ANU upsets union with $17m purchase of key City West site

Ian Bushnell 22 March 2021 9
ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt: University could not afford to lose the land. Photo: File.

The cash-strapped Australian National University (ANU) has confirmed it has bought a key corner site in City West from the ACT Government for $17 million.

The prime land on the corner of Marcus Clarke Street and University Avenue is currently used as a Transport Canberra bus layover but the buses will move to Turner when the new site on the corner of Watson Street and Barry Drive is built. It is expected the deal will be finalised next month.

City Renewal Authority CEO Malcolm Snow told an Assembly committee hearing recently that the ANU had agreed to proceed with development of the site within five years but in the interim it will be turned into a temporary urban park at their cost.

Mr Snow said that the ANU had hoped to build university accommodation on the site, possibly for graduates and their families, among other possible uses.

The $17m spend was negotiated before the financial impact of the pandemic and resulting fall in overseas student enrolments had been felt, provoking the ire of the National Tertiary Education Union which has been negotiating with the university over job cuts.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said the sale agreement pre-dated the pandemic and ACT Government had deferred settlement for 12 months due to its impact.

City bus station

He said the university could not afford to lose the land which was irreplaceable and very important to the ANU, and it was looking at how it could be converted it into an income stream.


READ ALSO: New fund to help Canberra professors continue research projects during pandemic


The university council had made it clear that the ANU could borrow money for capital expenditure and transition costs, but not for operating expenses such as salaries.

“So we have to be careful we do not need to borrow too much money such that we cripple the University through its repayment, but we also need to ensure we don’t make decisions that cripple ANU by not investing in the things that allow us to be a great university in the future,” Professor Schmidt told staff and students.

“Similar things might come up in the future, but you’ll not see me making decisions to sacrifice jobs for capital expenditure.”

ANU branch secretary Cathy Day said the revelation that the ANU was secretly negotiating with the ACT Government to buy this land for $17 million at the same time it was persuading staff to give up their own hard-won pay rises of $13 million demonstrates the duplicity of ANU senior management.

She said NTEU analysis showed that out of all Australian universities the ANU spent the second-lowest amount on salaries as a proportion of its operating budget.

“It’s clear that ANU senior management is addicted to big budget capital expenditure at the expense of its workers. The purchase of this land is yet another example of ANU senior management feeding their own addiction to capital expenditure, something that the ANU Vice-Chancellor admits he’s willing to borrow money for, but not for staff salaries,” Dr Day said.

“The VC says that the purchase of this bus stop is important for the future of the ANU. It is clear that the ANU does not see its own staff as being important for the future but views us merely as cogs in a machine that can just be replaced, removed and rotated as senior management sees fit. We deserve better.”

An ANU spokesperson said the university would in coming years work through the full design and concept development of the space, including consultation with appropriate stakeholders.

The spokesperson confirmed that the bus layover would remain in place for now.

“After the buses have moved and prior to the full development of the site, the University will work with City Renewal Authority to activate the space,” the spokesperson said.


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9 Responses to ANU upsets union with $17m purchase of key City West site
brianf brianf 2:12 pm 24 Mar 21

@Niven If the money has been placed in a special purpose trust, it’s a separate entity that might only be allowed to spend money on improvements to the ANU. You see the same principle in school building funds and also organisations like the Churchill Trust — the money can only be used for the stated purpose. The trustees are not free to change the purpose of the trust.

Niven Stines Niven Stines 6:05 pm 23 Mar 21

The ANU has a construction budget which is ‘ring fenced’. Some from bequests, some from the sale decades ago of huge property holdings in the inner north and other parts of Canberra, and I’m not sure about the remainder.

This is why in the past, at times when there have been significant reductions in government funding, the educational effort on campus has been hamstrung, and staff have worked themselves into the ground to keep things going , the uni has spent a fortune on bright shiny edifices.

The principle is invested and the interest is used to build things, and grow the fund.

I’m not sure why the funds can’t be repurposed to keep people employed and support education and research more directly.

I guess the recurrent budget is a large hole it could never fill, and would leave the uni unable to meet future infrastructure requirements as industry and society place new demands on it.

The leadership doesn’t seem to feel a need to explain this carefully to stakeholders.

At least if the institution dies as a result of government negligence it’ll leave a beautiful corpse.

Lisa Morr Lisa Morr 4:06 pm 23 Mar 21

maybe the money came from laying off people

Lori J Tas Lori J Tas 1:09 pm 23 Mar 21

Can they sell it in 3 months time for $20m please?

Nick Anderson Nick Anderson 12:57 pm 23 Mar 21

$17 million for that? ANU got ripped off

Daniel Duncan Daniel Duncan 12:20 pm 23 Mar 21

Cash strapped but buys $17m property. Something doesn't comput..

Rheyce Spears Rheyce Spears 12:18 pm 23 Mar 21

Now would be a bad time for lobbying efforts for further government funding to leak...

I understand the importance of long term strategy, but should a cash strapped University be spending these sums when they’re simultaneously crying poor to government and media?

Jarrod Sean Jarrod Sean 12:09 pm 23 Mar 21

You have to spend money to make money

Stan Vizovitis Stan Vizovitis 11:57 am 23 Mar 21

Not to cash strapped to continue being one of canberra,s biggest landlords

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