Columnist MIKE WELSH reflects on another another seven days in the national capital
WHEN a politician addresses a residents’ meeting you do not expect them to contradict themselves.
This happened at the North Canberra Community Council (NCCC) meeting on Wednesday last week (September 19) when the Minister for Urban Renewal, Rachel Stevens-Smith, spoke in between two key presentations on Dickson developments.
One wonders why such politicians fail to see the irony in what they are doing and saying.
As reported here on citynews.com.au last Friday (September 21), the first half of the meeting was a report from residents who had worked around the time-consuming and painful problems caused by the ACT government’s urban renewal processes.
Residents had made direct contact with the developer, Coles, and had achieved positive design outcomes concerning the new supermarket proposals. We are watching this space.
Then came the second half of the meeting when the government bureaucrats were to present their two proposals for building apartments and social housing on the Dickson Parklands (Section 72 Dickson).
Up jumped the Minister for Urban Renewal to acknowledge that the supermarket fight by the residents for good design was unfortunate and that lessons were to be learnt by the government (of course). She mentioned that Ben Ponton, the chief planner, was absolutely committed to changes. We felt so much better after those words. Really!
Then she introduced the next presentation by her planners on the Parklands site – and handed over to Karen Wilden, who is the “Director, Engagement and Executive Support” for Ponton.
If what followed was the Minister’s version of “engagement”, then her government has a long way to go in learning about working with residents.
This is the irony. The minister stood there and said that things were wrong and were to be fixed and in the next breath let loose her own bureaucrats to confront the residents – in the nicest way, of course.
What followed was a series of jargon-filled presentations that left the residents with a very clear message: They were being disempowered over what was to happen to the Parklands site; their contributions were being devalued; their opinions were being seen as disruptive to the minister’s and the bureaucrats agenda; and any aspirations for the Parklands site to be a community, cultural and arts facilities were to be debunked by whatever means, no matter how spurious.
People left the meetings being very clear that they had just given up another evening to hear an enormous amount of spin and user-friendly “engagement” language (and it was coming thick and fast). People were clear that the bureaucrats, with the minister’s blessing, were more interested in disengagement with these pesky residents. Why? Is it so that the bulldozers could be sent in during 2019?
My next magazine piece to be published online on Wednesday, October 4, will provide more views on how the ACT government is conducting itself in dealing with residents.