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The other South Australian public institution that was involved in property investment was the State Government Insurance Commission (SGIC). The Dunstan government formed SGIC to provide universal third party vehicle insurance. In 1988, it became important to the Bannon government as a financier for the REMM-Myer project through a put option arranged to protect SBSA. In addition to Adelaide properties, another costly investment to the Bank Group was 333 Collins St Pty Ltd in Melbourne, with an SGIC put option for $550 million. At that time, ‘the public was not aware that the operations of the bank, SAFA and … SGIC involved considerable public risk in speculative deals interstate and overseas; or that the government was involved in complicated tax minimisation schemes; or that government institutions were co-operating to As a result of disclosures of the SBSA and BFC accounting systems, a new Australian accounting standard was introduced effective June 1990 through amendment to the Corporation Act.
Chris Kenny, State of Denial (Kent Town: Wakefield Press, 1993), p.68.
Terry Maher, ‘Why the State Bank Went South’, Australian Business, 11, 17, 20 February 1991, p.14.
Heritage Politics in Adelaide support high-risk South Australian developments’.46 In South Australia, John Bannon barely won the 1989 election that enabled him to become the longest-serving State Labor Premier in mid-1990, but his last government relied upon the support of two independent MPs. He soon announced he ‘was advised of a gap between the book values and estimated realisable values [of the State Bank’s loan assets]’,47 forcing him to seek a $1 billion bailout of SBSA.
The public was inclined to blame the bank’s CEO, Tim Marcus Clark, for his recklessness. However, as Trevor Sykes points out, under the State Bank Act, ‘the bank remained a semi-government authority and therefore, in accordance with constitutional principle, was required to act in the public interest, was subject to ministerial direction, and depended on the government for its capital. As well, the state government was the ultimate guarantor. … The bank was always a state authority and a state responsibility’.48 That is, the Treasurer was responsible for the actions of SBSA and should have ensured that he was fully informed of its practices.
Treasurer Bannon expressed a different view in Parliament on 30 December 1990:
I draw attention once again to the fact that the State Bank Act and the way in which it was established specifically precludes, and rightly so, the government being directly involved in direction and management of the bank’s affairs.
It also ensures that the bank has a commercial charter and therefore must take its place in the commercial world, and that is what it is doing.49 Notwithstanding that statement, the Premier was involved in the direction of the bank group’s financial dealings, at least with respect to the REMM-Myer project. As Treasurer, he failed in his duty to the state to control the excesses of the State Bank.
After parliament approved a $1 billion bailout of SBSA in February 1991, the government appointed a Royal Commission, headed by The Honourable SJ Jacobs, to undertake an investigation into the bank. In its final report, the Commissioner found ‘the Bank and the Bank Group failed because “it grew too fast”, but unfortunately, it was growth which was irresponsible. As the Auditor General has stated, “put simply, the Bank made too many loans that it should never have made;
and the loans were high risk, beyond a level acceptable to a prudent banker”. The ibid., p.18.
South Australia, House of Assembly, Parliamentary Debates, 1990–91, Vol. 3, p.2813.
Parliamentary Debates, 1990–91, Vol. 3, p.2757.
Australian Governments and Heritage same conclusion may be made in relation to BFC’.50 The Royal Commissioner found that ‘the Bank was encouraged in the course that it took by a Government that, according to circumstances, was either supportive or indifferent’.51 The Royal Commission soon found that the position of the bank group was far worse than originally reported publicly: ‘The Government has had to support the Bank to a far greater extent than it then anticipated as the level of non-performing loans and assets within the Bank and the Bank Group during 1991 was progressively recognised as having soared to a much higher level’.52 Two further bailouts of $2.2 billion were needed, for a total of more than $3 billion: ‘Of that $2.2 billion, nearly $1 billion was lost in Beneficial [BFC]. Another $350 million had to be injected into the SGIC, mainly because of its put option over [the Melbourne office building at] 333 Collins Street’.53 Chris Kenny concluded that ‘despite record losses by Australian banks after the boom and bust of the past decade, the State Bank’s rapid expansion and crash is in a class of its own’.54 The debacle brought down the Premier, who resigned in September 1992 when his position in Parliament became untenable.
The best that we can say about the economic management of the Bannon government was that there was no imputation of personal gain on the part of the Premier or his Ministers, unlike their counterparts in Queensland and Western Australia during the same period. On the other hand, Tim Marcus Clark and other CEOs of the state’s financial institutions, who the government allowed a free hand, gained considerably from the property boom, in the form of bonuses, commissions on loans and large redundancy payouts at taxpayers’ expense. As Treasurer, Bannon deserved severe criticism, but as the Royal Commissioner said,‘ it is impossible to ignore the criticism in the report of the role played by the then Treasurer, Mr Bannon, but it would be a fundamental error to assess that role without also examining the role of the Under Treasurer and his officers, of SAFA, of the Board and Mr Clark, and of the Reserve Bank. None of them escapes criticism, and sometimes severe criticism’.55 The Royal Commission further found that national economic policies contributed
to the crisis. In deregulating the financial system, creating a culture of unrestrained growth and speculative investment in Australia by managers unprepared and untrained for the consequences, the federal government played a role in the State Bank fiasco. The external economic factors identified by the Royal Commissioner
that contributed to the State Bank’s collapse were:
• a sustained period of high inflation leading to entrenched inflationary expectations;
• the emergence of the entrepreneurial ethic which invoked the seeking of wealth through asset purchases;
• the nationwide boom in property and tourist development;
• the stock market crash of 1987;
• the volatility of interest and exchange rates;
• the two periods of very high interest rates — one in 1985–86 and the other in 1989–90.56 The economic volatility was also disastrous for heritage conservation, as the nation’s central business districts were stripped of their old stock of commercial buildings, which were replaced by speculative modern office towers, creating uninhabited ghostlike city streets after hours, except for a few entertainment strips.
Inappropriate commercial and residential structures also blighted residential areas, leaving Australia far poorer architecturally. Kenny aptly sums up the mood in South Australia in 1992: ‘There is a hollowness about the state, symbolised by its tallest building [the State Bank centre] — the tumour rather than the spine of the city’.57 The South Australian Heritage Bureaucracy The South Australian Heritage Committee Section 8 of the South Australian Heritage Act (1978) provided for the establishment of a South Australian Heritage Committee (SAHC) of 12 members appointed by the Governor. The Act does not define a nomination process. In practice, the SHB, SAHC members, a Minister or professional bodies all suggested nominees. The nominees tended to represent a mixture of building- and heritage-related professionals, such as architects, planners and historians and occasionally an environmentalist, or to hold leadership positions in the law or clergy, the real estate industry or a ibid., p.391.
Australian Governments and Heritage regional area or local government. Also represented from time to time were Cognate branches of the public service, such as the Public Buildings Department. Under the Act, members should have ‘recognised commitment to, or skills and experience in heritage conservation’. At times, however, some had no commitment to heritage conservation and were obvious political appointments, such as developer Wendy Chapman and restaurateur Jill Heaven in 1982, both active members of the SA branch of the Liberal Party.
The Department of Environment and Planning (DEP) established the SHB to assist the SAHC and to advise the Minister. Heritage professionals were appointed to identify, research and assess items nominated for listing. The SHB determined which nominated buildings to present to the SAHC and which did not meet the criteria for consideration. As the 1980s progressed, Minister Hopgood delegated authority to the manager of the SHB, Mr Jon Womersley, to make decisions on his behalf with respect to heritage matters. The manager had greater access to the Minister, who increasingly disregarded the advice of the SAHC.58 The first buildings entered on the register were compiled from the National Trust (SA Branch) list of buildings with its highest ‘A’ classification and hence were uncontroversial. As additional buildings were nominated, implementation of the SA Heritage Act became more contentious. The boundaries of heritage listing — that is, how far to extend protection beyond Adelaide’s iconic buildings — caused extensive debate in the state government and ACC and formed the basis of continued public protests.
For the first seven years of the Act, buildings listed on the register were nominated mainly because of their architectural merit — historical or cultural significance tended to be secondary considerations.59 The reluctance on the part of the SAHC and ACC to recognise the importance of historical or cultural significance — buildings that represented an aspect of the lifestyle of the past, such as a former blacksmith’s shop, or buildings associated with an important person or group — in the early stages of heritage listing was a source of community protest and resulted in the loss of many historic buildings.
The SAHC refused to recommend buildings which were the subject of development See, for example, SAHC minutes 20 March 1991, item 3.1, p.5.
In A Heritage Handbook (1991) Graeme Davison noted ‘an important difference between the aims of architects, for whom the past was a source of attractive decorative devices, and of historians, who valued old buildings primarily for their capacity to express the values and ideas of another age’. The architects’ view was most influential for nearly a decade in South Australia.
Heritage Politics in Adelaide proposals and withheld recommendations on buildings that it considered of local rather than state heritage value. The former circumstance was resolved in 1985 with an amendment to the Act giving the Minister the power to interim list buildings that might be demolished. With regard to local heritage, from the mid-1980s metropolitan councils had begun to seek the right to protect heritage buildings in their districts in response to community pressure. For years, the SAHC insisted it would consider only buildings of state significance. Thus, the SAHC, the representative of public opinion, lagged behind the public on the question of local heritage protection. The Heritage Branch also resisted the public demand for recognition of local heritage. Gradually the SHB and SAHC modified their heritage values, however, until in 1989 the Minister approved historic (conservation) zones for local governments as a way of resolving the issue.
The SAHC was an advisory body only, and the Minister repeatedly disregarded its advice relating to large developments involving the state government. The SAHC particularly opposed key aspects of the Adelaide Station and Environs Redevelopment project, the State Bank Centre and the REMM-Myer project. The Minister’s responses in each case demonstrated that the SAHC was helpless as the Bannon bureaucracy negotiated deals with developers regarding heritage items on large development sites.
Even small properties could be subject to political intervention, such as cricketer Don Bradman’s private residence. The SAHC voted to list the house on the State Heritage Register, but after Bradman objected publicly, the Minister ignored the recommendation of his heritage committee.60 The State Heritage Authority replaced the SAHC under the Heritage Act (1993).
During its 15-year history, more than 1600 items were entered on the State Heritage Register and 13 State Heritage Areas were designated. It addressed issues as diverse as heritage criteria and conditions for removal of items from the register, funding and financial incentives for heritage conservation, major government projects, protection of local heritage items not of state significance, protection of urban streetscapes, heritage gardens, geological heritage, the resistance of churches to heritage listing, objections of owners of heritage items and the relationship of the SAHC with government bureaucracies. ‘The committee was effective in their extremely narrow role,’ according to a former Branch manager, ‘but of all the advisory committees around, the Heritage Committee had the least power’.61 Marcus Beresford, personal interview, 6 February 2003.
Barry Rowney, personal interview, 13 December 2000.
Australian Governments and Heritage The Heritage Unit/State Heritage Branch Unlike the SAHC, legislation did not prescribe the role of the Heritage Unit of the South Australian Department of Environment. It was formed in 1978 as the administrative arm of the government on heritage matters, and its role evolved according to the demands of ministers and the department and, to a lesser extent, the interests of its staff. Generally, that role entailed ‘providing advice to the Minister, servicing the South Australian Heritage Committee and providing the day to day administration of the Heritage Act and implementation of government policy relating to heritage protection’.62 The SHB provided professional advice to the SAHC, which included the documentation and assessment of nominated heritage items. The committee was usually reliant on the advice of the professional staff because few members of the committee were experts in the built heritage, which was a new field in the late 1970s. Without staff of its own, the SAHC also relied on the SHB for the preparation of minutes, reports and correspondence. The SHB manager had open access to the Minister and reported the committee’s resolutions and views.63 According to Dr Bell, ‘the committee existed in a cloud of frustration because they weren’t achieving what they wanted to. Legal and administrative constraints prevented it. They were hopelessly reliant on the public service for everything they did’.64 Manager Jon Womersley increasingly assumed responsibility for major projects involving the state government and the State Bank, making decisions on behalf of the SHB that were contrary to advice of the SAHC and the tenor of the Heritage Act (see chapter 6) under authority delegated to him by the Minister.
The SHB focussed its efforts primarily on developing the Register of State Heritage Items until the mid-1980s. One of the criteria for registration under the Heritage Act (1978) was that an item be of significant historical interest. A major achievement was a study by consultant Dr Susan Marsden that identified historic themes as a guide for surveying SA’s regional areas. Her Historical Guidelines ‘pushed South Australia way ahead of any other state’ in assessing the historic merit of heritage items, according to heritage architect Barry Rowney.65 State Heritage Branch document DEP 5014/90, Instructions and Cabinet Submission on the Review of the Heritage Act, prepared by Dr Peter Bell, 12 January 1992, p.7.
However, as Chairman of the SAHC Judith Brine felt she had no difficulty in meeting with the Minister, but she acknowledged that ‘Hopgood was more open than Ministers are now’.