ACT Government to trash West Basin

NCA trades North Curtin horse paddocks

It’s not often that the community sector gets stunned completely by an ACT government development announcement.

Residents already accept that this government justifies incompetence through the use of alternate facts, that they disregard the city’s heritage, and that it operates unchecked within its own reality.

The event that stunned many was the March 25 statement by the ACT government’s “much-admired” City Renewal Authority. It had decided to make use of the COVID-19 shutdown to boast about its dubious deal with the National Capital Authority. The NCA has horse-traded away parts of the lake for land in Curtin.

This will allow the ACT government to fill in part of West Basin to allow the lakeside parklands to be concreted over for development.

Canberrans have made many submissions with evidence and facts about heritage, the environment, cultural values and science about why such horrible things should not be done to West Basin.

Despite this, the agencies were out there representing their parallel universe proving yet again that they are unhinged from sensible urban design, environmental and heritage ethics.

The NCA today is an opportunistic developer-friendly agency that operates in lockstep with the ACT Planning Directorate in destroying the bush capital through ad hoc development decisions.

The most stunning aspect of the City Renewal statement was that most media reported their propaganda as fact. Whereas this mischievous exercise was about presenting loads of alternate facts.

For a government agency representing the views of the ACT Greens and ACT Labor to speak down to the local community with such disingenuous fantasies was an historic low point in good governance.

In Rebecca Solnit’s 2019 book “Whose Story Is This?, she quotes psychologist Dacher Keltner: “While people usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of others, such as empathy, collaboration, openness, fairness and sharing; when they start to feel powerful or enjoy a position of privilege, those qualifications begin to fade. The powerful are more likely than other people to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behaviour.”

George Orwell in talking about totalitarianism, says: “Totalitarianism demands the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth.”

Somewhere between those two quotes is an accurate description of the ACT’s Labor/Greens government’s attitude to residents on planning and development matters.

The situation is shocking. How did we come to have such barbarous proposals being promulgated as being good for this city?

They even dared to state that there was community support. For this we have to thank that notorious YourSay government portal that keeps on delivering altered realities for those in power. How did we come to this?

Before writing this piece, I waited to see who responded and what they had to say. Notably local politicians of all colours were silent. There were community voices saying exactly what the government expected. These evidence-based opinions will be ignored as is the practice of this government.

The state of ACT politics is very depressing. One side of politics, the barbarians, carry on unchecked. The other side are notorious for their silence. They see no evil, hear no evil and do nothing. If there is any member of the ACT political parties who thinks that this government should cease acting like a populist authoritarian government, now is the time to speak up.

The City Authority states that West Basin is underutilised and degraded. If it is degraded, then the NCA has allowed this to happen. The truth is that it is used often and has wonderful open spaces with complex biodiversity along the shorelines. For those who enjoy quiet walking and a place to contemplate – it is a fabulous alternative to the more crowded areas by the lake.

West Basin should be upgraded as a green space to encourage these types of quieter activities. Such parklands are presently in high demand during this lockdown crisis. The NCA and ACT government could do well to enhance this lakeside parkland rather than concrete it over.


This article was 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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