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No reprieve for state heritage site making way for new hospital

The Malinauskas Government has rejected a bid to rebuild the Thebarton police barracks elsewhere as its site is taken for the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital, citing “verbal” advice the 10 state heritage-listed buildings are “in such a poor state that it is not practicable or feasible”.

Nov 02, 2022, updated Nov 02, 2022
Part of the historic Thebarton barracks complex. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Part of the historic Thebarton barracks complex. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The decision was made as the state government yesterday pushed its New Women’s and Children’s Hospital Bill 2022 through the Upper House unamended after securing the support of crossbenchers SA Best.

The legislation, introduced to parliament just two weeks ago, will expedite the planning and approvals process for the $3 billion hospital build by removing the century-old Thebarton police barracks from the state heritage register once the Act takes effect – paving the way for their demolition.

It also shields the state government from paying any compensation to the City of Adelaide for acquiring park lands space to build the new hospital or a new home for SA Police’s mounted operations unit.

SA Best’s support for the legislation allowed the government to shoot down all efforts from the Opposition and the Greens to amend the Bill yesterday, including attempts to:

  • establish a select committee inquiry into the legislation,
  • adjourn debate on the Bill to a later date,
  • require the government to conduct public consultation on its proposed new site for the police horses, and
  • require the government to reconstruct the Thebarton police barracks at “another suitable location”.

Liberal MLC Michelle Lensink, with the support of the Greens, filed the amendment which would have required the state government to rebuild the barracks.

She referenced the Marshall Government’s decision to dismantle and rebuild the state heritage listed Waite Gatehouse – which the former government had initially earmarked for demolition to widen an intersection – as a successful example.

If it is good enough for the Waite Gatehouse, it should be good enough for the barracks.

“We are flying blind in terms of the heritage assessment of these 10 structures at the [Thebarton barracks] site,” Lensink told parliament.

“If the government were minded to provide a bit of transparency about the condition of those buildings, that would be helpful.

“The former Marshall Liberal government undertook a process of rebuild for the Waite Gatehouse. If it is good enough for the Waite Gatehouse, it should be good enough for the barracks.”

But Attorney-General Kyam Maher said the government would not be supporting the amendment. It was then voted down with the support of SA-Best and One Nation MLC Sarah Game.

“My advice is that the buildings that are on the barracks site are in such a poor state that it is not practicable or feasible to dismantle and reassemble,” Maher told parliament.

Greens MLC Robert Simms asked Maher to “make available” the advice he received about the barracks’ condition, to which the Attorney-General replied: “I do not have written advice or a copy of a written report.”

“That is verbal advice I have received, but I am happy to go away after the conclusion of tonight’s sitting and see what can be provided for the honourable member,” Maher said.

InDaily asked the government whether any advice has since been provided. In a statement, Health Minister Chris Picton responded: “The project team for the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital has advised that it not practicable to relocate the buildings from the barracks site.”

“Further I am advised that buildings are constructed of unreinforced masonry – a material with poor ductility that is likely to collapse in an earthquake – and adapting them for clinical re-use is therefore not recommended,” he said.

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“The project team advises that for the current masterplan option, none of the existing buildings are able to be incorporated into the new hospital build, which includes earthquake proofing, ability to maintain power in a blackout for long periods and self-sufficiency in the event of disaster.

“Our Government is committed to a world-class hospital that sets us up for the long term, and we welcome the support of the Upper House to fast-track the legislation required to deliver it.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the Attorney-General told parliament he has been advised that “roughly every three months of delay [on the new WCH] costs the state $25 million”.

It comes as the state government continues its search for a new home for SA Police’s Mounted Operations Unit.

Maher told parliament the new location will have to hold 32 police horses and 40 full time staff “in the vicinity”.

“The primary things that would need to be built would include paddocks and stables,” Maher said.

Locations outside the Adelaide park lands are still being considered, the Attorney-General said, despite the new legislation giving the state government powers to make a cost-free acquisition of the city’s green belt to house the stables.

Maher said the cost of the park lands space would have been “35 cents per square metre per day” to the City of Adelaide.

He also confirmed the state government did not consult with the Adelaide Park Lands Authority – an advisory body of the Adelaide City Council – on the implications of the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital Bill.

Asked by Simms why this was the case, Maher said: “My advice is that the government decided on the course of action that is contained in this bill rather than any other course of action that would necessitate consultation.”

The new Women’s and Children’s Hospital Bill will now be carried in the Lower House, where the government has a clear majority to pass the legislation into law.

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