Moore / Better Budget, better Canberra, better spin

“The word ‘better’ is simply testing against what we had last month, or last year, or before Labor came to power at the end of 2001. It’s wishy washy!” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE

THE spin around Budget time gets better every year. This year the Barr government has really nailed it with the phrase “better Canberra”.

Michael Moore

Of course, spending additional money should make a better territory. That is the whole point of the Budget.

On the one hand, “better Canberra” ticks all the boxes. How can anyone disagree with it? It is entirely appropriate that the ACT Government’s 2017-18 Budget should be designed to deliver a “better Canberra”. On the other hand, the branding is simply redundant.

The debate on the light rail is now in the past. However, there are certainly plenty who would argue adding to the light rail network from Civic to Woden will not make a better Canberra. I am one that thinks it will enhance our city and improve public transport use. However, I can see how it might interfere with the crossing of Commonwealth or Kings Avenue bridges and how this might not seem much like a better Canberra to motor car commuters.

It’s not new. In 2008, just after a third Labor election victory in a row, the then Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, stated in a media release: “Labor went to last month’s election pledging to build a better city and a stronger community, and at the heart of both is the government’s determination to make Canberra the most liveable of cities, maintained by responsive and efficient government services”.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr wants a “better Canberra” in so many ways. Better education, better health, better roads, better public transport. Better, better, better. It is worth noting that the word “best” is not employed in this spin. The trouble with best is that it can be measured. The claims can be tested against other jurisdictions. The word “better” is simply testing against what we had last month, or last year, or before Labor came to power at the end of 2001.

It’s wishy washy!

This is not to say that there are not some good things in the Budget. Of course there are. Most of the good things have been “leaked” over the weeks leading into the Budget. This style of “leaking” has become quite an art form. There are few surprises for the intrepid journalists who submit to the Budget lock-up. It is really just about reading all of the Budget papers in order to put all of the “leaks” into context.

The context this year is “a better Canberra”. As the Chief Minister put the argument, the Budget “was driven by two imperatives: delivering election promises and repairing the bottom line”. On these two he has delivered.

Canberra is a different city from any other. Canberrans ought to wear this with pride. Sure, our city can be made better – but it should not lose its character as a planned city with a series of city centres, all with their own strengths.

The carefully planned Canberra does not necessarily suit the development lobby. This lobby invariably pushes for a stronger centre in Civic understanding that there is more profit to be made in rebuilding in and around Civic without having to contribute to the same extent in infrastructure as would be necessary in the other town centres. A “better Canberra” does not mean replicating the mistakes of other cities.

Suffering long, one-way commutes instead of having employment in the town centres, putting up with a crowded-out and sleazy “downtown”, being caught in long traffic jams and excessive pollution is not anything that we should attempt to emulate.

So when the Chief Minister refers to “no more will we have the joke that Canberra is 100 suburbs in search of a city” he is on thin ice even mentioning this nonsense for those of us who know, love and appreciate the benefits of a planned city.

The Chief Minister and Treasurer attempted to address this in his Budget speech.

“At the same time as the City Renewal Authority delivers a better CBD, we are investing right across the territory to revitalise our town centres and clean up our suburbs,” he said.

“This includes delivering the next stage of the West Basin boardwalk, expanding the Belconnen Arts Centre precinct and investing more to clean up graffiti, cut litter and keep our ovals green.”

The government has delivered on their election promises and on the bottom line. However, the reality is a simply boring Budget. The political spin is an attempt to present a different story.

Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health

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