A view on financing the National Trust

Richard Farmer, a Canberra Community Voters candidate for Kurrajong, spoke to a meeting organised by the National Trust of the ACT

I am both flattered and a little embarrassed to be asked to speak here tonight. The fledgling little party I founded with Tony Harris and Peter Moore is not pretending that it will be a major component of an ACT government. Perhaps Canberra Community Voters will have a member or two but probably not.

But then, we are trying and we do have some things in common with the National Trust that we hope will encourage your members to think about us on polling day.

Like you we are independent thinkers and not bound by any rigid party political dogma. And the thing that united our little group more than any other was annoyance at the way our current ACT government was threatening our city’s green space - around Manuka Oval, at Glebe Park and elsewhere.

In some ways not unlike how your organisation started. It was after fighting the good fight for years to protect green spaces in London, like Parliament Hill Fields and Hampstead Heath, that Octavia Hill joined forces with Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Rawnsley to form the British version of the National Trust.

When those good people were planning that original forefather of your own Trust, the problem they thought they were solving was access to the open air for the urban masses. In Canberra we might not exactly have to worry about the Manuka masses but we do have to worry about the rapacity of a government that seems determined to turn all our open spaces into sites for block after block of concrete monstrosities.

By the mid-20th century the British National Trust saw the challenge to its charitable purpose as being “to promote the preservation of places of historic interest and natural beauty…for the benefit of the nation”. That challenge came not from the loss of open spaces but from the wholesale destruction of the English country houses that followed economic depression, high death duties and the loss of many sons and heirs in the First World War.

In Canberra the ACT National Trust might not have a surfeit of grand houses to protect and nourish but there is a heritage that deserves to be protected and you are doing it. And doing it with minimal financial support from our government compared to the taxation concessions that enabled the British trust to acquire, and thus save, so many of their country’s great estates.

At Canberra Community Voters we do not have a specific National Trust nor a heritage policy. Our members are free to have their own view on subjects with one proviso. We are united in wanting to make the process of government more open to community views. We all want evidence based decision making and an end to secret deals.

And evidence based decision making means that the evidence must be available. When it comes to preserving our natural and cultural heritage - be it at Manuka, Glebe Park or the Yarralumla brickworks - it is organisations like yours which need to provide the case for preservation - part of the evidence that should be considered before government makes decisions.

Yet you do that as an organisation of volunteers with the limited financial resources provided by members. A government hell-bent on development at any cost; developers motivated purely by the profit motive - they have the funds to hire spin-doctors and so-called experts to promote their case.

And much of those funds to promote the development case against the heritage case actually come from taxpayers. This week our Chief Minister actually boasted about his government providing $1.2 million a year to the Canberra Business Council to use promoting its, and the government’s, causes.

The trade union movement also gets a government grant to employ staff to police new developments. But the National Trust no longer gets any funding to enable it to employ full-time staff to help your members develop and promote the cause of preservation cause.

I can only speak for myself as a candidate but I expect my fellow candidates agree with me when I say that this is wrong. There should be a body - the National Trust of the ACT - resourced sufficiently by government to present the evidence before decisions are made; the evidence that allows the public, and especially members of the Legislative Assembly - to make informed decisions.

In closing might I add that my fellow candidate for Kurrajong Mike Hettinger has fought long and hard over many years on these heritage issues as president of the North Canberra Community Council. That Mike has resigned from the ALP, for which he has twice been a candidate, to stand for Canberra Community Voters shows what he thinks about the way we have been governed in recent years.

And in Gininderra our candidate Geoff Kettle showed as Mayor of Goulburn, before moving back to Canberra, a real commitment to the value of preserving a city’s historical heritage. His council committed $1.2 million to restoring the historic building St Clair Cottage that was added to the National Trust of Australia register in 1976 and the Register of the National Estate in 1978. I am sure that should Geoff and Mike be elected to the ACT Assembly that you will be able to judge them by their actions rather than my words.

Contact Us

You can contact our convener Richard Farmer at 0450 735918

6 Lads Place, Dunlop ACT 2615

Authorised by Richard Farmer on behalf of Canberra Community Voters