Democracy muted as Mick calls in YWCA project

ACT Government endorses bad planning

The ACT’s planning directorate is a rogue bureaucracy doing the bidding of anyone but the residents of Canberra. Few residents would be confident that the directorate has the expertise to do anything except to continuously mess stuff up.

I believe the chief minister has staffed the planning directorate with selected bland bureaucrats so that they confuse the residents with inaccessible and contradictory rules, not make intelligent decisions and leave it to the major developers.

It is not always the government bureaucrats doing weird things in planning, heritage, environment, urban or housing. Sometimes it can be organisations aligned politically with their favoured ministers.

This brings us to the YWCA Canberra – a corporatised organisation in receipt of large funds from their minister, Yvette Berry. Given the historical values of this Christian group, the founders must be turning in the graves at the YWCA’s public actions to be horrible towards residents along with recent efforts to challenge the democratic processes in how planning decisions should be made.

Following the appeals tribunal ruling that the planning chief was wrong to approve YWCA’s social housing alongside Bill Pye Park in Ainslie, the logical step would have been to question who drafted such a badly written application and who signed off on it.

Instead the YWCA took to attacking the residents who challenged such a rotten proposal. Then, by coincidence, the planning directorate changed a rule that would favour a new application by the YWCA.

In mid-June the YWCA lodged a submission about the planning reforms that included a plea that projects such as theirs should not be subject to appeals. The justification was that once the planning directorate had approved the application then the rules had been met – no need for appeals. Did they not read the appeals tribunal’s words about how many rules had not been followed?

Not satisfied with that inaccuracy, the submission attacked residents’ groups and put one in there for the appeals tribunal. Apparently, the YWCA Canberra should not have to be bound by such democratic processes. Way to go!

This proposal was predicted to receive special attention and, not surprisingly, on Wednesday (June 29) this happened.

Minister Mick Gentleman, was convinced to use his special call-in powers to approve the YWCA’s development. This “call-in” avoids the planning chief having to deal with the embarrassment of approving for a second time a YWCA development that did not meet rules and denies everyone from appealing the development.

The lessons for the residents – do not get in the way of a favoured developer and a pocket of money – and do not think that this government operates democratically.

Which bring us to the ACT’s own eviction queens, ministers Berry and Rebecca Vassarotti. Having been questioned about the nasty business of evicting older people from their homes, these two ACT Greenslabor ministers published articles justifying their robo-evictions program. They pushed the line that the tenants are guilty because they want to stay in their homes.

They overlooked the last decade of neglect by their Greenslabor government. They need to sell these lands to raise funds for their housing program because they have not made this a budget priority. Need a tram? Plenty of cash for that!

In their responses, the eviction queens sympathise with the residents – “Moving can be hard”. How would they know that? Maybe these ministers equate moving out older people with their own experiences of well-paid jobs with multiple privileges. Maybe packing up the family for a holiday on the coast is a similar experience to being forced out of your much-loved home of decades.

These arrogant ministers have refused sensible suggestions to allow the tenants to opt in – to stay if they wish. Will more of these cruel robo-evictions be part of the Greenslabor election promises at the next elections and will they present conference papers on the distress they caused older women?

A final thought. If this is about freeing up land and some tenants have moved on willingly, then there are vacant properties in Ainslie. This means that the desire for the YWCA for land to build their specialists social housing could have been met with Yvette Berry handing over a couple of these former Housing ACT sites to the YWCA.

The community designated land and buildings alongside Bill Pye Park that the YWCA claimed could have then be handed back to the local community for their own use as community facilities.

But that is not going to happen with the autocratic decision by Gentleman. Killing off democracy is the way to go for the ACT government in 2022.

Meanwhile, let’s hope that a little common sense and kindness will return to Ministers Berry and Vassarotti and the nasty evictions will be cancelled.


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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