Frequently Asked Questions

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What is light rail?

Light rail is a modern version of tram that can operate at low speeds on streets and at high speeds in dedicated corridors. Light rail operates at road level and is electric, receiving power through overhead wires or recharge when braking.

Light rail has a relatively small turning radius, can operate up steep gradients and can share public streets with other traffic and pedestrians.

Why does Canberra need light rail?

Light rail will help achieve our vision of a more sustainable and modern city. The Northbourne corridor has been chosen as the first stage of a possible Canberra-wide network due to its declining amenity and development potential. Light rail has a proven ability to attract development and investment opportunities that will help revitalise the corridor and city. Light rail also brings social and community benefits to areas by increasing accessibility and encouraging better use of urban spaces.

In addition, without improvements to public transport infrastructure, road congestion will continue to grow as Canberra's population increases, impacting on travel times and the overall quality of life that we enjoy in Canberra. If we had light rail now, it's anticipated that public transport travel times would be over 30% faster than general traffic.

What are the features of the light rail vehicle?

A fleet of 14 vehicles will operate the first stage between Gungahlin to the City.

The total capacity of the vehicle proposed is 207 passengers (66 seats + 141 standees).

  • 2 dedicated wheelchair spaces
  • 12 priority seats

Each vehicle will be 30m long and 2.65m wide and will have:

  • On-board wi-fi (also available at light rail stops along the corridor)
  • Handrails and grab rails
  • Access via two double doors and two single doors per side with clear signage
  • Provision for four bikes per carriage
  • 100% low floor throughout
  • Air-conditioning suitable for the Canberra climate

The vehicles will be stabled and maintained at the Mitchell depot.

What is the maximum speed capability and overhead structures?

The maximum continuous service speed is 70km/h

There will be 300+ structures and 24km of wire.

How long is the route and how many stops are there?

The light rail corridor from Gungahlin to the City will be 12 kilometres with thirteen stops.

Which suburbs of Canberra will have the light rail service?

The light rail corridor will service the City shopping and business precinct, the Dickson precinct, EPIC and Thoroughbred Park, as well as the fastest growing centres of Mitchell, Gungahlin and Braddon.

The Civic terminus and Dickson station will become accessible, high quality public spaces which will uphold the urban character of Canberra.

The route will also service tourists and residents attending events at EPIC such as Summernats, the Canberra Show, the Folk Festival, and the Multicultural and Enlighten festivals in Civic.

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Have the community been consulted on the light rail project?

Yes. The Capital Metro Agency (now Transport Canberra Light Rail) undertook extensive community and stakeholder consultation at various stages of the project. Community feedback is essential to ensure we deliver a high quality light rail network that meets the needs of its users.

Over 16,500 interactions took place for the Early Design consultation from June to August 2014. Further community consultation was undertaken for the Environmental Impact Statement in July and August 2015, and feedback was taken for the Light Rail Network in November 2015. There was also extensive stakeholder engagement with business stakeholders in the Sydney and Melbourne buildings regarding potential construction compounds in the city precinct.

There have also been community feedback periods through the Environment and Planning Directorate (EPD) of the ACT Government and the National Capital Authority (NCA) during the standard planning approvals processes for the Development Application and Works Approval.

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Cost and Funding

The first stage of light rail for Canberra is being constructed under a Public Private Partnership (PPP), with the contract operating period being 20 years. The project is also being partially funded by the Asset Recycling Scheme.

What is the construction cost of the light rail project?

After successful negotiations and strong collaboration with the contracted consortium, Canberra Metro, the construction cost of stage one, inclusive of additional project enhancements, is $707 million.

These enhancements include the Civic Plaza, Alinga Street terminal and a dynamic lighting system at light rail stops.

What will the availability payment be?

Over the 20 year operating term, the annual availability payment will commence at approximately $47 million for the first year (2018-19, less than a full year of operation) and finish at approximately $75 million for the last 12 months of the contact term (in 2031), with an annual availability payment of approximately $64 million.

The annual availability payment includes the operational costs of running light rail (such as electricity, drivers, and maintenance) and includes the capital cost of building stage one.

What is a Private Public Partnership (PPP)?

A PPP is a long-term contract, generally between 20 and 50 years, between the public and private sectors to deliver public infrastructure projects and/or related privately operated public services. Its defining characteristic is that the contract delivers public infrastructure assets or services using private sector finance.

The key benefits of a PPP approach include the government harnessing private sector efficiencies and innovation during construction, whole-of-life cost efficiencies, outcome-focused service delivery and effective risk transfer to the private sector.

PPPs have been used in Australia (and around the world) to deliver a range of social and economic infrastructure including courts, schools, hospitals, convention centres, correctional facilities, roads, public transportation networks and ports. PPP delivery methodology has been used in Australia for more than 25 years.

This approach means the ACT Government does not begin paying for the light rail service until it is fully operational to the government's specified standards. Once the system is up and running, the government will start making regular payments over time. This means that the cost of the infrastructure is spread over future decades, around 20 years following construction completion.

When do we start paying?

The ACT Government will commence making regular monthly payments once operations begin.

Can Canberra afford it?

Yes. The government will pay a capital contribution of $375 million to the Canberra light rail project (following completion of construction) from two areas.

The first is from the Australian Government's Asset Recycling Scheme. The Australian Government has also demonstrated its support by increasing its contribution to the project by $7 million to $67 million.

The second is from proceeds from selling surplus assets.

This type of contribution is like paying a lump sum on your mortgage or car loan. That is the more money you put towards your loan, the less money you have to borrow, and the less you pay in repayments over the life of the loan.

Over the 2015-16 financial year, the ACT Government will spend $2.6 billion on health and education, $502 million on economic growth and diversification, $660 million on suburban renewal and transport and $933 million on liveability and social inclusion.

In the context of government spending this project will account for less than 1 percent of the government's expenditure over the life of the PPP. Over the same period the ACT Government will spend 34 times as much on health and 25 times as much on education.

Why have we come in under the cost?

In the early stages of the project, through its own rigorous analysis, the government made a conservative estimate for the delivery of the project of $783 million.

The project is within the previous estimate of $698 milion (plus or minus 5%). The ACT Government has included additional scope in the project around civic plaza and the enhanced Alinga Street stop.

Will my rates increase due to light rail?

General rates are an important source of revenue used to fund a broad range of government services, including health, education, waste management, roads and public transport infrastructure.

Increases in rates are part of the significant reforms to the Territory's taxation system, which the government commenced in the 2012-13 Budget.

The main reform initiative relates to the abolition of inefficient taxes, including conveyance duty (over a twenty year period) and insurance duty (over a five year period). The revenue lost through the abolition of these inefficient taxes will be replaced through the general rates system.

This will ensure revenue neutrality overall, while preserving capacity for government services and ensuring future generations do not bear the higher economic costs of an unfair and inefficient tax system.

The government is committed to making the Territory's taxation system fairer, simpler and more efficient for the future.

I don't live on the stage one route, how will light rail benefit me?

All Canberrans will benefit from the introduction of light rail. It is beneficial to all who live and work in Canberra through the creation of jobs, encouraging investment opportunities and supporting the integrating public transport solution through the redistribution of network services.

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Decisions and Governance

When was the project approved?

Rapid transit planning in Canberra has been progressing for many years. In 2012, the ACT Government announced a decision to support light rail and committed to build Capital Metro from City to Gungahlin.

How will the project be governed?

The ACT Government established the Capital Metro Agency to design, procure and deliver the project. The Capital Metro Agency is now Transport Canberra Light Rail, and is part of the Transport Canberra and City Services Directorate of the ACT Government.

How is the project being delivered?

The design, construction, operation and maintenance of the project will be carried out by the Canberra Metro consortium, under the PPP Project Agreement. Aspects such as ongoing planning, administration of the Project Agreement and ensuring that the Territory complies with its obligations under the Agreement will be managed by the Agency working closely with a number of directorates that have a direct interest in the project.

We are also learning from other light rail projects, including working with other governments and industry experts.

Will it be managed by the government or run privately?

The ACT Government established the Capital Metro Agency (now Transport Canberra Light Rail) to investigate and develop procurement and financing options for the delivery of the project. Following an intensive procurement period, Canberra Metro were chosen as the consortium to build and operate the first stage of light rail.

What planning studies have been undertaken?

The ACT Government has undertaken a range of feasibility studies on the project to date. Links to studies can be found on the Light rail reports and studies page.

Was a monorail considered?

Broad consideration of suitable public transport modes has been considered through transport network planning for Canberra. Monorail systems have typically very high construction costs due to the elevated and segregated track compared to ground-level systems.

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The Route and Track Alignment

Why is the City to Gungahlin the first route?

Gungahlin is growing at five times the rate of the rest of Canberra and light rail will help support that growth while ensuring that the growing congestion in this corridor does not keep increasing.

This route also includes the high priority Northbourne Avenue corridor which is currently experiencing a number of upgrades and through the increased social activity that light rail can bring, this area stands to benefit significantly.

The ACT Government has also developed a Light Rail Network that identifies where future stages are to create a city-wide network.

Where will the tracks go?

The current Stage 1 (City to Gungahlin) design has the tracks in the middle of the road using the wide median space.

As shown in the early Burley Griffin plans for the city, this median has always been planned to include rail transport, along with a number of other wide corridors intended for rail transport and to link the major nodes and attractions across Canberra.

Previous consultation also indicated a public preference to use median alignment.

Through our engineering analysis and traffic modelling, we have also found that a median alignment will require fewer modifications to intersections, will cause less access issues during construction and will cost less than other options.

A median alignment makes use of centralised stop and system infrastructure, which proves to be much more cost effective than duplicating stops and shelters on either side of the road.

Canberra Metro have identified an area on Flemington Road South where the tracks will deviate from the median as a value-engineering solution. Consequently, the EPIC stop will be placed on the racecourse side of Flemington Road, rather than in the centre of the road.

Can I walk across the tracks to get to the other side of the road?

Absolutely, tracks can be crossed using the many signalised intersections along the route.

Also, light rail does not require big fences and level differences that are common in heavy rail and track crossings are similar to crossing the road for pedestrians today.

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Traffic Changes

Will the road lanes on Northbourne be changed?

With the proposed alignment located in the median, there will not be changes to the lanes on Northbourne Avenue.

Some intersections will be upgraded to provide the required space for safe movements for all vehicles

There will be some short term changes to traffic operations in this area during construction, but the median area provides a useful working space that will help minimise traffic disruptions.

Will new traffic lights be introduced?

New traffic lights will be added along the route to safely manage any interaction between vehicles and light rail. New traffic lights are currently proposed at the following points:

  • intersection of Hinder and Hibberson streets in Gungahlin
  • intersection of Kate Crace and Hibberson streets in Gungahlin
  • intersection of Lysaght Street and Flemington Road in Mitchell
  • access point to the depot on Flemington Road in Mitchell (to be used only as required)
  • intersection of Randwick Road and Flemington Road in Mitchell
  • intersections of Murdoch and Morphett Streets with Northbourne Avenue in Dickson will be the subject of further investigations but in each case, crossing of the light rail tracks will be managed by traffic lights
  • access to the Mitchell Resource Management Centre, and
  • intersection of Swinden Street and the Federal Highway in Downer.

Who will have priority at traffic lights?

A level of priority is typically provided for light rail to help the service run efficiently. This occurs as a part of planning that helps the light sequencing to support the major traffic flow (such as the inbound traffic in the morning peak). This means that the major vehicle traffic flows generally benefit through light rail priority work.

Are there any changes planned for the Federal Highway or Flemington Road?

Some parts of the Federal Highway and Flemington Road will require some realignment and/or widening to allow space for the light rail, vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.

Will there be traffic changes in Gungahlin?

Hibberson Street will become a pedestrian mall between Hinder Street and Gungahlin Place.

Buses will use Gungahlin Place as a major interchange point with the light rail.

The following intersections will be upgraded to include traffic lights:

  • Flemington Road and Kate Crace Street
  • Flemington Road and Hinder Street

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Patronage and Population

How many people will use it?

There is an ongoing modelling effort to test project options and refine patronage forecasts for the first stage of Canberra light rail.

Current estimates for daily light rail boardings in the City to Gungahlin corridor are forecast to grow to over 13,000 by 2021 and over 20,000 by 2031.

Can smaller cities support light rail?

Today there is already an adequate population to support light rail along the Stage 1 route.

Light rail does not require significant density to operate well and as shown in Adelaide, light rail routes can move through medium density areas and still be successful.

Light rail currently operates successfully in many international cities of a similar or smaller size that Canberra, including Valenciennes in France (390,000), Freiburg in Breisgau in southwest Germany (200,000), Angers in France (147,000) and Bordeaux in France (240,000).

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Are buses being considered instead of light rail?

In previous years buses were considered as well as light rail and analysis was completed for each mode. Following those investigations, light rail was selected and Transport Canberra is delivering light rail based on this selection.

Light rail has been selected due to its higher capacity and also its ability to increase commercial and social activity alongside the route.

Light rail will play a big role in supporting the vision of Canberra becoming a more compact and sustainable city with a revitalised city centre and an upgraded Northbourne Avenue corridor.

We don't need to look far to see the heavy emphasis on transport oriented development in Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast where business and residential opportunities around light rail are highly sought after.

What happens to existing bus services?

Light rail, buses, cycle paths and pedestrian walkways will form an integrated city-wide public transport network for Canberra. The first step in defining priorities for the new networks was to undertake the Public Transport Survey. Almost 3,000 responses were received in May - June 2016. Feedback from this survey will drive the customer-based priorities for our city's improved, integrated network.

The buses that currently service the Gungahlin - Civic corridor will be rerouted as part of new, integrated timetables.

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What is being done to select future routes?

The Light Rail Network has mapped the future potential light rail network. Workshops with key stakeholders were held in June 2014. Community consultation was undertaken in November 2015 with almost 2,000 responses received.

The Light Rail Network will be an integrated land use and transport plan and will link residential development with areas of employment, retail and entertainment with high quality, fast and frequent light rail.

The plan will deliver on government policies, including Transport for Canberra, the ACT Planning Strategy and the City Plan and will build on the government's work already undertaken on light rail and integrated land use and transport planning.

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Will the light rail need wires, or will it be wire free?

Wired systems are currently more proven in terms of reliability and therefore our current designs have a wired solution.

Wired systems today are quite discreet, especially when placed amongst a boulevard of trees.

Will there be real time information?

Our contract includes provision of real time information. Real time information can help passengers to understand when the next service will arrive and when they can expect to reach their destination along the route.

Light rail is very efficient and as it runs separately from other traffic and stops at each stop along the route, trip times are very reliable.

What are the hours of operation?

  • Monday - Thursday the light rail will run from 6am - 11.30pm
  • Friday from 6am - 1am
  • Saturday from 6am - 1am
  • Sunday from 8am - 11.30pm

How often will services run?

  • During peak times from Monday to Friday services will run every 6 minutes.
  • Between peak times from Monday to Friday, services will run every 10 minutes.
  • Outside peak times from Monday to Friday, services will run every 10-15 minutes.
  • During off peak times from Monday to Sunday services will run every 10-15 minutes.
  • On Saturdays and Sundays, services will run at 15 minute intervals throughout the day

How long will the journey take?

Current modelling shows that the journey will take 24 minutes or less

How safe is light rail?

Light rail is a very safe mode of transport and a great deal of planning will ensure Canberra has a light rail system that meets world class safety standards.

In Canberra any traffic crossing of the light rail tracks will be coordinated by traffic lights to ensure this interaction is managed as safely as possible.

Each light rail stop will include lighting, alarm points and CCTV as safety features.

How will ticketing work?

Light rail will be integrated with the ticketing system used in ACTION buses - enabling convenient connections for commuters between light rail and bus.

Will I be able to take my bike on light rail?

Light rail stops will be connected to the local cycling network.

Free storage facilities will be available at interchanges and other locations along the City-Gungahlin route.

Each light rail vehicle will have space for a minimum of four (4) bicycles inside the light rail cars.

Bicycle storage on the light rail vehicles will have fixing points to ensure the safety of all passengers.

Will they be like the trams in Melbourne?

The light rail vehicles will be different to the older trams in Melbourne, which are mostly a 'high-floor' type. Canberra light rail will have more modern 'low-floor' light rail system, similar to Sydney Light Rail or GoldLinQ on the Gold Coast. Some aspects of light rail in Melbourne are similar, such as operations along roadways and interaction with vehicles and pedestrians.

Will the trams be noisy?

Light rail is typically quieter than road vehicles and much quieter than heavy-rail trains. Operating within the existing roadways along the corridor, the highest contribution to noise would be general traffic.

Will I still be able to cross Northbourne Avenue?

Yes. Light rail can share lanes with other vehicles and share space with pedestrians. Introducing light rail into the corridor will require some changes to traffic arrangements and intersections to ensure safe and efficient operation.

Who will get priority at the traffic lights?

Light rail will have a level of priority signalling over road traffic.

Traffic signals will be designed so that they can detect the approach of the light rail vehicle to pass through an intersection as it approaches.

Light rail will carefully integrate with the traffic along the corridor to minimise delays to road traffic.

Will there be a park and ride option?

Yes. 'Park and Ride' locations are being established across Canberra to integrate with the public transport network. 'Park and Ride' and 'Bike and Ride' facilities will be part of the integrated public transport network.

Will the stops be accessible for a person with a disability?

The light rail network, including stops and vehicles, will be accessible and comply with the Disability Discrimination Act.

Will there be level crossings or boom gates along the corridor?

No. Unlike heavy rail trains, which require an exclusive rail corridor to operate safely, light rail can share lanes with other vehicles and share space with pedestrians. Typical light rail systems operate in built up areas without any need for boom gates.

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How will the light rail affect the environment?

The additional passenger capacity and demand will replace trips by motor vehicle and consequently reduce greenhouse emissions and reduce the city's contribution to climate change.

Harmful motor vehicle emissions, such as particulate matter, nitric oxides and carbon monoxide will also be reduced.

Light rail vehicles are also electrically powered, which can be provided from renewable energy sources.

Why do we need new trees for the median of Northbourne Avenue?

Many of the trees remaining on Northbourne Avenue median are in decline and will need to be replaced in the near future regardless of the light rail project. The ACT Government removed 42 trees in April/May 2016 due to poor health of the trees and safety issues. The selection of a suitable species to replace the current Eucalyptus elata (River Peppermint) trees is important as it contributes to the sense of arrival to the nation's capital.

Selection of a suitable replacement tree species for the Northbourne Avenue corridor is significant as it represents the fourth generation of trees to be planted within the median since around 1913. We need to make sure that we learn lessons from the previous plantings before selecting the next generation. The three previous plantings have failed due to pest infestation and, in the case of the current River Peppermint, poor suitability to the local climate and other site specific factors.

How was a preferred species chosen?

The fourth generation of trees for the median of Northbourne Avenue is integral to the overall design of the corridor. The selection of a replacement tree involved a rigorous process that included a review of the previous tree plantings within the median, including the current trees, to understand the local conditions and environmental requirements. Taking into account the lessons learnt from previous plantings, the following criteria were set to help guide the selection process:

  • native species
  • form and scale
  • high drought and frost tolerance
  • proven suitability e.g. successfully grown in local urban areas
  • pest resistance and
  • low maintenance and suitable for planting in close proximity to light rail infrastructure.

Advice from industry experts was also sought to capture a range of in-depth knowledge of the local conditions and tree species in the ACT. Organisations involved in the selection process included:

  • Parks and Territory Services, Transport Canberra and City Services (formerly TAMS)
  • dsb Landscape Architects
  • Stuart Prittendrigh, arborist
  • Australian National Botanic Gardens
  • Provincial Nursery and
  • Yarralumla Nursery, Transport Canberra and City Services (formerly TAMS).

The design and performance criteria, as well as expert advice, led to Eucalyptus rossii being chosen as the preferred of two suitable eucalypt species for the corridor, the other being Eucalyptus mannifera (Brittle Gum) which is very similar in appearance.
Further consultation and technical analysis resulted the Eucalyptus mannifera being selected for use in the Northbourne Avenue corridor.

Has the community been consulted on the preferred tree species?

Yes. Earlier this year, community feedback was invited on the landscaping vision for Northbourne Avenue as part of Canberra light rail urban design consultation program. This included feedback on Eucalyptus rossii, also known as Scribbly Gum, as the preferred species for the median.

Selection of Eucalyptus rossii was generally supported with some concerns raised about its potential for dropping limbs and bark, perceived lack of shade and susceptibility to pests.

Following community consultation and further technical analysis, a new preferred tree species for the Northbourne Avenue corridor has been selected and included in the final design guidelines for the project.

Why has the preferred species changed?

Following community consultation, the Capital Metro Agency engaged a soil specialist to conduct a detailed review of the existing soils within the Northbourne Avenue median in comparison to soils on Mount Ainslie where there are naturally occurring communities of Eucalyptus rossii.

This analysis found some differences in the soil chemistry of both test sites that could impact on the success of Eucalyptus rossii on Northbourne Avenue. While measures can be taken to modify the existing soils in the median of Northbourne Avenue, the Capital Metro Agency has decided to use Eucalyptus mannifera as the preferred species for the corridor as it is better suited to the existing soil conditions and is proven as a suitable species along Northbourne Avenue in the verges.

What makes Eucalyptus mannifera a suitable choice?

The attractive appearance of established trees, combined with its suitability to the existing soil conditions in the median of Northbourne Avenue and ability to withstand moderate drought conditions makes Eucalyptus mannifera a very suitable replacement tree for the corridor. The species is also fairly easy to establish.

Eucalyptus mannifera is successful as an urban tree as it generally requires minimal formative pruning and maintenance although it has a tendency to carry some dead wood as it matures. The species does respond well to formative pruning which will be required to ensure limbs remain outside the light rail vegetation exclusion zone.

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When will construction commence?

Works for utilities and other services investigations commenced in June 2016, with preliminary works for construction of the light rail corridor beginning in July.

The first light rail vehicle could arrive as early as October 2017.

The people of Canberra can expect to see these beautiful new vehicles running on the new alignment in late 2018.

How long will construction take?

An approximate two and a half year construction timetable is expected.

Standard construction hours for the project will be between 7:00am and 6:00pm Monday to Saturday.

Some construction activities (eg intersection works) will occur at night, Sundays and public holidays, however the impact of these will be mitigated as much as possible.

When will construction finish?

A completion date for the first stage is set for late 2018.

What are some of the construction impacts?

A traffic management plan will be developed by Canberra Metro and approved by TCCS and will include:

  • minimised temporary traffic management
  • off-peak lane occupancies
  • intersection closures
  • detours
  • utilities investigations
  • carrying out core construction activities during off-peak hours and
  • where possible, starting and completing works in an area before proceeding to the next area, to minimise impact to residents and businesses.

How will the ACT Government and Canberra Metro communicate construction impacts to the community?

As with any project of this size and scale, there will be impacts and some disruption to the community.

We will make sure that the community is informed about construction impacts.

As with all major infrastructure projects, the government will undertake community consultation throughout the project to inform anyone affected.

Through the Capital Metro Agency Place Manager Program businesses, residents and key stakeholders along the route have been kept informed about the latest project developments.

The route has been divided into six zones, with work staggered to minimise the impact of construction on those who live, work or do business along the route.

A construction timetable will be made publicly available in due course.

What are the six construction precincts?

  • Precinct 1 = Gungahlin Terminus to Hibberson Street
  • Precinct 2 = Flemington Road North
  • Precinct 3 = Flemington Road South
  • Precinct 4 = Federal Highway
  • Precinct 5 = Northbourne Avenue
  • Precinct 6 = Civic Terminus
  • Depot in Mitchell

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We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the ACT, the Ngunnawal people. We acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region.