A NUDGE and a wink; doing deals; an understanding between mates; looking after the team; the quid pro quo… it’s the small decisions that breed complacency and that’s how problems grow.
It’s minor issues that initiate a path towards corruption and they need to be nipped in the bud.
Planning deals are the most obvious and they must stop.
Two current examples are illustrative. At this stage, they’re not decisions, just temptations.
When Hong Kong-based Aquis Entertainment, the new owners of Casino Canberra, offers a development carrot to the ACT government it is sorely tempting.
The quid pro quo is access to poker machines. Aquis is prepared to support a Canberra icon – the Brumbies – and is offering a development in one of the quieter parts of Civic, including two new hotels with 100, five-star rooms with restaurants and high-end retail outlets.
Manuka Oval presents a similar deal. Grocon is prepared to support AFL and the Greater Western Sydney Giants.
The promise is for a new oval as well as a hotel and cafés, serviced and general residential apartments along with 140,000 square metres of retail and office space. And renewal of Manuka Oval.
These are unsolicited proposals. A trade-off of community benefit for such deals is full of pitfalls. The value can come back into community coffers in much more transparent ways.
When a developer floats ideas, the government should make them public, have them considered on merit by planners and the Land Development Agency, finesse the ideas and then put them out to open competition.
The money raised in this way can then be prioritised by the community. It just might be that funding for a school in Gungahlin is a higher priority than improvements to the Manuka Oval precinct. Allowing developers to set priorities is an anathema to good planning.
These are the sorts of examples that make the residents nervous. Look at Red Hill. What is going on? Who is pulling what strings and why? The redevelopment of the public housing precinct is largely welcomed. However, as the Red Hill Action Group convenor, Stuart Rogers, points out: “The Barr Government approved a variation (334) to the Territory Plan, effectively rezoning 5.3 hectares of Red Hill from public housing and low-rise housing to the highest residential density possible”.
If passed, it will allow buildings of five storeys plus plantroom across the road from low-rise dwellings.
Why are such extremes allowed? Who are the winners and losers?
As Mr Rogers points out: “The variation also contains several provisions which benefit a future developer rather than protecting the interests of the existing community”.
The community group is not opposing redevelopment – just the size and scale.
The Yarralumla Brickworks site started at 1800 dwellings and five storeys and has been pared back to 380 and three storeys.
Within the ACT Assembly there are also challenges.
Conflict of interest is one. Steve Doszpot MLA was spot-on when he told the Assembly: “It is very regrettable and naive, or arrogant, of the Chief Minister to put former education minister Ms Burch into such an incredible conflict-of-interest situation by nominating her to a position on the Education Committee”.
The committee is looking into issues that have resulted in an audit into the Canberra Institute of Technology by the Australian Skills Quality Authority from the time that Ms Burch was the Minister responsible. Having her as part of the deliberations is patently unacceptable.
Doszpot also pointed out a personal as well as the institutional conflict of interest in telling the Assembly: “The former minister implied, while denying there was anything amiss at CIT, that the person who had first brought this to the committee’s attention was someone we should not regard with any seriousness”.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr assigns these responsibilities. Being blind to the conflict puts Burch into an impossible position, undermines the workings of the Assembly committees and creates discord. When an Assembly committee is divided equally between Labor and Liberal it is untenable to have a former minister deliberating on issues that may have been failings in her own portfolio responsibilities.
From even small foibles large afflictions grow.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.