Flat White

A development binge and budget fears cloud Canberra’s looming Legislative Assembly poll

11 October 2020

5:42 PM

11 October 2020

5:42 PM

With the ACT election six just days away, Canberrans, however deep their Labor loyalties, are beginning –just — to realise what another four years of Labor-Green government will mean. 

In the last federal election, a variation of Nimby-ism swept Canberra – it was Not With My Franking Credits.  This time, in the Territory election on October 17, it’s again realisation that Labor priorities do not match with the average householder and ratepayer in the ACT.  

The discontent has been quite plain to see. Corflutes for Labor candidates have been defaced with green paint. Is this a not-so-subtle message to Chief Minister Andrew Barr that the Greens are keeping  Labor in power and people don’t like it?  

With unusual agility, Canberra Libs, usually left scrambling in Labor’s wake, announced free childcare, increased hospital services and a host of other election promises, such as saving the North Curtin Horse Paddocks from development as well as planting a million trees across the ACT, a ‘Green Space Guarantee’ and – two concessions to Canberra’s unique cultural and social mix – the Liberals would no longer worry about marginal issues such as homegrown cannabis and greyhound racing and instead concentrate on priorities, like the cost of living.   

Hardworking Liberal Giulia Jones (who bravely ran her first ‘Giulia With A ‘G’ campaign nearly a decade ago) has relentlessly sought to alert Canberrans that, if Labor won again, they stood to lose one of the few remaining saved-from-development spaces in the ACT, the West Lake Basin and the Horse Paddocks in a ‘secret’ land swap deal that involved an exchange between the Horse Paddocks’ and very des-res West Basin real estate – for yes, more apartment.  

Green space matters to Canberrans, though it’s quite noticeable that the ACT government doesn’t like the ‘Bush Capital’ tag, so familiar to long-time residents.  A letter from Jacky Fogerty , ‘current member of local Landcare groups, Friends of Hughes Grassy Woodland and the Red Hill Regenerators’ who while applauding that the Friends had received a grant of $8050 to improve bird habitat in the Curtin Horse Paddocks area, was ‘appalled to think that the area could ever have been considered for bulldozing’ for diplomatic housing.  

And while it hasn’t quite reached the depths of ‘rats in the ranks’ accusations, former ACT Labor chief minister, the only one to have governed with a majority, Jon Stanhope, started a brawl in Labor ranks by criticising his own party’s policies,  and then – hold your breath — announced he would accept a lead role in a poverty task force, promised by the Liberals if they win government next month.  

Current Chief Minister Andrew Barr tossed back a snarly reminder that Stanhope, as lifetime Labor member, should be having nothing to do with the, but around shopping malls, dog parks and cafes of Canberra (all thankfully COVID free), unhappiness with Labor is palpable, most apparent in rusted-on Labor voters 

“What did they go and do that for, all these units when families want a bit of yard for the kids?” I am told, the speaker hastily adding, “Don’t use my name, my son works in the government.”  

He means, of course, the ACT government, grafted on the Territory by edict of Bob Hawke, when all Canberrans wanted was a local council, rates, roads and schools.  

What we have ended up with is a capital C Corporate Canberra where the Labor-Green Territory government’s goal has been to embrace developers and build units – many, many more units, mostly without any surrounding green space or even, in some cases, parking — to raise funds with blocks in newish-Canberra suburbs like Denman Prospect selling for close to $500,000, land alone.  

And yet, the ACT is broke according to Stanhope.  

Under then-Treasurer, now Chief Minister Andrew Barr, the Territory struggled under a negative net debt of $736 million. A decade later, net debt approached $4 billion, before the horrors (health and economic) of COVID-19.  It’s conceivable, Stanhope says, we’d be facing an ACT net debt of $5 billion.  

The property development madness continues. The Doma Group, one of the developers who reportedly paid $20 million to buy four hectares of the old CSIRO site on Limestone Avenue, not far from the National War Memorial for construction of The Foothills, “reflecting its elevated position at the foothills of Mount Ainslie’ according to their PR. On what was originally an actual sheep station (CSIRO offices sat on the sheep dip yards) Doma planned to build 600 apartments, which the National Capital Authority, a federal, not ACT entity, pared back to 241 dwellings, 112 apartments,  129 townhouses.  

Perhaps it’s the in-your-face arrogance that has finally got through to voters in what is normally Laborfriendly Canberra. The Greens have been roundly condemned for supporting the government’s call-in’ powers (meaning the government can by-pass planning assessments and the only way the developments can be blocked is through the courts) by, ironically, Labor voters as well Liberals. Even indigenous voices were raised in angry protest; The Foothills development will erase many indigenous sites which have been recognised by local groups as pre-dating settlement on the Limestone Plains.  

Geocom, another company in Mr Barr’s apparent preferred category, flies its flag over several major construction sites, including the twin towers block in Woden (the company prevented from advertising that the tram stopped at the door on the grounds this being currently inaccurate — the ACT government still trying to work out how to bring a tram line across the lake.

All elections are hard to call, but if this one fails to budge Labor, Canberrans have only themselves to blame.   

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