Blame the Griffins – Really?

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When about 250 citizens venture out on a cold night to hear about plans for the foreshores of West Basin one would expect that they would be taken seriously.

At least one would hope so. You would expect anyone presenting to this Canberra gathering of like minds – with a huge range of expertise and experiences – that the presentations would be fact based, not be patronising, and be honed down to ensure that there were main points to be made and would avoid spin and generalisations.

At the meeting called by the Lake Burley Griffin Guardians at the Hughes hall on Wednesday 27th July – exactly the opposite happened. It was sadly laughable! And the audience reacted accordingly – polite chuckles were frequent.

In this short piece it would be impossible to provide all the details of the government presenters’ frequent use of spin, the multiple instances of misleading information, the many occasions of cherry-picking, and some wondrously stupid claims.

It was a strange event to witness. The bureaucrats all presented as if they were talking to one of their specially selected tame consultation groups – that later get counted as participants and included in their reports on the processes of consultations.

Here’s just a few examples of the sad amusements for the night:

The NCA Chief tried vainly to convince the audience that they needed to get things into perspective – after all we were talking about a small part of the total foreshore – being 2km of 40km. A hushed chuckle and grumble went through the hall. Later someone pointed out that we gave away Kingston foreshore for those shocking toasters, and now the NCA was saying that we should give away another important foreshore for more of the same. And next?

There was a footnote to the Kingston toaster debacle. One respondent later pointed out that the original urban design brief for the Kingston foreshore was an innovative urban village complete with ample green open spaces and many sustainable features.

But as we all know, the original planning and design work was trashed to please the developers. So even if we accept what is being proposed by the LDA for the West Basin – it will most likely not be delivered and will be trashed for more of the same as we see in Kingston.

The main government presenter – who ran over time and looked like he did not want to stop – based most of his arguments around the now well-used myth that all this fitted within his version of the Griffin Plan. Every time he said this there were murmurings – especially from the several Griffin specialists in the room. Several people from the audience later debunked this.

‘Blame Griffin’ was his mantra for the night. Really!

These government bureaucrats, who are the descendants of those bureaucrats who drove the Griffins out of this town, are now using a very twisted version of the designer’s concepts to justify something that the Griffins would totally reject.

This project as with many others around town is a case of selling our land to suit other interests. In the process of dealing with the public backlash they use very practiced and clichéd spin to justify dubious decisions.

The representation on the night was typical of the LDA bureaucrats who have come to operate in a world separate to the rest of us and totally believe their own spin.

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The government presenter even tried to use the fact that his Griffin Legacy document had won a prestigious national award. There was yet another chuckle and a few comments about the value of such ‘awards’. There is wide skepticism about the value of such awards except as marketing tools for the industry that runs them. At this point, gauging by his face, the government presenter realised he was running out of tricks.

Later the LDA used terms such as undeveloped land, isolated, degraded infrastructure, unrealised potential, need to have more density, and of course – more housing ‘choices’ – to convince people that parklands, such as those on the foreshore, should be built on. The presenter seemed a little surprise at the chuckle that came from just about everyone in the room when he resorted to these clichés.

Links were made by speakers to the ‘success’ of Docklands in Melbourne. More chuckles followed from people who know the realities about this site. It is an example of a market(developer)-driven solution for a former industrial dock site that suffers because it was not based on real planning. I have stayed in the towers there a couple of times. It is not a location I would recommend for ambience – as the first thing you do is hop on tram to go back into the city or anywhere – but you do not stay in the Docklands.

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The government presenters had to bear the brunt of one speaker, a learned journalist, who used such term as ‘spives’ and ‘cronies’ when describing the profit hungry people behind the LDA’s schemes such as the City to Lake project. He said aloud what I suspect most people in the room were thinking.

There were many more instances that caused murmurs, groans and outright laughter and heckling from the otherwise very patient and well-behaved audience.

Praise must go to the government presenters who fronted up. But given that their whole argument for this development is a very silly exercise in deception – smoke and mirrors – one wonders just what they were thinking.

For The Lake Burley Griffin Guardians the evening was definitely confirmation that there is support for scrapping this project and for the government to initiate some real planning for the future development of these green spaces to the west of Commonwealth Bridge. 

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A final note on the meeting: The meeting was very well chaired by Genevieve Jacobs. Thanks to her chairing, most people (but not quite all) kept to their allotted time.

A comment on political interests in urban matters: I have seen Shane Rattenbury at several community meetings – as an observer. He was there on the night as a presenter (keeping to his allotted time) and it was clear that he was listening.

More of our elected politicians should attend such meetings – just to hear for themselves rather than relying on others to filter the information. I used to see Kate Lundy do this. Gai Brodtmann was there to observe. I have not seen Andrew Leigh attend such meetings – you would have thought he would be interested given the importance of the lake to the national capital.

The meeting chair read out a statement by the ACT Opposition Leader – which went down well till the end when he could not resist somehow linking the West Basin proposal to the coming of the tram – which caused some laughter. He just could not resist! Shame.

Thanks to the Guardians, the real and open community debate about the use of these foreshore parklands has only just commenced.

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Paul Costigan

Originally published on RiotACT

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