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Foreign Affairs enters embassies row

Dr Alan Cowan is part of a campaign hoping to stop the development of diplomatic housing in Stirling Park.

Dr Alan Cowan is part of a campaign hoping to stop the development of diplomatic housing in Stirling Park. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Foreign Affairs has entered the row over siting a new diplomatic enclave at Stirling Park, saying nations establishing new embassies want high visibility for their missions and secure tenure.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says in its submission to a federal inquiry into the controversial plan that new missions should be established in diplomatic enclaves with easy access to Parliament House.

But the member for Canberra, Gai Brodtmann, said the submission showed there was ''no crushing need'' for new development.

Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann.

Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann. Photo: Graham Tidy

''So why are we looking at breaking virgin ground?'' the former diplomat said on Sunday.

The standing committee on the national capital and external territories is conducting the inquiry into the management of the ACT's diplomatic estate after a row over the proposal to build nine embassies at Stirling Park.

The National Capital Authority plan is strongly opposed by residents who say Stirling Park and its popular Stirling Ridge, even though owned by the NCA, should be left as open space for all Canberra people to enjoy.

Five new diplomatic missions are being established in Canberra and seven more nations want to build or lease missions.

DFAT said demand from countries to establish diplomatic missions in Canberra ''reflects Australia's strong and positive engagement as a constructive member of the international community''.

''The allocation of land to diplomatic missions through the diplomatic estate assists Australia to fulfil our international obligations to provide diplomatic missions with reasonable options to be centrally located close to those institutions of government with which they perform their functions,'' it said.

The DFAT submission, which does not mention Stirling Park, says the federal government supports the establishment of new diplomatic missions in Canberra and recognises that this reflects positively on the national capital and Australia.

Alan Cowan, from the Save Stirling Park group, disputes the need for high-profile embassies.

"At Stirling Park they are proposing to obliterate one of the few precious remaining pieces of open space within the inner city,'' Dr Cowan said. "We think it is fairly obvious that a lot of embassies can and should be in commercial office space.

''There's no need for them to be provided with great big prestigious blocks, which take away the community's open space in Canberra.''

Four new embassies were established in Canberra in 2010 and 2011, and three last year. The Syrian mission closed last year.

Of the 99 diplomatic missions in Canberra, 52 are in the diplomatic estate - in Yarralumla, O'Malley and Deakin.

Ms Brodtmann said the DFAT submission showed countries were making decisions based on their own need. ''Some want to be in the diplomatic estate and others don't,'' she said.

''The submission also shows there is no crushing pressure for new development. There is undeveloped land in Yarralumla held by countries with existing missions in O'Malley.

''Other submissions also raise the question about how the planners got the current diplomatic estate of O'Malley so wrong, when 15 out of 19 sites set aside for missions can't be used. I'll be pursuing that in the hearing.''

The NCA says in its submission there is ''no extant statement of government policy to guide the NCA'' on leasing diplomatic land.

''Until such time as a government policy has been established, the NCA is only able to release sites to diplomatic missions on an exception basis, agreed by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Finance and Deregulation and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and approved by the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government.''

The NCA suggests a number of smaller diplomatic missions may be interested in leasing part of a designated diplomatic office building, possibly with shared services.

10 comments

  • There is plenty of open space in the inner-city. What is Dr Cowan on about? Canberra is one big park! Also, at the risk of stating the obvious, Dr Cowan needs to be reminded that Canberra is a purpose-built capital city and remains a work in progress. Plenty more virgin ground will need to be broken over the coming decades to allow this city to fulfil its purpose and support a growing community.

    Commenter
    JezCan
    Location
    Turner
    Date and time
    February 04, 2013, 9:46AM
    • Make them lease commercial office space like any other business.Diplomats are so self important yet they are mostly poltical hacks.

      Commenter
      Ken Svay
      Location
      Kompong Saom
      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 11:21AM
      • Agreed Ken.

        Embassies should not be wasting money on fancy buildings, let them rent offices. They are all hacks and nobodies.

        Commenter
        Diplomats are nobodies
        Date and time
        February 04, 2013, 11:44AM
    • I live in Yarralumla and find the 'no development' arguement dumb. Long before moving to Yarralumla I was aware of Stirling Ridge as a site reserved for future use. There's nothing pristine about much of the area - being a former workers camp. Apart from a few nearby residents who like to walk their dogs through it it seems like a luxurious folly to not develop it for it's intended use.
      I find the idea of the continued development of a diplomatic precinct appropriate and necessary for Canberra's evolving role as a world city.
      Build a suitable Lodge for the PM, have an appropriate and representative approach for the representation of foreign missions and stop pandering to the 'me-too' parochialism that stiffles progress.
      Nimbys - that's the biggest problem with this place.

      Commenter
      Nick
      Location
      Yarralumla
      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 11:27AM
      • +1

        Commenter
        Stir the pot
        Date and time
        February 04, 2013, 12:12PM
      • +2

        Commenter
        Llama Farma
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        February 04, 2013, 12:52PM
      • Nick, I wonder the wooded area of Sterling Park frequently and marvel at the botanical wonders that is abundant, the beauty of the grasses and beautiful lake glimpses. To have this Park destroyed by Embassies would be a travesty, especially for the kiddies that play in that park. Not to mention dog owners that so diligently pick up after there dogs, so the Yarralumla community can enjoy this great park ( Well Some ) . I hope the people that were so successful with the "Save the Ridge ", get up and " Save Sterling Park ".

        Commenter
        Old See
        Location
        Yarralumla
        Date and time
        February 04, 2013, 2:38PM
    • I don't have a strong opinion about whether Stirling ridge should be sacrosanct, but it seems to me that the option always exists for embassies to buy up existing houses in Red Hill, Deakin, Forrest and Yarralumla. Especially in in Forrest and old Deakin, and parts of Red Hill the blocks are huge and could be developed in keeping with the area.

      Commenter
      John
      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 1:25PM
      • In keeping with the Canberra ethos of not creating class enclaves, why don't we zone areas for embassies that are not in the traditional blue ribbon areas. For Example, there is a big oval in Charnwood that could house some embassies. Or perhaps, down near Gordon or up in Gunghalin.

        Commenter
        What?
        Date and time
        February 04, 2013, 3:37PM
        • What do we want more embassies for anyway - especially from all those tin-pot countries, whose people starve back home while their diplomats drive around Manuka in their big Mercedes Benzs with little beach-towel-pattern flags fluttering from the bonnets? Has anyone seen the bloody great Botswana Embassy at Hughes/Deakin? What do they do in there all day? Can't you just imagine how pressing the problems must be that arise between Australia and Botswana each day. They should donate the derelict, former Bureau of Minerology building at Anzac Park East to a whole stack of impoverished countries for use as a sort of composite embassy. Most of Africa could be represented there. And, perhaps, even the Apostolic Nuncio could open his doors to another half-dozen or so.

          Commenter
          Eudaimonia
          Location
          Kingston
          Date and time
          February 04, 2013, 11:55PM
          Comments are now closed
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