Roles and Functions

The National Capital Authority (NCA) is established under the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988 (the PALM Act). The NCA is a non-corporate Australian Government agency within the Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities portfolio. At 30 June 2018, the NCA was responsible to the Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government, with the Minister administering the PALM Act.

The NCA performs the role as trustee of the National Capital, and in this capacity, serves the interests of the Australian Government, the nation and its people. The NCA is responsible for: shaping the National Capital into the future; managing and enhancing the nationally significant parts of Canberra; and educating and informing people about Australia’s National Capital.


To advance the National Capital as a valued and respected place for all Australians by ensuring it is well planned, managed and promoted consistent with its enduring national significance.

Key Strategic Objectives

The key strategic objectives of the NCA are:

  • People - enabling Australians to celebrate and share the story of our nation through Canberra, our National Capital
  • Place - excellence in the care and custodianship of the National Capital’s special and symbolic places
  • Plan - strategic planning and oversight of the places and spaces of national importance in Canberra, with a focus on place-making and environmental sustainability.

Principal Functions and Services

The functions of the NCA as set out in Section 6 of the PALM Act are to:

  1. prepare and administer a National Capital Plan (the Plan)
  2. keep the Plan under constant review and to propose amendments to it when necessary
  3. on behalf of the Commonwealth, to commission works to be carried out in Designated Areas in accordance with the Plan where neither a Department of State of the Commonwealth nor any Commonwealth authority has the responsibility to commission those works
  4. recommend to the Minister the carrying out of works that it considers desirable to maintain or enhance the character of the National Capital
  5. foster an awareness of Canberra as the National Capital
  6. with the approval of the Minister, to perform planning services for any person or body, whether within Australia or overseas
  7. with the approval of the Minister, and excluding the management and regulation of the taking of water, manage National Land designated in writing by the Minister as land required for the special purposes of Canberra as the National Capital.

In addition, the National Land (Road Transport) Ordinance 2014 established the NCA as the administering authority for enforcement of parking regulations on National Land.

The accountable authority for the NCA (for the purposes of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (the PGPA Act)) transferred from the NCA’s Chief Executive to the Authority on 1 July 2018.

Map showing Land Managed by the NCA

Land Managed by the NCA

Map showing Designated Areas under NCA’s detailed planning control

Designated Areas under NCA’s detailed planning control

Outcomes and Programs Administered by the NCA

Below are details of the NCA’s outcomes and programs as set out in the NCA’s 2017-18 Portfolio Budget Statement (published in May 2017) and the NCA Corporate Plan for 2017-18 to 2020-21 (published in August 2017).

Outcome 1:

Manage the strategic planning, promotion and enhancement of Canberra as the National Capital for all Australians through the development and administration of the National Capital Plan, operation of the National Capital Exhibition, delivery of education and awareness programs, and works to enhance the character of the National Capital.

Program 1.1 – National Capital Functions $24.587 million

Program 1.1 Objectives:

  • Planning and designing areas of special national importance in Canberra, and informing and educating the community about these areas, ensuring that the National Capital is planned and promoted consistent with its enduring national significance.

Program 1.1 Deliverables:

In 2017–18 and the forward years, the NCA is committed to:

  • implement a comprehensive planning framework for the Australian Capital Territory
  • keep the National Capital Plan under constant review and, when required, propose, draft and consult on amendments to the National Capital Plan
  • assess and manage applications to undertake works in Designated Areas to ensure that they are in accordance with the National Capital Plan
  • provide, with Ministerial approval, consultancy services either within Australia or overseas
  • maintain and manage the NCA’s visitor services and attractions
  • create and deliver the NCA’s touring exhibitions with an educative focus
  • foster an awareness of Canberra’s role as National Capital.

Program 1.2 – National Capital Estate $34.959 million

Program 1.2 Objectives:

  • Manage and enhance the National Land program by ensuring that national assets are managed and renewed to enhance the character of the National Capital.

Program 1.2 Deliverables:

In 2017–18 and the forward years, the NCA is committed to:

  • develop and renew assets on National Land in accordance with their national significance
  • hold appropriate levels of insurance cover for the main risks associated with assets on National Land
  • implement and manage a robust asset maintenance plan that addresses the severity of asset conditions.

Factors Contributing to Performance

In 2017-18, the NCA fulfilled its statutory role and principal functions outlined above.

The NCA operates in a complex and dynamic environment. Key aspects of the environment include: high expectations of the public and government; ageing NCA-managed assets; technological and environmental change; resource constraints; cost pressures; and increased usage of the assets by the Canberra community and visitors (domestic and international).

In addition to the PALM Act, the NCA operates within the framework of a range of Australian government legislation. Key elements of our legislative framework include:

  • the PGPA Act
  • the Public Service Act 1999
  • the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

The NCA has in place the required policies and procedural framework to provide the basis for legislative compliance and operational performance, including in the following areas:

  • work health and safety
  • financial management, procurement and
    contract management
  • human resource management
  • risk management
  • fraud control.

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The Structure of the NCA

FIGURE 1: Organisational Structure

Senior Executive and Their Responsibilities

Sally Barnes
(Chief Executive)

Ms Barnes is the NCA’s Chief Executive and an ex-officio member of the Authority.

The Chief Executive has responsibility as agency head of the NCA under the Public Service Act 1999 and manages the affairs of the NCA, under the direction of the Authority.

The NCA’s Chief Executive may be given written directions by the Authority, which must be complied with unless they relate to the Chief Executive’s duties under the Public Service Act 1999. In practice, the Chief Executive works closely with the Authority in implementing their strategic directions, work and resourcing priorities.

Andrew Smith
(Chief Planner)

Mr Smith as the Chief Planner, leads the National Capital Plan Branch, which is responsible for keeping the National Capital Plan under constant review for proposing its amendment when necessary or indicated. This work involves preparing planning policy (which forms the basis of amendments to the Plan), Master Plans and Development Control Plans; assessing works approval applications; and monitoring the quality of buildings and other developments once completed. The Branch also manages diplomatic land.

Lachlan Wood
(Executive Director, National Capital Estate)

Mr Wood leads the National Capital Estate Branch, which is responsible for the effective management and enhancement of the National Estate. This work involves providing safe, functional, accessible and attractive public spaces and infrastructure in the National Capital (including pay parking): developing and renewing assets that enhance the significance and amenity of the National Capital; facilitating appropriate recreational and commercial activities on National Land; protecting and advancing the Estate’s natural, heritage and cultural features; and financial management.

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Volunteer Contributions

NCA Volunteers

The NCA established its first volunteer program in 2001 to complement its role of informing and educating Australians and visitors about Canberra as the National Capital. Volunteers come from the local community and contribute their experience and knowledge in a variety of ways. Volunteers are provided with a range of training opportunities to assist them to successfully undertake their role as ambassadors for Canberra. Volunteers also have the opportunity to participate in group activities, allowing them to expand their knowledge about the nation’s capital in an informal and enjoyable manner. The NCA’s volunteer program is divided into a number of teams: Horticulture Volunteers, Volunteer Guides, and Research Volunteers.

Through a recent Volunteer recruitment drive we were fortunate to gain an additional 11 horticulture volunteers who contribute significantly to the NCA’s heritage rose gardens. Our Volunteer guides and Research Volunteers have remained steady over the last few years.

Horticulture Volunteers

Since launching the program in 2004, the Horticulture Volunteers undertake defined gardening activities in the Old Parliament House Gardens. Five teams of volunteers help to look after the Broinowski and Rex Hazelwood Rose Gardens in the Senate Garden, and the Macarthur and Ladies Rose Gardens in the House of Representatives Garden.

During 2017–18, 68 Horticulture Volunteers contributed 3,038 hours across 1,519 shifts.

Volunteer Guides

Volunteer Guides share their time, skills and knowledge with visitors to the National Capital Exhibition and Blundells Cottage. They also conduct guided walking tours of Anzac Parade, Reconciliation Place, the Old Parliament House Gardens, the central basin of Lake Burley Griffin and the National Carillon on special occasions.

During 2017–18, 19 Volunteer Guides contributed 1,727 hours across 487 shifts.

Research Volunteers

Research Volunteers work within projects with specific tasks. In 2017–18 this included textiles work, conducting extensive research related to Blundells Cottage, cataloguing items for the NCA Library, and providing administrative assistance for programs at the National Carillon.

During 2017–18, two Research Volunteers contributed 183 hours across 74 shifts.

Conservation Volunteers

To manage the conservation areas of the NCA’s Estate, the NCA has formed relationships with several volunteer groups to undertake on-ground works in these areas, obtaining separate grant funding for conservation works and assistance with public advocacy on conservation management. The conservation areas of the NCA’s Estate include such areas as Stirling Park, State Circle Grasslands and Yarramundi Grasslands.

The NCA utilises an Environmental Care Agreement with the Friends of Grasslands. The volunteers undertake works in partnership with the NCA in these conservation areas. They coordinate and supervise volunteers from Yarralumla residents to undertake weed control, native planting, sensitive species and weed surveys and provide a very positive advocacy role within this community. Some 133 volunteers registered over several work parties throughout the year, achieving 560 hours of conservation work.

The NCA also utilises the specialist skills of other volunteer groups such as the ACT Rural Fire Service to assist specific on-ground tasks specified in the Bushfire Operations Plan for NCA Conservation Areas. Approximately 544 hours were provided by the RFS this year over four hazard reduction burns. These burns included an Indigenous cool burning techniques workshop held in conjunction with the Molonglo Catchment Group and a local Indigenous Leader, Wally Bell. A hazard burn was undertaken as part of the Emergency Services Agency Fire Investigators Course Assessment.

Gwen Souter, Horticulture Volunteer, Macarthur Rose Garden Team Coordinator, Old Parliament House Gardens, Parkes.

Gwen Souter, Horticulture Volunteer

Old Parliament House Gardens Horticulture Volunteer and Macarthur Rose Garden Team Coordinator, Gwen Souter encourages her team to have a volunteer work and social life balance, saying that after a morning of hard work in the gardens “the coffee is as important as the pruning” – We couldn’t agree more, Gwen!

Gwen Souter was born in New Zealand and immigrated to Australia in 1949 for her father to work in the Snowy Mountain Scheme. Gwen moved to Canberra in 1964, for an 11 month program as a typist, just in time to see Lake Burley Griffin fill. From there, Gwen became a Steno Secretary for the Department of Social Services and later a Secretary for the old Canberra Hospital, a fabulous and busy job that gave her a lot of satisfaction.

In Canberra Gwen met her husband Duncan, who had moved to Canberra in 1959. They married and began their family, deciding Canberra is a great place to bring up children. From a young age, Gwen and Duncan began dancing together every week and this year celebrated 39 years dancing Old Time New Vogue Sequence Dancing. Dancing has taken Gwen and Duncan around Australia.

In addition to being available for their four grandchildren, volunteering in the rose gardens and dancing every week, Gwen also sings in the Canberra Community Voices Choir and is involved in a local social crafting and stitching group.

Having just retired, Gwen decided to join the newly formed Horticulture Volunteer Program in 2005, during one of the very first volunteer intakes. Gwen wanted to join the program due to a close connection with the roses, after donating two roses in memory of their daughter. Gwen values all she’s learnt from the program and now uses her expert knowledge in another community garden.

Gwen says volunteering in the gardens has been a great way to meet new friends, so much so she is still in touch with former volunteers. Gwen also enjoys making the Old Parliament House Gardens a beautiful place to visit and is frequently surprised by how many people don’t know about it, one of Canberra’s best kept secrets. Gwen is proud of the commitment of her team, showing up at 7.30am in the warmer months and 8am in the colder months. Even when it is -5°C in the middle of winter, they pile on the layers and get moving.