Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 28, 2022


Festival Plaza Precinct

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:00): The matter I rise to speak on this afternoon is one that will be of importance to all those South Australians who value our open public space; that is, the future of the Festival Plaza. Just last week, the Minister for Planning, the Hon. Nick Champion MP, told The Advertiser that the Walker Corporation had lodged plans for a second office tower on the Festival Plaza. That is next to the 29-storey tower that has already been approved for the site, the tower that is already on the way but is running behind schedule.

It is an outrage that our city's prime civic space is being used to host one private office tower, let alone two. It was the Weatherill Labor government that first approved the Walker Corporation's construction of this tower, back in 2012. In fact, they granted the Walker Corporation exclusive use over that site. That was our public land—our public land—being gifted to a billionaire. Indeed, the South Australian taxpayer will be contributing more than $250 million to facilitate this private takeover of our public land—$250 million of taxpayer funds to gift to a private corporation to help them take over our public land. It is an outrage. It is a disgrace.

In a city where there are already so many vacant office buildings, it beggars belief that one of our key civic sites will be used in this way, particularly when one considers that it is on the Adelaide Parklands, our national heritage-listed Parklands, arguably the most valuable real estate in South Australia. This space could have been returned to the Parklands for a fraction of the cost. This tower will cast a long shadow over our historic Parliament House and the new Festival Centre.

I mentioned earlier the role of the Weatherill government, but this has been a bipartisan project, a project between the two major parties. Indeed, last year the Liberals approved an extra two storeys on the tower. Back in 2020, they reduced the number of trees the Walker Corporation were required to plant and the required public contribution increased by another $20 million. Of course, we know that this new tower will not be paying any rates.

The Walker Corporation will be exempt from paying rates to the City of Adelaide because the building will be on Crown land. The Advertiser has estimated that that will be a loss of revenue to the local council of $150,000 every year, and now the government is actively considering a second tower for this site. It is a disgrace.

It seems that whatever developers want in this state, they get. We have a planning system that is designed to serve the interests of the big end of town at the expense of the public good. What say do the people of South Australia get? None. What say does the parliament get? You guessed it: we get no say whatsoever.

Last year, when the Liberals announced their plans to rezone the Adelaide Parklands to allow further commercial development along the Riverbank, I introduced a private members' bill that would have prevented rezoning of our Parklands without parliamentary approval. What happened to that bill, you may ask. Well, it was blocked. Surprise, surprise: it was blocked by the Labor and Liberal parties, the two parties that are in the pocket of the development class in our state.

The reason is very clear: both the major parties want an unfettered right to develop our public land, to carve off the Parklands and sell them off to the highest bidder. It is an absolute disgrace. The community is ill served by this planning regime, and I urge the government to think again, to listen to the will of the community when it comes to our public spaces, to reject a proposal for yet another office tower on the Festival Plaza, to actually show some imagination when it comes to our public space, to treat the community with the respect they deserve and give them a say, and to stop giving away our public land to developers.