What a mess: it should never have come to this

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The $25 million “shed” on the Garran Primary School Oval.

“The coronavirus-induced, panic-driven decision to build a $25 million shed on the Garran Primary School oval would not have been necessary had the rigorous planning undertaken and commitments made over 10 years ago not been trashed,” bemoans JON STANHOPE

HERE’S another first for the most progressive government (self-declared) in Australia… a young Canberra man facing a range of serious criminal charges has been denied by the ACT Supreme Court, against his serious objections, a right to a trial by jury. 

Jon Stanhope.

While I am a lawyer by training, I admit I have no great knowledge of legal history but I would not be surprised if this is the first time in Australia, at least since federation, that an Australian citizen charged with an indictable offence has been denied this basic right. 

The joint architects of this dubious policy, presumably at the direction of the Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, namely Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay and Minister for Justice and ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury have cemented a place in history. A place all the more remarkable in light of the ACT’s status as the first Australian jurisdiction to incorporate a bill of rights into law in the form of the Human Rights Act.

What is equally remarkable is that the decision to abandon this fundamental tenet of the rule of law, even if only temporarily, is that not only did no other state or territory feel the need to go so far as to deny the right to a jury trial against the wishes of a defendant but that it was also vehemently opposed by the Canberra Liberals.

Indeed, in a speech in the Legislative Assembly in opposition to the Labor and Greens proposal to abandon jury trials the Liberal shadow Attorney-General Jeremy Hanson gave a fine speech, which I felt perfectly reflected what have traditionally been regarded as core values of the ALP and I had always assumed, of the Greens.

The decision of the ACT Supreme Court to proceed to try this defendant despite his strong objection to a trial by judge alone is likely to be appealed to the High Court.

Not only has the High Court not been particularly sympathetic to the ACT government’s law making in recent times, it is quite likely that this matter will not be heard by it before the COVID-19 menace has either passed or abated, thus rendering the fate of this right-wing adventurism academic. 

WHILE on the subject of the Supreme Court, I have recently had occasion to attend the newly opened court on a number of occasions (voluntarily, I hasten to add).

It really is very grand, in fact almost sumptuous. It has a touch of the Palace of Versailles about it – and not just because of the wigs and gowns. 

I can’t help wondering every time I visit the new Supreme Court how much it cost and if the cost was rather more that was really necessary.

HAVING strayed on to the subject of money brings to mind, again, the parlous state of the ACT’s Budget and, in these trying times, the state of ACT Health Services. As an aside, I wish Mr Michael De’Ath, the just departed director-general of Health, all the best following his decision to resign from the position apparently in order to return to Melbourne to be with his family at this stressful time.

Mr De’Ath, however, is the latest in a number of senior members of ACT Health, including the immediate past Minister for Health, and I believe his two predecessors as director-general, and sundry other senior officers who have chosen in recent years to retire, to spend more time with their families or to otherwise explore new opportunities. 

One of his predecessors famously left within a day or so of her appointment. I recall wondering at the time, perhaps unfairly, if her sudden departure was before or after she had been briefed by the chief financial officer about the state of the hospital budget. 

In all seriousness, I think it is important as we respond to the greatest health crisis in a century, that we acknowledge and address, with urgency, the largest of the elephants in the room.

ACT Health has for a number of years been chronically underfunded. The facts are irrefutable. For at least the past five years if not more, ACT Health has not been funded to account for growth in population, the ageing of the community, the advent of new medical technologies and medicines or, in other words, health inflation generally. The compounding effect has been a cut, in real terms, of at least $100 million a year over that time in funding for health services in Canberra.

In addition the government has failed to honour commitments made in 2010 under the leadership of then Deputy Chief Minister and Minister for Health, Katy Gallagher, to refurbish or replace by 2020, the entirety of the Canberra Hospital precinct, including the main tower and to increase the number of beds commensurate with the increase in population and demand, namely by up to 450 beds. We are currently in the order of 150 short of the promised target. 

To be blunt, the coronavirus-induced, panic-driven decision to build a $25 million shed on the Garran Primary School oval would not have been necessary had the rigorous planning undertaken and commitments made more than 10 years ago not been trashed. In the circumstances, the shed probably needed to be built even though we all dearly hope it will not need to be used, but it should never have come to this.



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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. Some good points Jon, but could you explain why the initiative to abolish the right to trial by jury is “right-wing adventurism”? I didn’t recognise any right-wing adventurers in the cast of villains you named.

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