ON Thursday, June 28, I attended one of the "Canberra Conversation Lecture Series" organised by former chief minister Jon Stanhope.
With a room full of 160 or more citizens concerned about this city’s planning (or the lack of it), there was an expectation that some gems would be forthcoming. I was very disappointed.
If this is the best we can do, then the corrupted systems that now underpin this government’s development-friendly regimes will continue to do damage for many years.
On the way home I thought I needed to communicate with Jon Stanhope that his three speakers should be respected for their learned contributions, should be allowed to be consulted on occasions, but that their respective families should no longer allow them to front public seminars. Collectively the contributions by Tony Powell, Ken Taylor and Patrick Troy were well informed. Unfortunately, the presentations were chaotic, rambling and depressing.
Any audience member with an enthusiasm for making change would have left the room dispirited. There were no realistic pointers that any citizen could grab hold of and go forth to bring about change to the city’s complex planning systems. The highlights were not from the main speakers but from the facilitator, Toni Hassan, and late in the hour by Jon Stanhope.
Toni tried to keep the speakers on subject and to answer the questions posed. She knew her stuff, had read their research papers and offered the audience the occasional short, sharp, critical comment. It became obvious that the future for this city’s planning will rely on voices such as Toni Hassan to bring together people of her generation to confront a corrupted system of government.
I use the term "corrupted" carefully. Think about a computer system that develops coding faults that then corrupts all other software despite efforts to apply patches and fixes, that themselves are the wrong ones. The solution is not to apply more patches, but to replace the system software completely – a full, clean install.
The ACT government system is now completely corrupted in its dealings with residents on planning, development, social housing, public housing, the urban environment, community and cultural facilities – and the list goes on.
A comment by Jon Stanhope towards the end of the seminar provided a clue to the depth of the problem with this ACT Labor/Greens hive of misinformation and remoteness. Jon questioned whether the current Hare Clark hybrid election process is delivering good government. Is the power of the Labor/Greens semi-coalition form of government blocking democratic processes? Despite all the assurances at the last ACT election, the systems remain corrupted. The Chief Minister and his ministers have applied Band-Aids, but most have turned out to be superficial or, in some cases, possibly worse than the original problem.
The other comments posed by Jon Stanhope drew a few nods. These are matters I ponder often. Why are people so complacent, why do they not speak out (in the face of continual misinformation and spin) and why don’t people insist on something better than what is being spooned out to them by this government?
We can only hope that better-informed and more-focused people such as Toni Hassan can bring new energies and approaches to these complex debates to completely reboot how government and its agencies operate in this city.
In finishing, I wish to ensure that such learned people as the three who presented at this seminar are treated with respect. As "elders of the tribe" they should be consulted and their expertise drawn on when applicable. But we desperately need others to step up and to test fresh ideas through such public forums and to take the leadership in how to usher in a new form of government with real vision for this wonderful city.
Tony Powell’s views can be read at the-southern-cross.com/TP/TP.pdf
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