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IN the middle of all the noise last week from up on the hill, down here in our city the ACT’s Chief Minister appointed Chris Steel as the government’s eighth cabinet minister.
Then there was this statement from Mr Barr: “I particularly want Chris Steel to focus on the Woden town centre and opportunities there through government-held assets that can be utilised for community facilities.”
Minister Steel’s portfolios include City Services, Roads, Community Services and Facilities, and Multicultural Affairs.
For years the Woden Valley Community Association has been advocating for better community and arts facilities in the Woden Town Centre. This has become a greater priority given the massive amount of apartments and high-rise towers being allowed for under current planning for Woden.
To date, the planning for Woden has not included expanding the social and cultural facilities to service the needs of the next generations of residents – many of whom will be in small apartments. People will need these facilities given that every possible site and open space is being offered up for construction.
This public acknowledgment of the long-standing problem in Woden is a turn around for the Chief Minister who till recently appears to have done his best to ignore the issue. Setting this priority for the new minister is a resounding compliment for the leadership of the Woden Valley Community Association. Their community president, Fiona Carrick, has not held back in representing the local community in her criticisms of the ACT government’s planning for Woden.
The real lesson for community associations and their leaders across Canberra is not to hold back in the advocacy of the issues important to their residents. In this case, by challenging the lack of understanding of the value of community and arts facilities by the government, the community has some optimism now that the issues will be addressed. Fingers are crossed that the new minister will deliver.
The inner-north is also overdue for consideration for new community cultural and arts facilities. These issues while raised constantly by locals, remain off the government’s agenda.
Here’s the problem. These issues are held in check by the dominant political forces at play. The inner-north association remains dominated by Labor supporters and so the community aspirations are muted so as to avoid upsetting the Chief Minister, who happens to be one of the locally elected politicians.
The other Labor/Greens representatives show no commitment to picking up on issues raised by locals at numerous workshops and meetings when locals voice their support for better community, art and cultural facilities – with Section 72 (Dickson Parklands) being the most obvious point of contention at the moment.
The comparison here is that in Woden, where the leadership has been politely very vocal about their priorities, the government is at last paying attention. Whereas across the inner-north, where the association is muted in its responses on issues such as for better community, cultural and art facilities, the government is under no pressure to do anything.
So the obvious question is – based on the Woden experience: is it time for new, independent-thinking community leadership and for a new bunch of politicians to represent what the inner-north community is advocating for?
The inner-north residents would welcome Chris Steel looking beyond the censored messages from the politically linked representatives and for him to take the time to examine the long-standing needs for better facilities here in and around Dickson. We wait to see what he can do.