Costigan / How many times does Labor have to be told?

“Canberrans want their cherished city to remain human scale and to be enhanced as the bush capital – more trees, green spaces and biodiversity – not less,” writes PAUL COSTIGAN

CANBERRA has been very fortunate to have residents who have stepped up to be leaders of our community associations. These individuals undertake an extraordinary amount of voluntary work to try to secure the future of our city for present and future generations.

Paul Costigan.

Canberra residents want their cherished city to remain human scale and to be enhanced as the bush capital – more trees, green spaces and biodiversity – not less.

This passion drives the thinking of many who run and attend community council meetings. That’s why we live here and not elsewhere with traffic problems, lack of green and grey infrastructure and increasing skylines of towers of machine architecture.

A 21st century vision for Canberra should be focused on being people oriented, being livable and sustainable – and recognise heritage.

Our city needs good political and bureaucratic leadership, people with innovative corporate management expertise matched with a creative and forward-looking approach. Such leadership needs to ensure that deeds match lofty words – otherwise those visionary words become more useless and dangerous spin.

Mentioning such spin brings us back to the present ACT government. It specialises in spin. It does not provide good leadership.

The ACT’s Labor/Greens government has a published vision for this city to be “one of the world’s most livable and competitive cities – welcoming to all”. As visions go it is not brilliant (being polite). It is hard to believe that anyone thought that statement represents the aspirations of the city’s highly engaged, culturally interested people.

A point of difference developed before the 2016 election with the Chief Minister stating that he needed to look for planning and development comments from people not engaged with the pesky community councils. Following that election the government established its own citizen forums – apparently a more effective form of community engagement.

Two lists of priorities have recently been generated – the first on “Housing Choices” and the second titled “Better Suburbs”:

Housing Choices: Affordability, character, environment, lifestyle & diversity, planning & approvals, public housing, construction quality, design quality and zoning.

Better Suburbs: Lakes, ponds, stormwater, water quality, street & park trees, household waste & recycling, public spaces, waste & recycling, roads, public spaces (parks & open spaces) including mowing, library services, footpaths, verges & nature strips, graffiti & community engagement, streetlights, play spaces; shopping centre experience, maintenance, parking, paths, traffic management, responsible pet ownership; community ovals & fitness stations.

There are no surprises. Residential groups have constantly promoted such priority lists. Other issues that are mentioned in meetings are biodiversity (keep our small birds), arts and community facilities, heritage, and the traffic chaos caused by lack of realistic planning (Gungahlin and Molonglo) and the plonking of questionable developments into older suburbs.

All the topics, and more, are consistently debated at community meetings and have informed submissions in the hope of bringing about positive, intelligent and creative changes to planning and development.

So far there have been few successes from these many submissions. This is mainly because the ACT government rarely acknowledges the priorities of local community groups. Whenever our beloved ACT Labor/Greens ministers and their bureaucrats talk up questionable developments – as they do often – residents wonder just how these people so easily make such stuff up.

What locals have come to understand is that this government knows that it knows better than the residents (the electorate) as it hears this from within its own echo chamber (wherever that is) and from its hoards of spin-doctors.

We can hope that now the government has feedback from its own citizen forums, surely they can see that their results align with what they have been told for years. So what is the government to do?

If there was effective, honest and intelligent leadership within this Labor/Greens government, there would be an acknowledgement of this validation of the community’s priorities and then they would rapidly publish actions and deliver against these issues. Too optimistic? Probably.

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