Why do we need a new convention centre?
The need for a new convention centre in Canberra was identified as early as 2001, when the the 17th Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting was relocated from Canberra to Brisbane due to the insufficiency of our local facilities. Former ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope called for a new, federally funded convention centre in 2008, leading to extensive planning and design work from 2010 to 2015 on a proposed ‘Australia Forum’ to be constructed in Civic. But this project never came to fruition.
Canberra is an academic, political and cultural hub and was purpose-built as a meeting place. It should have world-class infrastructure for hosting major conferences, meetings and other corporate events.
Australia wants to host the Conference of the Parties (COP) and we should be able to host it here in the National Capital. Instead, our convention centre is the second oldest in the country and has received the least amount of funding of any convention centre in Australia. It has been operating at capacity for the past decade, preventing growth of the local conference and event sector.
Of the 292 international business events secured for Australian cities from 2023 to 2029 according to the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux's forward calendar, only two are being hosted in Canberra. These events are forecast to be attended by 325,000 delegates for a total visitor spend of approximately $950 million. Canberra is expected to receive only 50 delegates at each of those events (0.03%) for a total spend of approximately $120,000 (0.01%). That is a tiny fraction of what we could be seeing in tourism and related economic activity courtesy of these events.
Many national peak organisations are headquartered in Canberra and would love to host their conferences here but are often forced to host them elsewhere. A larger convention centre would allow for bigger conferences to take place in the National Capital while also increasing our capacity to host multiple smaller events in the same week during peak periods. The spin-off economic activity generated by such events and enjoyed by local businesses is far-reaching, with an estimated $2.40 returned to the ACT economy over the first two decades for every $1 spent on construction.
A new National Convention Centre should be co-located with a new National Multi-Use Arena in Civic so they can maximise efficiency and the economic return on the investment in their construction, including by sharing back-of-house facilities, parking, staffing and even operators. It makes sense for both facilities to form a combined precinct that can be serviced by a new suite of hotels, restaurants and bars with substantial surge capacity for when major conferences, sporting events and music acts come to town.