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Foreign governments may lose diplomatic land in Canberra

Gai Brodtmann on a vacant block of land reserved for a embassy off Forster Crescent.

Gai Brodtmann on a vacant block of land reserved for a embassy off Forster Crescent. Photo: Melissa Adams

Foreign governments sitting on valuable Commonwealth land, sometimes for decades, in Canberra's diplomatic dress circle will be told to use it or lose it.

Planners from the National Capital Authority are planning to tell embassies in Canberra's inner south that they can no longer leave land idle while other nation's clamour for spots in the diplomatic quarter.

In one case, Pakistan has recently built a consulate on land that it leased 54 years ago.

Local residents near Stirling Park in Yarralumla unhappy about the NCA proposal for embassies to be built on the land, pictured in 2012.

Local residents near Stirling Park in Yarralumla unhappy about the NCA proposal for embassies to be built on the land, pictured in 2012. Photo: Jay Cronan

The authority says it is simply waiting for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Prime Minister Tony Abbott to give the go-ahead for the get-tough policy.

It is understood the Australian Government's patience has run out with several other nations, including Russia, over valuable land held on diplomatic leases but left empty.

Prime consular spots in sought-after suburbs around Parliament House have been sewn up for decades and nations who want to build new embassies have been sent to unfashionable O'Malley, six kilometres to the south.

The authority backed down last year, in the face of a vociferous campaign by Yarralumla locals, from a plan to assign land on Stirling Ridge, overlooking Lake Burley Griffin, for new embassies.

NCA official Alison Walker-Kaye told a Parliamentary Committee on Thursday that empty plots held on diplomatic leases in prime central locations would no longer be tolerated.

"One of the concerns that we have is that if they are not at the point where they are starting development now, then they at least give us a timeframe for commencing construction," Ms Walker-Kaye.

"A number of the diplomatic missions that have been sitting on sites for a long time will be approached, will be given a timeframe in which they need to commence construction or we will be potentially offering those sites to other diplomatic missions."

But after several reviews into the messy state of Canberra's consular leasing arrangements, the NCA said the political decisions to implement the reviews were still pending.

"There is a diplomatic leasing review underway and the government is yet to take a position on that," Ms Walker-Kaye

"When a decision has been made on that, we will be able to start leasing out a number of sites.

"But we can't take that step until we have a government position on the new leasing arrangements."

"We are waiting for a decision from the Foreign Minister and the Prime Ministers' Office at the moment."

Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann, who lives in Yarralumla and was a key player in the anti-embassy push from the suburb, told the committee hearing that she believed Foreign Affairs had overestimated the demand for new embassies.

"They've based it on a past when there was a lot of activity in terms of new nations and I think that it will quieten down in the future," Ms Brodtmann said.

5 comments so far

  • Why didn't Pakistan build a High Commission?
    Was their building of a mere consulate a cost saving measure?

    Commenter
    Saddington
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    February 13, 2014, 2:54PM
    • Well, sure, as long as they apply the same rules to the locals.

      For example, I've lost patience with the friendly local powers who leave land idle for decades in Dicko.

      Case in point, the block where the ACTTAB building used to be. How come the government allowed the demolition, if this was what was to ensue?

      It's an exact repeat of the Dicko tavern situation, when the building was demolished and the site was left to rot for well over a decade.

      Commenter
      Stephen
      Date and time
      February 13, 2014, 4:25PM
      • What a joke! 10 self appointed Yarralumla residents block the building the creation of a quality Embassy quarter. I wasn't consulted by this clique. I support the the allocation of vacant land in Yarralumla to Embassies as this will be beneficial to the local community, promote investment and tourism. Canberra is the poorer for being held hostage by NIMBYs.

        Commenter
        Imby
        Location
        Yarralumla
        Date and time
        February 13, 2014, 8:11PM
        • Why oh why are you up in arms gai ..... Why didn't labor get tough when it was in power. ..

          Commenter
          Oh please
          Date and time
          February 13, 2014, 11:53PM
          • Oh what a wonderful idea Gai (MP for Yarralumla Only). Let's take all that embassy land back so Kate Gallagher can build more and more and more ghetto slums around Canberra!

            Yarralumla needs those high rise apartment blocks, it just may add a touch of Brooklyn or Queens to the suburb.

            Commenter
            Sharron
            Location
            Canberra
            Date and time
            February 14, 2014, 9:56AM

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