Above: Alex Nelson (white shirt, holding his hat) with supporters outside the hearing room today. From left, Jenny Kearns, David Kearns, Jose Petrick, Jill Brew (all three obscured), Domenico Pecorari, Olga Radke, Brenda Shields, David Hewitt and Mike Gillam. Photos below by Mr Gillam.
By KIERAN FINNANE
Last updated 2 November 2019, 12.25pm. Links, photos, additional Peattie quote, conclusion added.
President of the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Richard Bruxner, today again declined to grant an injunction halting demolition works at the former Anzac Hill High School.
Alex Nelson, who is applying to NTCAT for a review of the Heritage Council decision not to recommend listing the school, told Mr Bruxner that demolition works appeared to have ceased since the directions hearing a fortnight ago.
Certainly, he had observed today that the walls and roofs of the buildings remain intact.
In light of this, he argued that it would be appropriate to grant an injunction until his application is fully heard.
The stumbling block for Mr Bruxner remained Mr Nelson’s unwillingness to give an undertaking with regard to damages should his application fail.
But this point was not made before he quizzed the government’s lawyer, Lachlan Peattie, on the state of play with the demolition.
Initially Mr Peattie said that work had “recommenced” as soon as it Mr Bruxner decided in the first hearing that no injunction would be granted.
Mr Bruxner couldn’t recall that a cessation of work had been mentioned; his recollection was that works had commenced and would be “all systems go” unless there was an injunction.
That was also Mr Nelson’s understanding, contributing to his decision to not pursue an injunction in the Supreme Court.
His announcement of that decision on this site has since generated public support for the cause, some of it on show today, with the public gallery of the tiny NTCAT hearing room filled with his supporters.
Mr Peattie said he had “misspoke”.
He went on to give detail of what has been done to date in the “soft demolition phase” – essentially the building has been gutted.
The contractor, McMahon’s, will start knocking down walls on 5 November (blocks A and C), with block B to follow on 22 November.
Barring a miracle, it now seems certain that the old school will be no more when the next steps in tribunal’s process are taken.
Mr Bruxner still has to decide on whether an extension of time will be granted to Mr Nelson for his application to be heard. Normally applications for review are made within 28 days of the relevant decision, which means that at the latest it should have been made in mid-January.
Some of the arguments for and against were canvassed at the last hearing, but now submissions and related evidence have to be made in writing, with time allowed for reply by the respondents – the Heritage Council and DIPL, the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics. (The latter provided the unsubstantiated advice that the buildings were beyond economic repair.)
It’s all very “harsh and legalistic”, Mr Bruxner acknowledged, especially in light of the imminent destruction of the building Mr Nelson has tried so hard to save for posterity.
Yet, as Mr Peattie would have it, Mr Nelson “in large part” has brought the situation on himself, it’s the result of “his choices” (of first hesitating about his course of action, then going to ICAC and not concurrently applying to NTCAT).
It was a sad day for Mr Nelson but he is resolved to pursue this application, in the hope that a full examination of the case will prevent anything like it happening in the future.
Mr Bruxner warned him that the tribunal will not look at decision-making processes behind the final decision, but rather the merits of the decision itself.
Mr Nelson said that limit to the investigation highlights the deficiencies of the review process but he has no doubt that the school has merit as a heritage site and as such there should have been public consultation regarding its listing.
That this course had not been followed was “beyond comprehension”, he said, putting it down to the government’s overlying intention for the site as the preferred location for their proposed national Aboriginal art gallery.
Mr Bruxner acknowledged, as he had previously, that the case for listing the site seemed to have merit, even on the strength of the department’s own report.
If this is his finding after the review process is completed, there will be red faces at the Heritage Council, the Heritage Branch of the Department of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, DIPL, and on Ministers Eva Lawler (DIPL) and Lauren Moss (Heriatge).