Royal Women’s Hospital Land Bill 2012

I support the Royal Women’s Hospital Land Bill 2012. This is a relatively simple bill, but its outcome will be very important for a number of reasons. The first is that it revokes the permanent reservation over two Crown allotments in Carlton. One is the old Royal Women’s Hospital, and the previous speaker quite eloquently indicated its history and the importance of the former hospital to the community of Melbourne. It has played an iconic role, and people driving past that hospital will see that there have been extraordinarily significant benefactors to the hospital. Indeed I think the 3AW sign is still up there on the Swanston Street frontage. I know that that radio station was a very big supporter of the hospital itself.

Similarly the iconic name of the Syme family is a part of that complex as well.

The lifting of the reservation at both the Royal Women’s Hospital and dental hospital sites is important. The Royal Women’s Hospital moved to its outstanding new facilities adjacent to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 2008. As an aside, our colleague and friend the member for Bendigo East had her baby there a couple of weeks ago — a little girl. I was in conversation with her recently, and she was saying to me what magnificent service she received as a patient of the Royal Women’s Hospital. It was really first-class service.

The disposal of the Royal Women’s Hospital site was flagged by the previous government and is being implemented by this government because some of the revenue that will be derived from the sale has in effect been hypothecated to the new Royal Women’s Hospital construction project.

The funds that will be derived from the sale of the old Royal Women’s Hospital site will be hypothecated to paying down the debt on the new Royal Women’s Hospital, and that is a very appropriate use of public funds in that context.

One issue is the tension that exists for the government in this situation. Where we have the disposal of a government asset, the broad public policy consideration is that surplus government land or buildings are offered in the first instance to other arms of government to see if they have an interest in those properties. After that the property is offered to associated government entities, including organisations such as universities, VicUrban, or what is now called Places Victoria, and outer portfolio areas such as that. Following that the third opportunity is provided to local government.

It is in the context of how the government will seek to derive income from this site while trying to achieve what we hope to be broader social and public objectives that this will be interesting. If you think about a site like this and its extraordinary service to Melbourne as the home of the Royal Women’s Hospital, you realise it will be difficult for the government to resolve these tensions.

Clearly one of the potential purchasers of the site is the University of Melbourne, and it is right and proper and quite appropriate that the university have an interest in this property. Those of us who follow these things in the inner city closely would be well aware of the extensive building program that the university is undertaking right through the Carlton and south Carlton precinct. At the moment it has a major construction project under way on the corner of Grattan and Elizabeth streets.

At one level that is quite controversial because it was agreed through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal that quite a historic building — an art deco building that was an old motel sited on that corner — would be demolished. The decision VCAT reached in this matter was one that may potentially have created quite a significant precedent going forward. In essence, the VCAT decision was that the building could be demolished, significant as it was, because the future use of the site would be of greater social benefit. I think it was quite an interesting decision and one that will potentially create a precedent in the future as we go forward in the planning regime.

From the opposition’s point of view, we think it is appropriate that the government consider perhaps not taking the highest and best use, which of course would always be the position of the Department of Treasury and Finance — we understand that. That is the business they are in: the business of ensuring that they maximise government assets. However, I think this is quite a unique circumstance. This is not just an ordinary parcel of land that we would find anywhere within Melbourne; the Royal Women’s Hospital has a very deep history and a very deep association with so many families. Its social value, we would argue, is almost as important as its economic value.

Of course the government must get a reasonable price for it.

We understand that $60 million has been hypothecated to the redevelopment of the Royal Women’s Hospital, but nonetheless I think if we are able to satisfy the competing demands in that tension and get an outcome that achieves recognition of the social significance of this site, provides a reasonable economic return to the state and satisfies the encumbrances that pertain to this site because of the hypothecation of the purchase to the Royal Women’s Hospital, that would be a very good outcome. If that ultimately means that the purchaser is the University of Melbourne for further educational outcomes, that would be a win as well.

As for the Kathleen Syme Centre, I am sure members of the house would be well aware that this site is not part of this revocation. In fact it is a site of very keen interest to the City of Melbourne. There were continuing discussions with the City of Melbourne, the Carlton community and the previous state government about opportunities for this to become a broader community hub.

It is an ideal site, as many members would know; it is the site adjacent to the north of the Royal Women’s Hospital, and you would be hard pressed, I think, to find a better site for a major community facility like that.

So if we can find an opportunity to get an outcome whereby the City of Melbourne is able to produce a community hub in that precinct, that would be a fantastic outcome. If we get an opportunity whereby the site is disposed of to another broad public interest — and in this context clearly the University of Melbourne would be one of the obvious purchasers of the site — and if we can satisfy the encumbrances on the Royal Women’s Hospital, there would really be a win all round in relation to this project.

Finally, we on this side of the house will watch with great interest the commencement of the redevelopment of the former Royal Dental Hospital site for the new Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

I suspect that at some other point there will be a land revocation for the existing Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in East Melbourne, and we will deal with that then.