ACT Greenslabor sham consultations

Many in the community spend an extraordinary amount of time and energy responding to the flow of developers’ consultations on proposed developments.

To make things more onerous, residents are having to co-ordinate multi-responses to multiple issues within the same areas within tight timeframes.

Community volunteers work on this stuff despite knowing that the ACT’s planning systems are not transparent nor conducted democratically. Greenslabor planning and development processes are very murky. Hard evidence and simple facts are tossed into the bin.

Except in rare cases, after presentations at community meetings and many submissions, the alterations to proposals are minimal at best. The aim is to have the consultation boxes ticked and for development applications moved to the next stages.

The process then gets repeated in subsequent stages with feedback yet again provided in good faith. It is often the same feedback – even though the former submissions were ignored.

For residents’ groups, this has been the pattern for far too long. They commit to making submissions on demand as if they are being taken seriously by the bureaucrats, the politicians and the developers. This does not happen.

It could be that the well-paid politicians are wilfully blind to how they and their chief bureaucrats treat residents. Maybe they are not collectively bright enough to deal with the cycle of their own inactions and horrible decisions. Their reaction to criticism is to distract from their inadequacies by announcing new policy thought bubbles and by getting the complaint media to tell stories of how progressive they are.

This government’s well-honed fabrication of consultation is condescending and insulting to residents’ groups who have values they would like their government to reflect.

Polite residents try not to speak openly about this dilemma in the hope that by doing so (remaining polite) the government may be nice and change the way it deals with local communities. It does not happen!

This sham continues with the ACT Planning Reforms as overseen by the planning bureaucrats under the watchful eye of the chief minister – the actual planning minister. Most residents’ submissions were ignored. The next stage is being rolled out knowing that what the government is proposing will not be changed much despite numerous suggestions and objections.

People have remained polite and the bureaucracy exploits this. The chief minister is happy watching the boxes being ticked while the last shreds of what used to be government planning are dismembered under the guise of reforms.

Every trick in the book is now being used to disguise the reality that this ACT government has become dysfunctional in its management of planning and development.

The switched-on leaders within community groups have realised that the time has come to pull back from relying on this disingenuous government and the disinformation dressed up as progressive policies.

They realise their valuable time and expertise should no longer be wasted away on submissions and in making fruitless responses to fault-ridden development applications that go on to be approved by the planning directorate.

The bureaucrats of the ACT’s planning directorate’s bland tower block in Dickson are not providing leadership in vision, design, planning, aesthetics and the enhancing of the city’s biodiversity, green infrastructure and urban environments ready for the effects of climate change.

This tower is where community submissions disappear. The city’s health and wellbeing will be dependent on the creativity and expertise that resides within the suburbs – which the Greenslabor government and its bureaucrats consistently ignore.

What residents value and aspire to has been included in many of the previous submissions. These need to be extracted, refined and published. No need for Rattenbury-style, over-the-top documents with meaningless worthy words. A couple of pages of key statements on values and principles need to be uploaded to the community websites.

Instead of repeating how they are matching the shallow standards in the ACT government’s policies, developers should be asked (politely, of course) to respond to and reflect the values and principles of the residents who live in the relevant suburban areas.

Those responses could be used to politely suggest what needs to change for residents to accept and sign off on what is being proposed. Something like this is worth a try as what the government is doing now and what is being dressed up as planning reform is rapidly wrecking this city.


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

Paul Costigan is a commentator on cultural and urban matters

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