Macklin / Under fire, we made it back to camp

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NOW that was a vintage year. One hundred years on from the start of the Great War it felt at times as though we were in hostile terrain and under fire from all sides. But with a couple of nicks and a few very near misses we made it back to camp.

Tasmania’s feisty Senator Jackie Lambie. Drawing by Paul Dorin
Tasmania’s feisty Senator Jacqui Lambie. Drawing by Paul Dorin
The first salvo from above arrived in the form of a massive hit to the Public Service with 7200 jobs in the firing line. Fortunately our departmental commanding officers had been through this before. Though one in 11 employees departed, most were treated with compassion and sensitivity.

Then came the Budget, which took us all by surprise. But somehow – with a little help from the Senate – we not only survived but found ourselves proclaimed the most liveable city in the world.

The Mr Fluffy tragedy – a legacy from the Feds – exploded like an IED wounding more than 1000 of our troops. And while there’s some disquiet about the way they’ve been treated, our local medics, Gallagher and Barr, certainly put in the hard yards.

In our own politics we’ve had some small arms fire. The jail has been a constant concern; the recently announced expansion of the Canberra Hospital’s Emergency Department should have happened years ago; and that $800 million tram to Gungahlin has left most of us unconvinced of its viability. Katy Gallagher’s departure has left a hole in the officer corps that will be very difficult to fill.

But enough of conflict. We can also look back on a year where Canberra has continued to come of age as the heart of the nation. Despite the economic challenges, the theatre and visual arts have flowered; our nascent film and TV industry has leapt into the national arena. Sporting venues such as Manuka Oval and the new tennis complex have risen to international standards. New hotels have mushroomed. Entertainment venues have boomed. Tourist attractions from the NGA to the Arboretum to the National Museum have consolidated their place in the national itinerary.

But perhaps most profoundly, I detect for the first time a sea change in the way our compatriots in the states regard us. At last they seem to be making the distinction between Canberra the city and that “Canberra” of journalistic shorthand for a political ogre. And oddly enough, I think we can thank Prime Minister Tony Abbott and that awful Budget.

Partly it’s because we were slugged hardest. And that news filtered through to the rest of the country. But also the federal characters it threw into the limelight such as Queensland’s bulbous Clive Palmer, Tasmania’s feisty Jacqui Lambie, SA’s Nick Xenophon and squeaky Christopher Pyne make it unrecognisable from that dull, boring pinstriped “Canberra” of yesteryear.

Even Tony Abbott is a quintessential North Shore denizen who has never actually moved here with his family. I hope I’m not mistaken. It feels like tossing an old monkey off our backs. And here’s something else: remember when our friends in the states used to say: “Oh I couldn’t live there; it’s too cold”? Maybe in these days of global warming they’re starting to have second thoughts!

A very happy Christmas to all.

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Robert Macklin
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