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Canberra Today 20°/23° | Monday, January 24, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Plato has a thought or two about our government

Plato? Blimey, this column is going up in the world! It’s another “Seven Days” with IAN MEIKLE.

IT’S not often one is quoted Plato on commercial radio, but that’s what Leon Delaney did when I called by his 2CC drive program the other day. 

Ian Meikle.

We were talking about the Ancient Greeks’ show coming to the National Museum and the popular announcer paraphrased this quote from the Ancient Greek philosopher: “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.”

For reasons I can’t sensibly articulate, my mind immediately pictured the leadership of the ACT government and its dictatorial indifference to the voices of its own people.

As they sit around the Labor/Greens cabinet table, what must they feel knowing their policies consign poor people to never owning a house, sick people to wait years for treatment, the hospitals pillaged for cash, the prison a cesspit and so much municipal maintenance to be done. I’ll bet no one is brave enough to raise the gnawing deficit with the “Chief”. 

So much social injustice to face up to and fix, yet it is met – year after year – with so much spinning gutlessness. Such are our “progressive” priorities for 19th century trams and heat-island, high-rise towers.

My thoughts started to coalesce about these dodgers this past week when Liberal MLA Jeremy Hanson, in his role as Opposition Whip, bemoaned the prospect of a derisory 35 days of Assembly sittings slated for next year, much the same as this.

By way of comparison the average number of sitting days in the first and second ACT Assemblies, when Rosemary Follett was Chief Minister from 1989, was around 50 days.

In March, political columnist Michael Moore wrote: “The reason for the Legislative Assembly to sit often enough is to allow appropriate scrutiny of the government. 

“With the exception of one year, the eighth and ninth Assemblies significantly reduced the number of sitting days with the chief ministership transferring from Katy Gallagher to Andrew Barr.”

Was this the genesis of our gunshy government, one that avoids transparency, one that dodges accountability, one beset by spin and, well, untruths?

And one often accused of being arrogant, out of touch and wilfully deaf to community voices. 

In an opinion piece in “CityNews” this week, Brett Odgers, a former chair and member of the Walter Burley Griffin Society, poses the question: “Given Canberra’s national capital purpose, what roles have national and local communities, the Commonwealth and the National Capital Authority played in the ACT government’s City Precinct and West Basin programs?”

His answer: “Hardly any part at all.”

“The experience of the Walter Burley Griffin Society, the Lake Burley Griffin Guardians and a legion of Canberra organisations and citizens is that participation has been in vain. 

“City Hill and West Basin are presently at grave risk of degradation. The scope and prospects for ongoing community consultations are severely limited by poor procedures, dysfunctional planning and Commonwealth neglect of the national capital idea.”

“Canberra Matters” columnist Paul Costigan is constantly reprising the belief that consultation with the community is about “ticking boxes and tokenistic engagement”. 

In last week’s column he wrote: “Changes to the southern suburbs are being advanced with little detail available to the residents in the firing line. Rest assured, when the deals have been done, the residents will be told – sorry, consulted.”

IGNORING the Canberra community isn’t limited to the ACT government. The NCA got a serve from Dr Sue Wareham, president of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia), still smarting from the authority’s decision to okay “early works” around the half-billion expansion of the Australian War Memorial. 

“Having received an overwhelming message of opposition to the whole redevelopment from public submissions to the ‘early works’ (demolition) inquiry, the NCA is now pretending that most Australians, all except the citizens of Canberra, want the expansion to go ahead,” she says.

“Did the NCA consider the fact that after 99 per cent opposition to the ‘early works’ was not sufficient to put a stop to the project, many people would have given up and not have wasted time doing a further submission to an agency whose decision was already made?

“Is the NCA aware of the AWM’s most recent annual report, which included a visitors’ survey which stated: ‘Of those who attended Anzac Hall exhibitions, 96 per cent were satisfied with this permanent gallery.’ That building is now destroyed. Presumably many of those visitors were not Canberrans.

“In an online national survey in February 2020 conducted by the AWM, only 21 per cent of those surveyed knew anything about the redevelopment plans, only half had ever been to the AWM, and yet that survey was used to boost support for the plans.”

How did Mr Plato’s quote go? “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy…”

OUR collective loathing of the “white speed vans” may be challenged by a sighting by former Canberra town crier John Berry, founder of the No Smart Phones Group. He was phoning us (on a hard line) to report a silver van checking speeds on Yamba Drive, but no top sign, just the magnetised “go away” signage on the side. 

AND on a lighter note, a joke I filched somewhere in the blur of the past week: 

Q: How many optometrists does it take to change a lightbulb? 

A: One? Or two?

Ian Meikle is the editor of “CityNews” and can be heard on the “CityNews Sunday Roast” news and interview program, 2CC, 9am-noon.

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Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Ian Meikle

Ian Meikle

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