Marble Hill (Protection) Bill

18 Jun 2009 speecharchive

This speech is in relation to the Marble Hill (Protection) Bill which will essentially reinforce the heritage agreement that the government and proponents of the Marble Hill sale will be entering into.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:47): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to provide for the preservation, management and use of Marble Hill; and for other purposes. Read a first time.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:48): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill is essentially to reinforce the heritage agreement that the government and proponents of the Marble Hill sale will be entering into. I point out that it is fairly consistent with the position that the Liberal Party has taken in the past in relation to other historic properties that have been in public ownership.

I would refer principally to the issue of Beechwood Gardens, which, for the benefit of members who are not aware of the circumstances, is located at Stirling. The gardens there were the property of the Botanic Gardens and maintained by the Botanic Gardens but were too expensive to maintain in such a state. The difference with that particular property is that it included a private residence and essentially the private owners of that house, for the weeks when it was not an open garden, were having the Botanic Gardens maintain the splendid gardens that are there.

The reason it became an issue is that a number of the local residents felt that they had not been adequately consulted about that sale. Indeed, the local council had expressed some concerns as well in relation to consultation. The local member for the area, Mrs Isobel Redmond, the member for Heysen, sought to have the heritage agreement inserted into an act of parliament so that it would be kept in perpetuity. So, really it was to reinforce that particular arrangement.

It is difficult to draw an exact comparison of any particular historic residence with Marble Hill, given that the building itself was substantially destroyed in the Black Sunday fire of 1955. So, it has existed as a ruin which is a very popular spot for bus tours, a location for weddings, open days and so forth, and it has been maintained in more recent years by the Friends of Marble Hill.

Another possible example of adaptive reuse of a previously government building is the Treasury building, which is located in the city. In that sense, people still have some access, obviously because it is a commercial licensed premises these days, but it is also a hotel. It has been splendidly restored and I think is a very lovely part of Adelaide's history of which we can be greatly proud.

In relation to this particular site, the Liberal Party has raised on many occasions its concerns, both through the media and through questions in this parliament. I would like to refer to those, just for the record.

We have been concerned about private ownership because there had been rumours, since the expression of interest was released and also since documents were obtained under freedom of information, which indicated that the government was realigning boundaries and so forth. There were concerns that it may well be subdivided, but that has now been ruled out.

In particular, the Friends of Marble Hill have raised concerns with the Liberal party, as well. The Hon. Iain Evans, who was then shadow environment minister, expressed his concerns on 5 March 2007, as did I on 5 May 2007, in relation to a sale of the property. It has also been raised in parliament. On 7 December 2006 the Hon. David Ridgway asked a question of the minister, the Hon. Gail Gago, who replied on 26 July 2007 as follows:

Expressions of interest have been sought to encourage the widest range of innovative proposals for the future management of Marble Hill that will provide for continuing public access while conserving the heritage significance of the site. All options for the site will be considered including adaptive reuse. While sale of the site is not the objective, it will be considered should the most outstanding proposal be based on sale of the property. The Marble Hill site is on Crown land and the sale of land under the Crown Lands Act 1929 is not privatisation. There are no government employees working at Marble Hill.

This particular response from the minister was in relation to questions raised in estimates in 2007, the questions regarding Marble Hill being: what does the government anticipate through the expression of interest, and what are the time frames? The response was as follows:

I am advised that the government's purpose for the expressions of interest was to encourage innovative proposals for the future development and management of the Marble Hill site which respect, preserve and interpret its cultural and natural significance and allow for continuing public access. Expressions of interest have now closed. Whether the negotiations with the proponent will result in a contractual arrangement for the site is expected to be known in the latter part of 2007.

I also refer to some comments that I made in October 2007 in a media release that stated, 'Expect the government to announce it will sell Marble Hill but not until after the federal election.' That was based on some information that we had in a letter written in January 2005 to the Adelaide Hills Council from Planning SA stating: ...the proposal was generally consistent with these policies in that it intends to separate state heritage place from land subject to a native title claim. The separation of the heritage building will facilitate its sale or lease.

As I have previously stated, the minister had already indicated to parliament that sale was 'not the objective' and had indicated that a decision on the expression of interest was 'expected to be known in the latter half of 2007'. This issue has had some interactive history. I think the anxiety of the Friends of Marble Hill is quite understandable in that they have had an ongoing interest in working on the property for no benefit except that they are history buffs. At one point they were directed to not take any further bookings and so forth, which meant that they would not be able to raise income.

I think it is fair to say that if we are not very mindful of preserving our history—and I also refer to a couple of other valuable sites which are in government hands including the Old Adelaide Gaol, which I have banged on about many times in here—we will suffer death by a thousand cuts. It is interesting to note that, in speaking to this, I have followed the Hon. Mark Parnell talking about Searle's boatyard, and we have an issue again at Stepney. I think it is time for South Australians to make sure that we are conserving our heritage because, once it is gone, it will not come back. I think we need to have a consistent approach to heritage issues which also need to be transparent processes.

The Liberal party has clearly stated in the past that it is very concerned about a sale that may end up locking out the community from this magnificent property and so this bill is consistent with those expressions. That is to say that we do not oppose private funds being used to restore properties and that people who are prepared to invest money ought to have some benefit from that. I think the examples to refer to there are the Treasury building on Victoria Square and also places like Mount Lofty House, where adaptive reuse principles are applied. I note that the minister referred to adaptive reuse principles in some of her replies in parliament to these sorts of questions. We also did not oppose the use for commercial purposes, as long as access issues are retained.

I think there are some who would oppose the particular proposal that the government has undertaken because they would prefer to see Marble Hill remain as a ruin. I place on record that we do not concur in those remarks. I direct anybody to look at the photograph published in the most recent National Trust Magazine, and if we can restore Marble Hill to that sort of glory then I think that would be a valuable process. I understand that heritage is a costly process, and over past decades I believe that ideas have been discussed regarding the government itself restoring Marble Hill. I think that was probably unrealistic, or perhaps the proposals did not stack up.

If this bill is passed and referred to the House of Assembly, our leader, Mr Hamilton-Smith, will no doubt speak at length about his vision for duplicating the types of activities that take place in Europe, where castles and the like are leased to investors at peppercorn rentals as long as they abide by heritage principles and restore the properties. They become exquisite and iconic places for people to stay.

I would like to acknowledge the proponents of this proposal, Dr Patricia Bishop and Mr Edwin Michell, who are well-known philanthropists and who have, I think, most recently been very involved in raising significant funds for our botanic gardens. I would also like to acknowledge the fact that they are great supporters of history and have a very good understanding of authentic restoration, and they are very respectful of this property—particularly, I understand, as Dr Bishop grew up very close to the site.

The Liberal Party would like to establish some principles. It believes there ought to be some access to part of the house and that this needs to be defined through the heritage agreement. It is also concerned that the heritage agreement is subject to two parties—that being the proponents and the minister of the day. It is no reflection on any of the present parties; however, there is a possibility that, should something untoward happen to the proponents and the property be on-sold, at some stage someone may approach the minister of the day and seek to have the heritage agreement altered. That would then be done by the proverbial stroke of a pen rather than, as with the Beechwood agreement, by an act of parliament that would require any significant variation to be made through that process.

I believe those principles are very strongly supported by the National Trust. I would describe myself, in somewhat comical tones, as a bit of a National Trust junkie. They provide very good advice, and I think that anyone involved with public policy and specifically heritage should carefully consult with the National Trust, as they are people who care very deeply for the heritage of our state.

There is also an issue about the number of days, and there have been comments made in the media recently about visits and whether it should be three days or seven days. I believe the Liberal Party would support something comparable to the current arrangements of the second Sunday in every month, which equates to 12 days per year. I understand that recently Marble Hill has been opened many more days than that, as this year there has been an additional 23 days for bus tours and an additional two open days for Heritage Week. That is 25 days in addition to the normal monthly openings. I believe it would be unreasonable to expect that, as 25 days plus 12 days a year would be hugely onerous. Having open days would be quite disruptive and would be a great deal of unnecessary work for the people involved while restoration work is proceeding—and, indeed, after that work is completed. The Liberal Party believes that something like 10 days per year would be reasonable.

I am grateful to Dr Bishop and Mr Michell for providing us with the heads of agreement, but it is not entirely clear what the 'four pre-booked of the seven occasions' means. It also refers to 'access to such parts of the Marble Hill land' and does not mention the actual building. I believe that those provisions could be made firmer, and that is also outlined in this bill.

For several years the concern has been that the property may be sold and a 'Keep out' sign placed on the front gate. I have been given assurances that that will not be the case with this proposal but I think that, for the sake of all South Australians, this situation should be a little more transparent. In the future, the Liberal Party will announce a government-owned heritage buildings policy in the lead-up to the next election. This process has not been ideal, going from what was initially flagged, calling for expressions of interest to manage Marble Hill (and I think a number of people expected that, rather than it being managed by volunteers in their spare time, it would be done on a more professional basis) to a sale, which was certainly not anticipated.

I think that some of the anxiety is quite understandable. I think that, had I been minister, I might have handled the process quite differently. We will be outlining those particular policies at a later stage, but indicate that we would like to reinforce the perpetuity of retention of this property as one which is very much for the people of South Australia. I urge members to support the bill. I seek leave to have the explanation of clauses inserted in Hansard without my reading it.

Leave granted.

Explanation of Clauses Preamble The Preamble to the Bill provides a summary of the provisions in the Bill, which are to provide for the preservation, management and use of Marble Hill; and for other purposes.

Clause 1: Short title This clause is formal.

Clause 2: Interpretation Provides definitions of Heritage Minister, Marble Hill and Marble Hill building for the purposes of this Bill.

Clause 3: Preservation of Marble Hill

Subclause (1) Provides that Marble Hill must be kept reasonably available as a community facility for the benefit of South Australians and visitors to the State.

Subclause (2) Provides that subclause (1) does not prevent the improvement or restoration of any Marble Hill building or the use of Marble Hill for certain purposes so long as the principle established in subclause (1) is maintained.

Subclause (3) Provides that a person in occupation of Marble Hill must ensure that Marble Hill is open to the public on at least 10 occasions, for at least 4 hours (between 9am and 5pm) on each occasion, in any calendar year.

Clause 4: State Heritage significance

Provides that Marble Hill must not be removed from the South Australian Heritage Register.

Clause 5: Heritage agreement

Subclause (1) Provides that an approved heritage agreement must be noted against the relevant instrument of title before the whole or any part of Marble Hill, or the whole or any part of an interest in Marble Hill, may be transferred.

Subclause (2) Provides that for the purposes of subclause (1), an approved heritage agreement is a heritage agreement under Part 6 of the Heritage Places Act 1993 that has been authorised by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

Subclause (3) Provides that a heritage agreement entered into for the purposes of subclause (1) must not be varied so as to provide for a significant variation; or terminated, unless the variation or termination has been authorised by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

Subclause (4) Provides that a notice of a motion for a resolution under this clause must be given not less than 14 sitting days before the motion is passed.

Clause 6: Dealing with land

Subclause (1) Provides that subject to compliance with the preceding sections, the whole or any part of Marble Hill, or the whole or any part of an interest in Marble Hill may be leased or transferred.

Subclause (2) Provides that a person or body in occupation of any part of Marble Hill may exclude members of the public from a part of Marble Hill for any purpose related to health or safety, the preservation of any Marble Hill building, or any other matter relevant to the proper management, conservation or protection of Marble Hill or a Marble Hill building.

Clause 7: Endorsement on land record

Provides that the Registrar-General must endorse on any instrument or record of title or Crown holding for any part of Marble Hill a memorandum to the effect that Marble Hill is subject to the operation of this Act.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. R.P. Wortley.