Good governance lost to condescending spin

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The ACT Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate HQ in Dickson. Photo: Paul Costigan

“ACT ministers often make announcements that people have trouble taking seriously. They look like puppets with strings pulled by bureaucrats,” writes Canberra Matters columnist PAUL COSTIGAN. 

THIS city has a serious governance problem. Chief bureaucrats and ACT ministers often make announcements that people have trouble taking seriously. The same meaningless and condescending spin.

Paul Costigan.

Government ministers look like puppets with strings pulled by bureaucrats.

Take for instance the announcement on Friday, August 16, that Minister Chris Steel’s bureaucrats had come up with as a brilliant way to solve a problem caused by his government’s mishandling of public transport. Weekend buses were not showing up, leaving commuters stranded. Minister Steel announced an inspired solution to change some buses from arriving every hour to every two hours! 

You have to wonder about a government that speaks so proudly about such an absurdity. 

Over in the Health portfolio there have been announcements by past and present health ministers on the Woden Valley Hospital hydrotherapy pool. 

The minister repeated the claim that it had to close because of the pool’s outdated mechanisms. It was staggering to watch the dumb statements by politicians that the southside people who use the pool should travel across to Belconnen to use other facilities. 

Meanwhile, other experts agreed that the pool was a potential danger to maintenance staff but with special equipment and allowances for the dangerous working conditions, this work could be undertaken – that’s what technical people do when provided with the correct gear. 

No amount of bureaucratic fumbling around with spin could avoid what was obvious to the people affected, that a new southside pool will be needed urgently. 

It was a governance issue being handled badly by unthinking politicians mouthing the words of bureaucrats who are paid to know better. 

Let’s talk planning, where good governance seems to be absent permanently. On Tuesday, August 6, a statement appeared announcing that the chief planner, Ben Ponton, had cancelled what was known to “key stakeholders” as his Environment and Planning Forum. 

This happened because one attendee kept asking questions about what was considered a bunch of inappropriate technical changes to the planning rules that had been made by the chief planner. The answers Ponton gave were not accepted and so the questions continued. Ponton cancelled the forum. Easy!

But not to worry, the same statement included this from the chief planner: “I take engagement with community and stakeholders very seriously”. 

The ACT government has refined its expertise to say such worthy stuff repeatedly while doing the exact opposite. These disingenuous statements have become the norm with alternate facts constantly pouring forth from the politicians and their agencies. 

A perception remains among many in the community sector that planning decisions are made by an independent body called the ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA). 

The reality is that the legislative power of ACTPLA is held by one person, the chief planner, the planning directorate chief answerable to the planning minister, Mick Gentleman. Is this good governance?

The chief planner, and his spokesperson the planning minister, have been going on about having a new Territory Plan (holiday reading, anyone?). 

The planning directorate has been busy with meetings and setting up new ways to have their chosen groups linked to development of the plan. The consultations and workshops are being run by the same bureaucratic culture, the same spin merchants, the same bureaucrats making inappropriate and condescending statements. What could go wrong? 

Residents are understandably cynical that any new plan could deliver anything close to people’s visions for the city. What is missing is a comprehensive examination of how this Labor/Greens government planning processes are devoid of good governance linked to a humane approach to dealing with people’s lives and aspirations. This is needed to come before any new plan.

 

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