“What’s particularly unclear is the extent to which unions have acted as a go-between, linking big developers with the upper echelons of ACT government. It is an unhealthy alliance that is far too opaque,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.
CAUGHT between a rock and a hard place. The nature of our politics forces our voting decisions to be based on the “least worst” choice.
And so it is with the October election for the ACT. Nowhere is this more obvious than on issues such as planning, accountability, transparency and integrity.
Labor is the “rock”, having been comfortably in power for a couple of decades and seemingly immovable. The Liberals are the “hard place” as voters wonder if they can be trusted to do better? Or is there another alternative?
While the strong links between Labor and the unions have been understood for many years, it is not clear what role the unions have played in influencing the government on planning land development. What remains particularly unclear is the extent to which unions have acted as a go-between, linking big developers with the upper echelons of ACT government. It is an unhealthy alliance that is far too opaque.
Before the last election, the then Liberal Party leader Jeremy Hanson, who is again standing in the seat of Murrumbidgee, revealed a memorandum of understanding between the government and unions. That MoU stated: “Prior to any contract being awarded: The list of tenderers for each contract will be provided to Unions ACT” and later “only providers/performers of works and services who meet the set criteria will be pre-qualified”.
There is but a forlorn hope for an inquiry and report by the ACT Integrity Commission before the election as I outlined in this column last week. Land deals and decisions that seem to favour large developers will remain opaque for the foreseeable future. Open and accountable government notions have drifted away.
Strong independents or minor parties may well be the solution to the lack of transparency and accountability.
The Canberra Progressives have seven candidates running in three of the electorates. They are demanding a government based on ethics, evidence and empowerment. Their website indicates a commitment to improving accountability and transparency.
Their take on evidence is interesting, “public policy that is informed by the most recent available data, based on expert advice, research and facts; not ideology or personal opinions”. There is also a focus on empowerment so that “Canberrans have a say and participate in both the community and in government. It is time that the ACT government listened to the people it represents”.
Parallel to this approach is that taken by Yerrabi independent candidate David Pollard. Like other Canberra Progressives, Mr Pollard’s platform includes strengthening the ACT Integrity Commission.
“The Labor/Greens budget will dictate if the commission will have enough resources to move forward properly with their investigations into corruption,” he says.
Independent candidate Bruce Paine is hoping to win the fifth seat in Kurrajong and provide “a new voice in the ACT Legislative Assembly. An independent voice that will champion economically sound, socially responsible policies, and will protect the things that make Canberra such a great place to live”.
One of the concerns that he expressed is that “too many of the current government’s decisions unduly favour developers, the construction industry and unions”. He added, “just look at their plans to fill in West Basin and build more high-rise units”.
Paine already shares the cynicism of a seasoned politician, perhaps as a result of a career as a federal public servant working in Treasury. He presents as financially responsible but socially progressive.
He argues “the ACT Labor/Greens governments have raised our rates and other ACT taxes much more quickly than the community’s income”.
No doubt there is frustration for the independent candidate David Pollard, who ran an anti-corruption platform in the 2016 election. Although not elected, Pollard did receive the highest number of votes outside of the incumbent parties. His perspective is that “when the government of the day controls their resources, how independent can the commission be? Crossbench scrutiny can help strengthen the independence of the commission”.
Perhaps there is somewhere between that rock and the hard place!
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.