The changes to the National Capital Plan announced by federal Territories Minister Paul Fletcher this week are the most significant changes to the plan since self-government. They will reduce duplication, underpin economic activity in our town centres, and provide more affordable housing in our suburbs while ensuring that the national characteristics of Canberra are protected.
During my nine years as shadow planning minister and five years as opposition leader in the ACT, I was frustrated by not just the lack of action on planning and affordable housing by the ACT government, but also by some of the unnecessary restrictions and costly duplication in the National Capital Plan. Upon being elected to the Senate, I saw the opportunity to do something about it, and immediately set about advocating for change.
These restrictions which required Commonwealth approval for many developments, even in the outer suburbs, have contributed to the decline of our town centres, made housing less affordable, and made it tougher for businesses to invest and create jobs. This is particularly true in Tuggeranong, where a ban on development in west Tuggeranong has seen the town centre struggle and young families left with little choice but to buy in NSW.
I've lived in Tuggeranong my whole life, so I have seen first-hand how small businesses have struggled and how community facilities have deteriorated. And over the years in Belconnen I've seen shops close and businesses fail because of periods of stagnant growth.
I've fought to keep the Department of Social Services in Tuggeranong and the Department of Immigration in Belconnen, which has delivered a steady workforce that brings economic certainty to those town centres. But there is no doubt more fundamental reform is necessary to shore up the future economic growth for these areas.
Of course, we should note that there are very good reasons for some Commonwealth planning oversight and regulations. We are the nation's capital and there are parts of our city that belong to all of Australia. For areas around the Parliamentary Triangle, the main corridors in and out of the city, and the national park regions, there is a vital role the Commonwealth plays in preserving Canberra's national character. This role continues under these reforms.
The Commonwealth will continue to look after the land around Lake Burley Griffin, protect the hills and buffers, and continue to ensure our city serves the nation as a worthy capital.
But out in the suburbs far from Parliament House, the national interest is less clear, and there is scope for the people of Canberra to be able to make their own determinations about new developments and land uses.
With that in mind, I worked with my colleagues in the government to initiate a review of the National Capital Plan. As a result, the NCA released a revised Plan that more clearly delineated between areas of the ACT and Commonwealth responsibility.
After extensive consultation with the public and the ACT government, further revision of the plan took place and another consultation period began. The final consultations have now concluded and with the Minister's sign-off, the new plan takes effect.
Many of the regulations on buildings and bushland are unchanged, so we do not need to fear losing our unique character as the bush capital. But by removing the outer suburbs from Commonwealth authority, we have the opportunity to implement the reforms we need to build more affordable housing, create more jobs, and bring life back into the town centres.
In practical terms, one crucial consequence of this reform is that the new plan reverses the ban on development in west Tuggeranong that was put in place before self-government. The ACT government now has the opportunity to open up these areas for residential development, providing affordable housing for young families and revitalising the town centre. This will be a massive boost for Tuggeranong. It also opens up similar opportunities for more affordable housing in Belconnen.
This reform has been a long time coming and it is, in many ways, an important step in the maturing of self-government. We will continue to be the nation's capital, serving the Australian people with our public sector expertise, our capacity for innovation, and our research and learning.
This reform also recognises that Canberra is more than just the capital. It is a wonderful city in its own right and this plan gives the people of Canberra greater capacity to determine their own destiny.
Zed Seselja is Liberal Senator for the ACT