11. Diplomatic missions – build, buy or rent
11.1 Diplomatic missions in the Australian Capital Territory
Diplomatic missions have the following options to establish chanceries in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT):
- building a new chancery
- purchasing or renting a free-standing building
- renting commercial office space.
11.1.1 Building a new chancery
Currently, there is little land available in the ACT to build a new chancery. Missions wishing to pursue this option should contact the National Capital Authority (NCA).
Subject to paragraph 11.1, the following are general rules applying to land in the ACT:
- all ACT land is leasehold and is either Territory Land or National Land
- Territory Land is managed by the ACT Government
- National Land is managed by the Commonwealth.
Under the National Capital Plan, certain National Land areas in the suburbs of Yarralumla, Deakin and O'Malley are designated for the construction of diplomatic chanceries.
The NCA is responsible for the National Capital Plan, including the leasing of land for diplomatic use. Leases are for 99 years and carry an obligation to commence building within 18 months and complete construction with 36 months.
There are two ways to pay for leases:
- a single payment of a 'premium' calculated on the current unimproved value of the land
- annual payments, which are currently calculated at five per cent of the unimproved value fixed for the term of the lease. The NCA issues annual invoices to missions that select this option.
Land for diplomatic purposes in the ACT may also be obtained based on land of equivalent size, amenity and location being made available to the Australian Government for diplomatic use in a foreign capital.
New chanceries – or alterations to existing chanceries (or head-of-mission residences or other owned properties) – must comply with federal and ACT Government laws and regulations, including relevant local building codes. Building design and works approvals and certifications are required from the ACT Planning and Land Authority at key stages of planning and construction. The NCA can advise and assist on these processes.
11.1.2 Purchasing or renting a free-standing building
Missions may purchase property for use as offices or residential premises subject to the requirements of Australian law. Missions should seek the advice of a local lawyer early in the process of purchasing property.
Missions are not required to notify the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) of property purchases for official purposes, including accommodation for diplomatic staff. Property purchases for other purposes, however, for example for investment, must be notified to the FIRB before contracts are signed. This requirement applies equally to mission officials purchasing properties in their own names.
Any chancery to be located on Territory Land, but not within commercial premises such as an office building, will need approval from the ACT Government. Missions should contact Protocol Branch email@example.com to ensure that ACT Government approval will be forthcoming. In the suburb of O'Malley, there is an area of Territory Land where, subject to ACT Government approval, diplomatic missions may either purchase or rent residential properties for use as chanceries. As a general rule, diplomatic chanceries may not operate from other residential areas in the ACT. This restriction does not apply, however, to head-of-mission or staff residences.
The ACT Heritage Council, pursuant to the Land (Planning and Environment) Act 1991, is responsible for the listing of heritage properties. DFAT expects missions to comply with heritage laws as with other property laws and regulations.
11.1.3 Renting commercial office space
Diplomatic missions are strongly encouraged to consider renting commercial office space to use as a chancery. A number of diplomatic missions have rented commercial office space for this purpose in the suburbs of Civic, Barton or Deakin.
Missions and posts owning properties in the ACT, the states and/or the Northern Territory are required to pay for specific municipal services provided to chanceries and head-of-mission residences. These services, such as street cleaning, maintenance of parks and gardens, garbage collection and disposal, street lighting, footpaths and guttering, are covered by the beneficial portion of land rates charged by local governments. Missions and posts are expected to pay the amounts charged in full and on time.
Missions and posts renting properties are not liable for these payments, as rates are the responsibility of building owners.
11.3 Damage to premises
Missions and posts are strongly urged to have appropriate insurance cover for all significant property they own. Insurance is the first recourse in the event of loss or damage.
If premises or other property of a mission or post sustain damage which appears to be politically motivated, DFAT (Protocol Branch or, if the incident occurs in a state, the DFAT state or the Northern Territory Office) should be notified as soon as practicable.