THIS week Dickson residents received yet another bureaucratic announcement about Section 72 (Dickson Parklands) and the imminent demolition of the former union training centre.
The notice contained the usual misinformation and rewriting of events from last year; no surprises given how often the government sends this stuff around.
The notice finished with more on the government’s wonderful approach to consultations and reaffirmed its very questionable political commitment to building a Common Ground on the Dickson Parklands.
This statement about a new Common Ground on this community site is not new. The government and its bureaucracy repeated this at every opportunity throughout 2018 and now into 2019. It still does not make the decision sensible or honest; nor has it gathered community support.
The ACT Labor/Greens government says over and over again (though few believe them) that it was an election commitment by Labor at the October, 2016, ACT elections. The reality is that it was dreamt up in the last days heading into the election.
It was announced with no community consultations and since then the government has doggedly insisted that the community must accept this dubious political decision.
This despite a mountain of objections with the strongest being let’s have such a facility, but not on this site as it is a community site to be developed for community cultural uses.
Then there is this observation. If you go to Common Ground in Gungahlin, it is situated on a large plot of ground.
The site is large enough for the present building to be enlarged to cater for the needs identified. It is close to public transport and other services.
Extending the Gungahlin building would be efficient for the management and be cost effective, especially given the reports of a looming ACT government deficit.
Did those who thought this up on the spur of the moment consider that placing smaller set of units in Dickson would mean another management unit for the second building and force the support services to make two visits to see residents rather than just one visit?
I am aware fully that the Labor Party is saying it must meet this election commitment. But let’s get real and acknowledge that this was put in place at the last minute before the last election to politically demonstrate that by building another Common Ground it was taking this supported-housing issue seriously.
If the government was being honest, it could so easily deal with the issue of providing more for this category of people (who need this specialist assistance) by not duplicating the running costs and adding extra costs to the service providers.
The most vocal politician pushing this very questionable and illogical decision is Rachel Stephen-Smith. She was first elected in that 2016 election and immediately entered Andrew Barr’s cabinet.
It was not till August, 2018, that she was handed the extra role of Minister for Urban Renewal. She has become the government’s face for this difficult and complex argument even though others, including Andrew Barr, Yvette Berry and Mick Gentleman, are the ones responsible.
In a funny sort of way, one feels sorry for this minister for having to carry the can for others who have carefully made themselves absent from this debate.
Rachel Stephen-Smith has had to also demonstrate support for the planning directorate’s “Yes, Minister” bureaucrats who continuously produce alternative facts on how they are conducting their community engagements. The common experience is that these bureaucrats continue to treat residents badly and have not done the government any favours. They have reinforced the perception that you cannot trust anyone in this government on planning and development.
Common sense and a new-style political and honest leadership is required in this Common Ground debate. The truth is out there.
The question is whether Rachel Stephen-Smith will deliver for her government or honour her compact with her electorate and deliver for the community and good governance.
Who can be trusted?
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Ian Meikle, editor