Boxes ticked, it’s time for morning tea

ACT Government reports how they do not much

A good strategic or corporate plan outlines what is being done and proves timelines.

Progress is then provided on how much is being achieved against each predicted stage – and when it is expected to be completed.

It seems that the ACT Labor/Greens forgot these basic aspects of reporting when they recently published their report on their mutual agreement to possibly do something while in government.

The report, released on November 27, jointly by Andrew Barr and Shane Rattenbury, was headed “Significant Progress on Parliamentary & Governing Agreement”.

To quote from the media release: “The Canberra community wants an open, accountable and transparent government, which is why this first report into the ‘Parliamentary and Governing Agreement’ is important. This progress report is an important accountability measure to keep the government on track and the community well informed.”

What follows in the document are columns of aspirations. There are 93 items listed as initiatives. Alongside 75 of them there is a tick and the words “Work Progressing”.

It would not be hard to image how these assessments were made. The directors of programs were asked if anything had been done yet – and the answer being a very bold – Yes, Minister! The boxed ticked till 2022 reporting time.

The wonderful aspirations and the worthy words in the report contrast completely with the real-life experiences of community groups dealing with this government on planning and development issues.

The action to improve Canberra’s planning system has three items with dot points of objectives and outcomes. Not a lot of clarity on what they are going to do.

Following on from their normal behaviour, it will be more meetings with themselves to devise something to suit a certain set of lobbyists, and then another meeting to decide on how to tell the residents what is to be implemented (well informed).

As community groups know, this reform has been a long time coming. The best we get are three ticks indicating that work is progressing. That could mean the chief planner had a meeting or two to discuss what he might do in 2022. Box ticked.

Don’t look here to find out what the reality of those infamous coloured areas drawn around where the tram is to be going south. That would mean outlining a real outcome. Silly thought!

Nothing much here about their commitment to social housing. The initiative being “Aim to deliver a total of 400 additional public housing dwellings by 2025, inclusive of the 260 additional dwellings already committed by the government for the period 2019-2025”.

That’s an aim, not a commitment, for an additional 140 on top of previous commitments. Box ticked. And the thousands of people on the list for housing?

There’s a new set of articles online to do with planning in this city. The latest is by Bruin Christensen, and is titled “The Significance of the Current ACT Government Planning Review“. It is a 16-minute read and worth the effort.

The article talks about the vagueness of what the chief planner is supposedly setting out to do with this reform – or to be more accurate – leaves the clear impression that the chief planner does not know what he is doing.

The paper covers many key problems with planning and highlights what is missing in the process of review – real involvement by the communities in Canberra.

A point not addressed is that the longer-term, successful changes to planning depend on intelligent and forward-thinking leadership.

This city is desperately overdue for real leadership in planning and design. No matter how good or bad the system of planning is – good things happen when there is good leadership with expertise in design and a commitment to leading the community through change. It has been a long time since we have had such people.

The latest report points to how the present planning ministers and bureaucracy operate.

They tick boxes and then have meetings and morning teas while their communication staff issue meaningless press releases and colourful reports. Wonderful!


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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