/00928
Metropolitan Policy Plan Green Paper – data source NC–80/00769#2
Metropolitan Policy Plan Review, 1979 NC–79/00300#3
Metropolitan Plan Canberra 86/2828
National Archives
National Capital Development Commission report, Metropolitan Canberra, 1984 A7155, GA28
Papers of the reference – metropolitan policy and development plan, 'MP', 1984–87 A7156

Demise of the National Capital Development Commission

When the National Capital Development Commission was established in 1957, it was responsible for planning, construction, urban development (roads, bridges, utilities), consent to land leases, and the relocation of public servants from Melbourne. By the 1980s, much of its focus had diverted to municipal matters, rather than national capital matters.

The White Committee's report of 1983 was reasonably supportive of the commission, but the Hawke government was not sympathetic. In September 1984, Cabinet approved a recommendation to remodel the commission, allowing one of its members to be drawn from the Territory's community, with another from outside the Territory. Cabinet noted that the commission's structure was inappropriate with regard to accountability and responsiveness to the community and government.141

Yet it would be another four years before the commission's fate was sealed. By this time, the government had decided to introduce self-government to the Territory; it was this decision that spelt the end of the commission, although hostility from business and some residents also contributed to its demise. In July 1987, David Block, an advisor and company director, was asked to report on the commission's ongoing role, keeping in mind the government's plan for enhanced municipal government for the Territory.142

Block presented his report in 1988. Noting that the commission's role had significantly changed to the point where it was now involved in more than 75 per cent of the Territory's municipal functions, Block recommended that it be replaced by a smaller planning authority. On 7 July 1988, Minister for Arts and Territories Gary Punch announced the government's acceptance of Block's report. The commission would be replaced by a National Capital Planning Authority responsible for developing and managing a national capital plan. Local government would be the responsibility of the soon to be created ACT Government.143


Chapter notes | All notes

136 An Interim Authority was established in October 1973 and the involvement of New South Wales in Territory education was rapidly wound down from that time.

137 'Review of Commonwealth Functions Prime Minister's Statement to the Parliament', 30 April 1981, p. 36, Parliamentary Papers, 1981, volume 8, paper 96.

138 'Canberra Planning and Development Report of the Committee of Review of the Role and Functions of the National Capital Development Commission', 6 July 1983, Parliamentary Papers, 1983, volume 14, paper 197.

139 National Capital Development Commission, Metropolitan Canberra: policy plan, development plan, Canberra, 1984.

140 Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, Report on Metropolitan Canberra, Canberra, 1987.

141 NAA: A13977, 988, 14 August 1984.

142 'Block Review: Ongoing Role of the National Capital Development Commission', Canberra, 1988.

143 The Canberra Times, 8 July 1988, p. 1.


Chapter 6
Changes in the wind, 1972–89