ACT Government Ministers talk too much

ACT politicians break protocols at meetings

With the pandemic not going away any time soon, many community groups have utilised technologies to have online meetings – a good thing on wintry nights.

One such online meeting was July 13 for the Inner South Canberra Community Council.

The hot topic was the latest craziness from the Planning Directorate. This was an unannounced planning document in which large sections of the inner north and inner south were coloured in with a blue or grey colouring – being nominated as “Urban Investigation Zones”.

Absolutely no explanation was given nor were they spoken about at the recent rounds of workshops on the so-called planning reforms. The best guess had to be that all these areas were being considered for high-rise developments to pay for the future tram lines south to Woden and out to the airport.

At the meeting a couple of representatives reported that those in the directorate they had spoken to could not explain the new maps and even offered the explanation that they were not meant to be circulated. Someone said they may be withdrawn. No doubt this annoying situation could be avoided if someone had taken the crayons away from the chief planner.

The online meetings have become an easy way for local politicians to access the community groups. Instead of getting out to meetings, they can sit at home and join in when required. All are usually given a couple of minutes to talk about stuff – hopefully things of relevance to the meeting. Mysteriously, not all have got the message to be brief and to the point.

Emma Davidson, ACT Greens MLA and Minister for all sorts of stuff, was introduced as one local member. She then took the opportunity to deliver according to her political training – she spoke forever about anything and everything for 20 minutes or more. I retreated from the screen and did the washing up – so no disadvantage for me.

The ACT Liberals in attendance had listened and kept their contributions brief. Leader Elizabeth Lee was quick and her messages simple and to the point; while Peter Cain (as opposition planning person) was very direct.

He spoke of his experiences of attending the recent planning consultations and that they were being run to benefit the developers whereas this needed to be reversed so that the community was the focus. Given the Planning Directorate’s history of ignoring residents, best of luck turning that around.

Given that community groups share hot topics about planning, crap design (architecture), the lack of maintenance of the urban environments and the overdue priority to look after parks and to increase (not decrease) the greenery of the suburbs, it is disappointing and insulting how much air time used by the politicians did not address these issues.

Often government politicians when challenged said they may look at bringing something up with the relevant minister or that they may even send them a letter. Wonderfully vague at best! It is rare to hear them talk about real actions to significantly change how things are done.

It is very annoying that they so arrogantly launch into self-promotions of how wonderfully they are performing as ACT Ministers for Whatever.

With many complex planning disasters on the agenda, do we really need to hear about how they have expanded electric bike hire? Worthy sounding distractions are not appreciated when time is tight and so many planning issues require urgent attention.

The covid pandemic has delivered a great opening for people to be part of the discussions within local community councils. It has also delivered opportunities for local politicians to stay at home and at the same time work with the local residents’ groups.

Thank you to Elizabeth Lee and Peter Cain for not exploiting these opportunities – and for your helpful contributions.

Hopefully, these respectful actions will be a model for the others and next time all politicians in attendance will be brief and relevant to the meeting’s agenda.

And commit to doing something about that crazy Planning Directorate!

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This article is a version of the piece originally published online with City News

Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday matters.

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