“The downgrading of the AAA+ was the most significant financial issue of the year. It demonstrated poor financial management on the part of the government,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE in his review of the year in ACT politics.
WHAT a year. My first column for 2023 predicted the Voice would dominate social discussion and politics throughout the year. It did!
It was pleasing that the majority of Canberrans were progressive enough to vote in support, but disappointing that we were the only jurisdiction to do so.
The year ended with the Canberra Liberals in complete disarray. The Liberal Party in the ACT was unable to elect a president at the annual general meeting. Within days Opposition Leader, Elizabeth Lee replaced conservative deputy Jeremy Hanson, with the even more conservative Leanne Castley! Attempts to present this as a swing to a more progressive approach were simply disingenuous.
The Labor-Greens coalition in the ACT launched into the year with a new Territory Plan. This was in the context of overwhelming demand for more land release and a government determined to restrict choices intent on pushing more people into higher-density living.
The new Territory Plan would take effect by the end of the year in a climate of increasing demand and commensurate increases in costs.
As the budget would reveal, costs to Canberrans would face increasing taxation, more revenue from fines and increasing borrowings. Canberrans paying more taxes! The Chief Minister and Treasurer, Andrew Barr, remained resolute in reassuring everyone that all was well, and the ACT remained in a strong financial position.
Then Standard and Poor demoted the ACT from its AAA+ credit rating for the first time since self-government.
The downgrading of the AAA+ was the most significant financial issue of the year. It demonstrated poor financial management on the part of the government. Poor financial management extended well beyond the Treasurer.
ACT Health has been receiving higher per capita expenditure than other jurisdictions, but health outcomes have been towards the bottom. Apparently, the solution was to take over the Calvary Public Hospital by the ACT Health Directorate that was under constant pressure for better health outcomes.
It is no wonder that the Canberra Liberals have announced the intention to establish a Royal Commission into ACT health.
Since Labor came to power, over 20 years ago, educational outcomes in government schools have declined. Minister Yvette Berry attempted to put a positive spin when the NAPLAN results were released. However, put into social context, the learning outcomes for our kids are sub-optimal.
And, speaking of sub-optimal, the ACT Integrity Commission has finally carried out a series of public hearings regarding the probity of the Campbell Primary School redevelopment tender process. Just when it was looking like they were getting their act together, I heard of a complaint that finally received acknowledgement 16 weeks after submission. Nothing for four months – and then a rejection stating the matter would not be pursued.
COVID-19 hung over our heads throughout the year culminating with the latest wave causing serious community concern. It does seem that previous exposure and high rates of vaccination in the ACT have helped “contain the level of morbidity and mortality” (sickness and death).
Perhaps we could have better predictions on this and other issues by relying more on artificial intelligence (AI). This year AI has really made its presence felt.
Universities and schools and racing to stay ahead of the game by ensuring appropriate use and attempting to maintain checks and balances. Perhaps it ought to have occurred to me to get ChatGPT, or one of the other programs, to write this column for me… but it didn’t!
While the Labor-Greens government was struggling with finances, health and education they were maintaining a progressive agenda. In doing so, they exposed the level of conservatism in the Canberra Liberals. Drug policy, the environment, youth voting, voluntary assisted dying and the age of criminal consent, for example, have all been on the agenda.
Additionally, the introduction of progressive policies has regularly given exposure to government backbenchers – who otherwise carry a serious workload on constituencies and committees with little recognition or thanks.
Next year is an election year for the ACT. The Labor-Green coalition is looking tired, inept and financially incompetent. The Canberra Liberals continue to demonstrate they are a conservative (rather than liberal) party.
With this background, next year is likely to provide serious opportunities for “teal” style centralist independents to give the ACT Assembly the shake-up it needs.
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Ian Meikle, editor