The Australian Institute of Architects has criticized the Victorian Government’s decision to cut funding for the Office of Victorian Government Architect (OVGA) by nearly half in its 2022-23 budget, announced on May 4.
The Institute issued a statement expressing its disappointment at what it called an “unexplained” cut in funding from $1.3 million a year to just $700,000.
Victorian Section Chairman Bill Krotiris said the cut will pose many risks to state government projects and threaten the services of the advisory team as well as the entire Victorian Design Review Panel (VDRP) .
In the three years to 2021 alone, the OVGA has advised or worked on 187 Victorian projects of state significance, worth more than $25 billion. The VDRP has provided advice on over 300 projects of national significance and major icons such as the Melbourne and Olympic Parks projects.
The Institute said it was particularly puzzled by the move, given an independent economist’s report that showed the OVGA is working above government performance targets.
“We are aware that the OVGA will end up with a skeleton staff,” Krotiris said. “It is incomprehensible with the major capital projects that the Victorian budget is delivering in health, social housing, education and the Commonwealth Games that the Prime Minister and Cabinet Office cut their hands and be stripped of independent design advice provided by its own Office of the Government Architect.
Krotiris expressed disapproval of the state’s decision to spend $13 million on its trade mission program, which includes the creation of a new trade and investment office in Paris, as the OVGA is expected to be almost “annihilated”.
“Victoria is also a recognized design capital and this move will hurt its reputation and the delivery of key outcomes of great design including livability, health and sustainability,” he said.
The funding cut announcement coincided with the Institute’s federal electoral policy proposal to create an office of the Australian Government Architect to support planning and design at the national level.
The creation of a national government architect would better inform national policy on public procurement and its results, and create a stronger commitment to better design.
“Most Australian states and territories recognize the value of having a government architect in promoting high quality design for our public buildings,” said the Institute’s National Chairman, Tony Giannone. Government architects support architectural decision-making in all states except Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
“It is high time the Australian government understood the value of this role at the national level,” he said.
The Institute has suggested that the next government could establish an office with funding of $14 million over the next four years, to advise government and statutory bodies on the best ways to achieve design excellence. in buildings owned or funded by the government.
“This would have a significant impact, given that Australian governments bought around a third of non-residential buildings across the country in 2021,” the institute said.
The establishment of an Architect of Government is one of six overarching proposals identified in the Institute’s Federal Election Policy Statement: Time to Act.
Other recommendations include greater action on climate change initiatives; a 30-year national housing strategy; a national construction supply chain strategy; an address of gender diversity and inequalities in construction; and a call for a national anti-corruption watchdog.