Poor suffer as farm land Barr bought stands idle

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“What perplexes me is that over the past nine years Andrew Barr has been personally involved in or responsible for the purchase of up to 4000 hectares of urban-capable land at a cost of at least $60 million,” writes columnist JON STANHOPE.

THERE’S much about the recent ACT election that confounds me and what it says about us as a community.

Jon Stanhope.

The campaign turned some of our assumptions about the core principles of the competing parties, the ALP/Greens and the Liberals, on their head. 

For instance, we were confronted by the Liberals campaigning on cost-of-living issues and focusing on the impact of our rates regime on pensioners and people from lower-income households; housing affordability and its impact on the housing choices of working-class and lower-income households, and also the need to invest in public health services to ensure people from lower-income households, without private health insurance, received timely and quality health care.

The Liberals promised to address these issues with a freeze on rate increases over the next four years; the release of sufficient land to meet the housing choices of all Canberrans (thereby stabilising the cost of land for detached housing) and to reverse the savage funding cuts to health services made by Labor and the Greens over the last six years. The Liberals also promised an inquiry into poverty.

Labor and the Greens opposed all of these initiatives and campaigned, in the main, on their record and socially progressive reputations, and have been returned to government.

What interests me is that we, or at least a majority of us, a large proportion of whom, like me, are educated and comfortably middle class, own our homes, have private health insurance and comfortable superannuation accounts have, in re-electing Labor and the Greens, had no qualms about voting to deny pensioners and people from low-income households ongoing rates relief. 

We have also sanctioned the continuation of the government’s land-supply policy, which has resulted in a massive reduction in the supply of affordable land for detached housing thereby forcing working-class people and those in lower-income households to either silently accept the ALP/Greens dictate that it is their fate in life to either keep paying rent or to buy a flat or, if they wish to live in a detached house, move across the border and live in NSW.

In relation to access to health services, we have signalled that we’re cool about pensioners and people from lower-income households, including children, who can’t afford health insurance, having to wait four to five years for elective surgery or to see a specialist at the Canberra Hospital.

I wonder what I’d feel if I was, say, an 80-year-old age pensioner living with my wife of 60 years in our three-bedroom matrimonial home in Ainslie, a lifetime Labor supporter but on the verge, for the first time in my life, of accepting charity in order to put food on the table because the rates on our home have more than tripled in the last eight years, while pensioner concessions have been abandoned. Meantime, my well-heeled neighbour in the million-dollar, knock-down rebuild on the vacated public-housing block next door told me he had voted for Labor or the Greens and hence against a freeze in my rates.

I also wonder what those young families in the bottom two income quintiles, that the ACT government through its land supply policy has knowingly excluded from owning a detached house in Canberra, think about all those middle-class people who are privileged to already own a detached house and who, by voting for either Labor or the Greens, have effectively guaranteed their continued exclusion from the housing market. I assume that by so voting we have also ensured that the value of our homes will skyrocket in a supply constrained market.

I have written previously about the impact of the major cuts, in real terms, over the last six or so years of more than $100 million a year, to the ACT Health budget, on timely access to public health services by those residents of Canberra who cannot afford health insurance. 

As I have said, I simply cannot imagine what a young mother must feel about those of us that have voted for the maintenance of the status quo when she is advised her toddler will still need to wait, as revealed just before the election by Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith, for up to five years for an appointment with a specialist at Canberra Hospital. 

Incidentally, the handling during the election campaign by the respective parties of the question of land release for detached housing was the issue that left me most perplexed.

In a Legislative Assembly debate on July 30 and throughout the campaign, Labor and the Greens lambasted the Liberals for failing to explain where they proposed to provide land for housing. 

What has perplexed me is that Andrew Barr has, over the past nine years, in his role as either Chief Minister, Treasurer or as Minister for Economic Development (in which he was responsible for the Land Development Agency) has been personally involved in or responsible for the purchase of up to 4000 or so hectares of urban-capable land across the ACT at a cost of at least $60 million. If that land wasn’t purchased for the purpose of guaranteeing a supply of land for housing into the future then why did we buy it?

Jon Stanhope was chief minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only chief minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly.




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Jon Stanhope
Jon Stanhope was Chief Minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only Chief Minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly.


  1. Stanhope highlights the enduring cognitive dissonance at play within the ACT. Not much of the last election made sense; from the flipping of Liberal policies to Labor, to the protest vote going to the Greens, to Hare Clark making sure Independents are not able to get elected.

    Because we are dealing with issues too confronting to process for most people, expect Stanhope to be either ignored or vilified as these are the two simplest forms of coping with what he is saying.

    • All the facts would be useful, but you won’t find them in Jen’s comment either.

      The statement in Jon Stanhope’s article that “… pensioner concessions have been abandoned” is a little hyperbolic, concessions may not have been totally abandoned but have been wound back substantially under the Labor-Green government, so his sentiment is valid.

      Prior to 2015-16 the pensioner concession 50% cap for ‘General’ Rates was indexed, since then it has been frozen at $700. The concession for ‘Other’ Rates was an uncapped 50% and is now 26% due to it being fixed at $98.

      Caroline Le Couteur may have saved this from being worse, but if her leader wasn’t pocketing a ministerial salary the Greens could have completely stopped this particular attack on some of Canberra’s financially disadvantaged.

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