Developers come before people in Canberra 

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“Wasn’t former Justice Dennis Cowdroy’s appointment announced in May? The ACT government has constantly used delaying tactics to ensure the Integrity Commission is not able to undermine it at the next election,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE 

PRIME Minister Scott Morrison has slipped into the habit of referring to other countries as “economies”. Not “nations”, not “countries”, not “people” – just “economies”. The focus for Australia is very clear. The prime concern is money rather than people.

Michael Moore.

The ACT Legislative Assembly is in a similar bind. Big development corporations are being given priority over people. The pages of “CityNews” have exposed the way our planning systems have been favouring industry rather than people. Columns by Paul Costigan and Jon Stanhope have again and again identified shortcomings of the ACT government.

The common factor is a focus on money rather than on people. In 1979 while travelling in the US and Canada one of our acquaintances pointed out: “We used to value people and use money – but now we value money and use people”. 

At the time, I felt lucky to be an Australian. Forty years later Australia has followed the same path.

Of course it’s not all black and white. There are plenty of parliamentarians who understand the impact of greed and the role, for example, that climate change will have on the planet and on the health of the people. 

However, those who have resisted, who have supported expansion of the coal industry, simply put profits ahead of people.

The safety and quality of apartment buildings constructed across Australia in the last few decades are now being scrutinised. One of the co-authors of a report into repairing the building industry in Australia stated: “If I was going to be investing in an apartment, I’d buy an older one… it’s just logical”. 

Bronwyn Weir on ABC’s “Four Corners” program was not pulling punches as she exposed the way rorts work within the building industry in our country with profits before people.

The emergence of widespread defects in the building industry happens to coincide with the widespread adoption of private certification across jurisdictions. 

The temptation to corruption was in place when the government employed certifiers. However, there were checks and balances, a focus on community interest and protections in place for public-servant certifiers. These all played a role in putting people before corporations, which was largely lost with the advent of private certification.

The ACT government has argued that expansion of apartments in Canberra is important to meet the growing population of the city and to provide affordable housing. At the same time, development companies such as Geocon, who have been part of the massive expansion in Canberra, have been using Chinese-language advertising in China to sell the apartments overseas. 

With a Foreign Investment Review Board exemption certificate, developers are able to sell 50 per cent of their apartments to overseas interests.

Nowhere is the priority for business clearer than in the system of political donations that undermine our parliamentary democracy. Large donors, in particular, do have better access to government and decision makers than ordinary folk. 

The building industry should be the first cab off the rank for the new ACT Integrity Commission.

But wait. Wasn’t former Justice Dennis Cowdroy’s appointment announced in May? The ACT government has constantly used delaying tactics to ensure such a commission is not able to undermine it at the next election. 

When will the Commission seriously start its work? The government’s own website states: ”The ACT Integrity Commission will be an independent body that will have the power to investigate corruption in public administration and strengthen public confidence in government integrity”.

There is another question. Will political donations, along with building and development, be at least some of the first areas of investigation? Let’s hope so. However, it is appropriate that the commissioner determines his own areas of investigation. The independence of the Integrity Commissioner is critical, which is why the reports go to the ACT parliament rather than to the government.

The Integrity Commission is just one body that can help turn around the tide of profits over people. It is up to us. All members of our community should understand the downsides of being lured in to voting for greed. 

Developers face $10m fines for alleged false marketing

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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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