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Angela Shanahan’s strange whinge

By johnboy - 19 January 2013 15

The Australian is running a perverse piece by Angela Shanahan both praising and cursing Canberra. (tip for new players, google the headline to get around the paywall)

Basically she seems to have rather liked the Canberra of sprawling bungalows.

She as much as acknowledges that it was unsustainable financially, but then continues to berate the ACT Government for attempting to balance its books.

Even more bizarre is complaining about costs in Canberra and then railing against development which increases housing supply (and in turn puts downward pressure on housing costs).

One has to wonder if Ms Shanahan is opining purely for the benefit of her own real estate holdings without any thought to the wider community benefit?

What’s Your opinion?


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15 Responses to
Angela Shanahan’s strange whinge
HiddenDragon 12:15 pm 20 Jan 13

I agree with much of what Ryoma says, but I am not sure we will even have to wait for the supply of sellable land to run out before things start getting interesting. A more immediate challenge is likely to be a continued squeeze (even if not the feared slashing) of federal government spending in Canberra, regardless of the outcome of this year’s election – with a consequent downturn in ACT Government revenues, particularly from property.

In these circumstances, a plan to replace, over time, property transaction taxes with annual property taxes is unlikely to be a viable solution without serious and sustained attention to the spending side of the ledger, and with many unpalatable decisions needing to be made.

miz 11:43 am 20 Jan 13

Thank for the tip to get access to the article JB!
I have to say that while I have rarely agreed with Ms Shanahan’s views in the past, she has totally captured how many Canberrans feel about the sad decline in liveability in our beloved city, mainly due to wasteful, useless govt. This issue hit me in the face when I returned in 1999 (after over 15 years in Syd/C Coast), and the decline has accelerated significantly since then. Such a pity. Thank goodness someone has called the ‘vibrant city’ rubbish we continually hear from ACT Govt, for what it truly is.
FWIW, I don’t mind some high rises, and like a good coffee. However, Australians have long had a love affair with suburbia – it’s deep in our collective psyche, as can be seen from the info below:

‘European Australia was born urban and soon became suburban’ . . . ‘Governor Arthur Phillip ordered that the streets be laid out widely ‘to promote the circulation of air, and that blocks be no more than 150 x 50 ft with no more than one house on each allotment’ [the quarter acre block]. He was most anxious to ‘avoid recreating the urban horrors of the Old World in the New’. The Old World was based on high density life (considered ‘dense, dirty, unnatural, disorderly and disease-ridden’ – ie, slums). In Australia, suburbs soon became democratic (as opposed to exclusive precincts for the rich to avoid contact with the poor in the urban slums), and ‘the suburban home was the realisation of many working class immigrants’ dreams’. [ from ‘Suburbs’ by Graeme Davison, published in Sociology – Place, Time and Division, OUP 2006]

Canberra was built to be the epitome of democratic suburbia. As someone who grew up here from the age of 6, it was wonderful, and it is incredibly sad to let that dream (which, I believe, was actually realised in the 70s and 80s) turn into a nightmare due to ongoing poor planning and govt mismanagement.

Ryoma 10:48 am 20 Jan 13

Just read the article, and apart from the usual banalities (Canberra doesn’t have a beach – really!), I think what Ms Shanahan is trying to warn about is two things;

1) That the ACT is living beyond its means, and given how heavily the ACT Government relies upon land sales to keep the revenue side of its budget flush, I too wonder what happens when they run out of (stable, non-reserved for other uses) land to build upon.

In a decade or so, our facilities (which as Ms Shanahan correctly points out are used by people well beyond Canberra) are going to be even more stretched by the aging population.

2) Ms Shanahan also points out the incredibly ugly nature of many of the new apartment complexes. Despite some movement around energy efficiency, and an understandable move towards higher density, many of these complexes are still built upon the “pack-them-in” mentality of property developers, rather than fewer apartments being built in a manner in tune with their surroundings, and with high quality materials.

There is an awful lot of absolute garbage being built. To be fair, I am not sure how much of this is;
a) a lack of understanding by our local building firms about how to build anything with any level of architectural or design flair that doesn’t look like shoeboxes en masse.
b) something forced upon our builders either by planning laws which are either horrendously prescriptive, or basically open slather (I predict the latter).
c) economic pressures such as skills and credit shortages meaning that the construction attitude is to knock stuff up as quickly as possible, in order to find the next job and keep a pipeline of work coming through…

Where I disagree with the article is Ms Shanahan’s assumption that apartments are bad per se, as eloquently put by arescarti 42 in post #2. I live in an apartment now that faces north, has a small courtyard, and is generally well-located, and is low-maintenance. It suits Mrs Ryoma and I really well at this point in our lives.

But my point above about bad construction is still valid; the last place we lived in faced east, and was so cold that it was often warmer to be outside, even in winter, than it was to be inside. Naturally the power bills were enormous as a result, and we’d done everything we could (put curtains up, wore warmer clothing, etc) to try to limit our use of the heater.

What happens to this city when our housing market collapses in future will be instructive. How many of these apartments (like the horrible one I’ve just described) will be (deservedly) knocked down? Ditto for the mainly atrociously built houses put up between the end of WW2 and around 2000? And when this happens, are we going to have the sense to actually build some better housing in their places?

Then there’s the actual economic side. How many of these dogboxes function as the retirement plan for Canberran Baby Boomers – and what happens to them when the rent on these places stops flowing? I can see further pressure on both the ACT and Federal governments as a result.

Perhaps one of the changes needed is for builders and planners to actually liaise with neighbours before anything gets built. It’s not good enough for many NIMBYs on one hand to say “no development in “wherever” ” (Deakin seems to be the latest place where this attitude has broken out) but on the other hand it’s a bit rough to have an ugly monstrosity plonked down next to you without any warning.

And by liaise, I mean actually sit down and talk through the fact that a place will be zoned as having apartments, and that’s the economic imperative, but rather than snarling at each other, to talk through what improvements could be made to the design of such apartments to lesson their impact, and to actually improve the streetscape?

c_c™ 2:39 am 20 Jan 13

Ewa Kretowicz, ha, article is just wrong. Stark’s comments are correct, and he never actually says it’s an ACT Government resource. In between his actual quotes, Ewa has written total garbage that is sloppy fiction.

Camile (and another aircrane called Malcolm) were brought from the US to NSW, under a funding agreement that splits the cost between NSW and the Commonwealth. Others like the famous Elvis were brought to other states like Victoria under similar agreements.

Their main base is Bankstown, however the intention was always to move them to forward operating areas depending on the greatest need within the state. Camile has therefore been sent to the SE region due to the fires, and as Hume is already set up for maintaining choppers, that’s where it’s parking.

I read about it back in November, and the ACT RFS also noted this recently when explaining why it was in Canberra. You can see the full details here: http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/dsp_more_info.cfm?CON_ID=18961&CAT_ID=1327

HiddenDragon 12:32 am 20 Jan 13

For anyone who is interested, the article I quoted is here:

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/orange-angel-flies-in-fire-relief-20130112-2cn1a.html

The pertinent paragraphs are these:

“Camille is in the ACT for the bushfire season as part of a 2003 agreement between all Australian states and territories to co-ordinate bushfire combat under the National Aerial Firefighting Centre.

Chief officer of the ACT Rural Fire Service Andrew Stark said the ACT government could not afford to borrow the helicopter from the US without federal funding.

”$14 million of Commonwealth money helps to fund this resource and, on a day like today, we move them to where the highest risk is – so it’s great to have a resource like this here standing by in Canberra,” Mr Stark said.”

In light of the well-informed comments from Creative Canberran, I assume Mr Stark was mis-quoted, or taken out of context, or perhaps it’s just another example of the contortions and shadow plays necessitated by vertical fiscal imbalance. Whatever the case, it’s endlessly fascinating – and sometimes comforting – for us humble voters and taxpayers.

rosscoact 9:44 pm 19 Jan 13

farq said :

> “There are now 22,000 ACT public servants, to service a population of 380,000. Something is not right about this.”

Is this accurate? It sounds really implausible.

With those sorts of numbers you would think things would be well run.

Pretty comparable with other states and Territories I imagine. I know NSW is also about one public servant (combined local and state) for every 16 people which is a marginally more than here.

This includes teachers, the guys who mow the lawns, nurses, emergency services etc as well as your policy wonks

farq 6:45 pm 19 Jan 13

> “There are now 22,000 ACT public servants, to service a population of 380,000. Something is not right about this.”

Is this accurate? It sounds really implausible.

With those sorts of numbers you would think things would be well run.

poetix 6:28 pm 19 Jan 13

‘Despite marked nimby tendencies in Canberra it is easy to see that big developers building a whole lot of gimcrack high-rise apartments is not all about building a simulacrum of urban sophistication foreign to the “bush capital”.’

If you arranged those phrases vertically you’d have blocks of flats! Simulacrum of urban sophistication? I’m seeing someone’s macchiato disappearing in the air between saucer and lip.

c_c™ 6:22 pm 19 Jan 13

HiddenDragon said :

I was reminded of the Territory’s apparent financial position, and its interesting prioritising of spending, earlier in the week, when I read that “the ACT government could not afford to borrow the [Skycrane firefighting] helicopter from the US without federal funding”.

The aircranes are all subsidised by the federal government. If states want to use them, they chip in. That was a controversial issue for the Tassie bushfires, because Tasmania didn’t request the aircrane that was parked in Victoria doing nothing. Tasmania neither wanted to pay for it, nor had they bother to make sure fueling facilities were available for it.

The ACT has used the aircranes in the past, but isn’t large enough to warrant a full time deployment. So we instead have an extra Bell water bomber stations in the ACT. If a fire brakes out, the aircranes are nearby in NSW anyway and we can bring them in.

Terrible to think you’re allowed to vote.

As for Shanahan, I suspect she either has an ulterior motive, or has never ventured far from some plush mansion in Yarralumla. Certainly praising the suburban success of Canberra in the past and the supposedly terrible higher density construction now is stupid when Bega Court and the rest of the 60-70s higher density blunders still scar the urban landscape.

MERC600 6:07 pm 19 Jan 13

miz said :

I went to read the article but it is not freely available – will check it out at the library instead.

Miz .. please try JohnBoys tip and google up the headline/byline whatever, and you get around the paywall. I couldn’t remember the headline so just googled her name, and a few items down was the one JohnBoy was referring to.

DrKoresh 3:59 pm 19 Jan 13

miz said :

I went to read the article but it is not freely available – will check it out at the library instead.

JB was kind enough to tell us how to bypass the pay-wall in the OP…

dungfungus 3:58 pm 19 Jan 13

HiddenDragon said :

I think Ms Shanahan is simply reflecting the views of many residents, particularly those who have lived here long enough to remember more relaxed and comfortable times, about self-government in general, and the performance of those who currently hold power. Similar views are often expressed on the RiotAct and in letters to the CT etc.

I take it that she is sceptical about the ongoing ability of, and need for, the Territory to fund the current range and level of government activities (let alone the significant extra costs likely to arise from a Territory contribution to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Gonski school funding proposals) and doesn’t much like the way the Government is seeking (ever so slowly) to “balance the books”. I was reminded of the Territory’s apparent financial position, and its interesting prioritising of spending, earlier in the week, when I read that “the ACT government could not afford to borrow the [Skycrane firefighting] helicopter from the US without federal funding”.

During the recent Tasmanian bushfires someone from the fire fighting executive in that state said that the Tasmanian Government could not afford to hire the idle Skycranes that were parked at Avalon in Victoria to assist in fighting the bushfires.
I would hate to think that the ACT was in the same parlous financial situation as Tasmania.

arescarti42 3:54 pm 19 Jan 13

From what I can gather, Shanahan is bitching about 3 main things:

1. That the rest of Australia keeps bagging out Canberra
2. That we’re actually building things that aren’t sprawling suburbs.
3. That the Government spends too much money and is crap.

On point one, I’m quite happy for the rest of the country to continue thinking Canberra is a hole, and don’t really see why anyone who lives here should care.

On point two, she makes a lot of incorrect assumptions, namely that more suburbs is what everyone wants and needs, and will continue to want and need well in to the future because we’re a city comprised entirely of young nuclear families straight from the 50s, and that anything that isn’t a suburban development is inherently inferior to suburbs, and is merely a result of Canberra running out of land and a cash grab by developers and the government.

The demographics of Canberra (and Australia) are changing vastly, the proportion of traditional families is declining, the number of single and childless households are rising, and the proportion of the population that is elderly is also increasing. Single people and childless couples increasingly don’t want to live in big, high maintenance properties out in far flung suburbs, and retirees may not be physically or financially able to keep up their family homes. The trend away from traditional suburbs is as much about changing demographics and demand as it is about the higher profitability for the government and developers of building apartments. The notion that Canberra is running out of land is clearly ludicrous.

As for point three, well there’s probably a lot of truth there.

miz 3:29 pm 19 Jan 13

I went to read the article but it is not freely available – will check it out at the library instead.

HiddenDragon 11:41 am 19 Jan 13

I think Ms Shanahan is simply reflecting the views of many residents, particularly those who have lived here long enough to remember more relaxed and comfortable times, about self-government in general, and the performance of those who currently hold power. Similar views are often expressed on the RiotAct and in letters to the CT etc.

I take it that she is sceptical about the ongoing ability of, and need for, the Territory to fund the current range and level of government activities (let alone the significant extra costs likely to arise from a Territory contribution to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Gonski school funding proposals) and doesn’t much like the way the Government is seeking (ever so slowly) to “balance the books”. I was reminded of the Territory’s apparent financial position, and its interesting prioritising of spending, earlier in the week, when I read that “the ACT government could not afford to borrow the [Skycrane firefighting] helicopter from the US without federal funding”.

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