It was on a clear September day in 2007 when Australian Army officer Jeremy Hanson was approaching Canberra on a morning flight from Sydney.
“Although I probably resembled the average passenger, inside I was a jumble of nerves and emotion,” the ACT Opposition Leader told a Liberal gathering at the National Press Club today.
Only 24 hours before he’s left a hot and dusty base in Iraq bound for home and nine days leave with his family after eight months commanding an Australian Army unit responsible for training Iraq’s fledgling Army.
“With the demands of the job of keeping my soldiers alive, I had spent only a handful of days with my youngest son Robbie in the past year. He was now 18 months old and I was afraid he wouldn’t recognise me,” Hanson said.
“That’s why I was so tense and emotional. As we descended to land I looked out the window at Canberra below me, I experienced a sense of belonging that I hadn’t experienced for 22 years.
“Approaching the terminal after we landed, I could see my wife Fleur holding Robbie, waiting for me to come through the arrivals gate. The fear that he wouldn’t recognise me was washed away when we met. He reached into my arms and hugged me without letting go for what seemed like an age. It was the greatest feeling of joy and relief I have ever felt in my life.
“And that feeling of belonging here in this city, of being home, is one that made me realise just how much I owe Canberra, how much I love Canberra and how much I wanted to contribute to its future.
“That was the day I decided to do something about it. That was the day I decided to fight for our city.”
Clean up government
He said that despite Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s comments and claims, the government was not working for everyone – “they are working for their own mates and insiders, their own ideas and agendas. They have forgotten why they are here, and who they are working for,” Hanson said.
“This government has now gone beyond just poor priorities, they have fallen into the habit of operating with poor principles. There are currently police investigations into a number of issues. The auditor-general has been investigating property deals, health data and public interest disclosures. There are frequent questions about conflicts of interest and of closed-door deals. Then there is the Memorandum of Understanding with UnionsACT signed by Andrew Barr that has led to public outcry.
“The ‘Canberra Times’ editorial of 17 March came to the conclusion that ‘The deal between the state government and UnionsACT just doesn’t smell right.’ In last week’s ‘CityNews’, Michael Moore wrote a damning article about the ACT Government which included his conclusions that: ‘there is the smell,’ ‘There is also a whiff around planning and development’ and ‘They appear to be acting at the behest of unions’.”
He said it came as little surprise that UnionsACT have launched a $60,000 attack ad with the aim of scaring vulnerable Canberanns.
“Canberra workers deserve better than a fear campaign,” he said.
“The fact is that after 15 years, this government has been in power too long, and has stopped working for the people of Canberra. They are instead working only to keep themselves in power.
“The only way this will change, is to change government. If we are elected in October the day of government by the insiders for the insiders will end and government for all Canberrans will begin.
“We will clean up government business in this town. We will stop the back room deals, we will stop the secret government and I will never sign a document that gives a veto on government contracts to anyone outside the government, ever.
“And just as we will clean government up, we will also restore the focus on delivering on the priorities of our broader community, not just on deals to stitch up favours or placate a faction.
“And the biggest inside deal that stands to rob this community of billions of dollars is the Gungahlin tram. In the lead up to the 2012 election, Labor was promising an $800 million rebuild of the Canberra hospital and barely mentioned a tram. But Labor abandoned its plans to rebuild the Canberra Hospital and instead promised all of that money and more for a tram. A tram that we simply do not need, did not ask for and do not want.
“It is the king of all insider deals aimed at nothing other than maintaining power at the expense of what this community needs. And that’s why we will not proceed with this appalling $1.78 billion deal for just a single phase of light rail. There will be a cost to stopping this folly, but it is a fraction of the cost of proceeding.
“The risk is in not re-scoping or enacting termination clauses in the contract. The real risk to the ACT is spending billions on a redundant transport system at the expense of things that will really build our city for the future. Because the real issue is what else we could invest in with that sort of money.
“Instead of a tram, we will invest much more into better hospitals, much more into better schools, infrastructure for everyone and deliver better local services for all Canberrans.
“We are a city that is ideally suited to implement transformational 21st century technologies like autonomous vehicles that are just around the corner that will revolutionise private and public transport. We should be looking forward and capitalise on our unique design as a city of future technology, not squander billions on an unsuitable and unviable mode of transport that is yesterday’s technology.”
Hanson said that in recent years Civic and the town centres had significantly degenerated.
“If we are to see the character of suburbs maintained while we build a true city heart in Civic and renew our town centres, then we must repeal the strangling tax that is the Lease Variation Charge in Civic and our town centres. It is a failed tax that doesn’t collect much revenue but has prevented hundreds of millions of dollars of development, and can add tens of thousands to the cost of an apartment.
“Our policy will see older commercial buildings in Civic and town centres re-used as apartments and will not only breathe life back into Canberra but will ease the housing affordability crisis affecting younger Canberrans.
“Repealing the Lease Variation Charge will also be a massive shot in the arm for our economy and will kick start much needed building activity.”
On the subject of home ownership, Hanson said that Labor, after promising rates wouldn’t triple at the last election was doing just that.
“Household rates have been going up at about 10 per cent a year and rates will go up an extraordinary 20 per cent on units this year, hurting those on the first rung of home ownership and adding to the cost of renting as those costs are passed on,” Hanson said.
“The take from commercial rates will go up another 10 per cent this year, slamming small business yet again. Land tax is up another 11 percent in a single year.
“And there is still $266m being collected every year in stamp duty that Andrew Barr plans to put on our household rates.
“If we form government in October we will not continue with Andrew Barr’s unfair rates rises, we will not be adding $266m a year on to household and commercial rates.
Repair the schools
“We must also repair the damage done to our public school system by Andrew Barr who when he was education minister closed down 23 Canberra schools. Without spending billions on the tram, we can give our school system much more capacity and ensure that our schools are being maintained properly as core business.
“That’s why I announced recently that under a Hanson Liberal Government we will deliver an $85m package to support our schools. We will provide millions to improve infrastructure all across Canberra. We will provide extra funds for our four specialised schools. We will provide an extra $17.5 million specific support for children with disabilities who are being left behind.
“I don’t want to see a cage in our schools ever again.
Fix the health system
“Just as there are people being left behind in education, we find people being left behind in our health system.
“We have all of the elements to make Canberra the world’s best health system. We have excellent staff, a medical teaching school, a world-class medical research facility, universities that train nurses and more.
“But under Labor we have the longest emergency department waiting times in Australia, the most expensive health costs in the country, a toxic workplace culture, and too few hospital beds available for Canberrans.
“With a growing and ageing population and health expenditure consuming about a third of the ACT annual budget, we must make fixing our health system a non negotiable priority. My vision is to give Canberra the best health system in the country. To do that, it needs to be bigger, it needs to be better and it needs to be smarter.
“This means more hospital beds in more locations, it means a better culture for our health staff and a better experience for patients, and it means a greater focus on prevention and early intervention.
“This is the sort of long-term investment that can only occur if you don’t spend all your money on Light Rail.
“We can do more to take advantage of sectors where Canberra is well placed to take a nation-leading role, including education and ICT. And one sector that has enormous untapped potential for growth in the ACT is defence industry and technology.
“Today, I announce the Launch of the Canberra Liberals Defence Industry Plan. The plan is to create a hub in Canberra for new high tech defence industry. This will create jobs, bring smart and motivated business to Canberra, and genuinely diversify our economic base.
“The opportunities are staggering. Just one project, new submarines is $50 billion dollars alone. We can’t build subs here but steel work is only about 15% of that investment with new technology being a much bigger component. Let’s get more of that expenditure here in Canberra.
“The Canberra Liberals will provide $1.5 million to establish the ACT Defence Industry Group, that will work with government and industry to attract defence technology companies to invest in strategic infrastructure, education, training, and research and development; while fostering a competitive business environment.
Hanson said the Liberals were aiming at creating the environment where people wanted to do business in Canberra, big or small.
“Small business simply can’t survive in Canberra with massive rates increases every year, year on year,” he said.
“And the consequence is that we are not keeping pace with the rest of Australia when it comes to private sector job creation. We must make Canberra a place where people want to do business.
Supporting the workers
“Central to this are the workers, the real workers. Everyone in the suburbs and schools and shops working hard to get ahead.
“Modern Labor leaders like Andrew Barr wouldn’t recognise a blue collar worker if they fell over one.
“You know, when we questioned Andrew Barr a couple of years ago about the impact of his extending paid parking in Civic until 10.30 at night it was with concern for low paid retail and hospitality workers who find the cost of parking can be a big proportion of their salary.
“His response was that the cost of parking was simply the difference between sparkling and still water when you are having a $100 dinner in Civic. That’s how out of touch he is with average and low paid workers who he is leaving behind. That’s what happens when you go from university politics straight into a political machine, into the ministry, into the top job as an appointee.
“That’s not my story. I spent 22 years of my life in the Army with some of Australia’s hardest working men and women from all walks of life. I have rolled up my sleeves many times and dug trenches with these workers and have seen firsthand the struggles low paid workers have to make ends meet. That’s the difference between us, and it’s why our views for the future are different.
“My vision for Canberra is one where people come first, where we preserve the fabric of our beautiful bush capital, where our suburbs remain true to their character and our city centre and town centres have become bigger, brighter and more vibrant and we are focused on the future.
“A future for Canberra where transport around the city leads the world in innovation and technology and is best suited to our dispersed geography and is focussed on the future.
“A future where our economy is stronger and less dependent on the Federal government, but uses our strategic advantage of being the national Capital to unlock much of our potential for trade and tourism. Where doing business is easier.
“A future where our schools and hospitals have not just kept pace with our growth and changing demographics, but are the best in Australia, if not the world.
“That is what we will bring to this election – hospitals, schools, jobs. Not just a tram and higher taxes.
“Just as I started with a story from my background, I’d like to end on another one which sums up everything about who I am and the sort of government I would lead.
“My Army career instilled in me certain principles: Trust. Initiative. Teamwork. Respect. But one principle stays with me more than the others: and that is the principle that you put your people first and you leave no one behind.
“That’s what I bring to politics, that’s what I’ll bring to government – you leave no-one behind.”