21 December 2018

Canberra 2019: More accessible, safer, fairer, kinder, more sustainable

| Rebecca Vassarotti MLA
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What’s on your wishlist for Canberra in 2019?

As 2018 draws to a close, it’s also a time to reflect on the year. This includes recognising the achievements of the year but is also a chance to identify what more we can do to ensure Canberra is a great city for everyone. Each new year, there are new opportunities and new aspirations for us to work towards. Here are some areas where I think we should focus efforts in 2019.

I hope we become an even more welcoming and accessible city. Over a number of years, Canberra has made a real effort to celebrate diversity. This is something we should be proud of. While we are taking steps to improve accessibility, however, Canberra could do better. This is vital given that up to 20 per cent of our community has a disability. Given our population is ageing, this is likely to rise. We need to talk about what true inclusion means. We all need to work to remove segregation and exclusion of people just because they have a disability. We all have a role to play to ensure everyone is welcome in our city but businesses have a real opportunity to champion accessibility. I hope in 2019 we see more businesses work to make their venues and organisations more accessible and welcoming for people with mobility, sensory and other accessibility challenges.

I hope we become a safer city for children. Canberra is in the midst of a population boom and many young families are joining our community. While there has been lots of focus on planning and building regulations, we are still not moving on urgent issues. An example of this is improving the rules on backyard pools to make them safer. This is despite tragic toddler deaths due to drowning, and coroner’s recommendations and advocates including the Royal Life Saving ACT continuing to call on Government to act quickly. Earlier this year, the Government commenced yet another round of consultation with industry and the community. However, it is acknowledged that action may be years away. I hope that 2019 sees this issue prioritised and rules to make pools safer introduced before next summer.

I hope we continue to work to keep young people in Canberra safer. The ACT Government should be commended for becoming the first Australian jurisdiction to support pill testing at a local festival. This evidence-based strategy resulted in a number of potentially deadly pills being detected and discarded. Paramedics had good information regarding the drugs circulating and almost 100 people chose to find out what they were planning to ingest, with some deciding to discard these once they found out. I hope that this becomes routine – not just in Canberra but across the country. The ACT Drug Strategy Action Plan that was released in late 2018 recognised the importance of harm reduction, as one of the three pillars of responding to drugs. Let’s hope that in 2019 we see the continuation of drug policies that embrace evidence rather than retreating to rhetoric and ideology.

I hope we become a fairer city. The citizens of Canberra expect that harmful products are regulated to ensure that risks are reduced. Gambling products, particularly poker machines continue to be one area where there is not a level playing field for consumers. It’s one area where consumers are not aware of how the design of products can lead to harmful use. 2018 saw the ACT Government make some incremental steps in responding to poker machine gambling harm. It has moved to reduce the number of machines and introduce harsher penalties for venues that breach the rules. There have also been some changes in the community contribution scheme. However, this year we found out that the ACT lags behind many other Australian jurisdictions when it comes to moderating some of the features of machines that can lead to real harm – such as spin/bet limits and losses disguised as wins. I hope that 2019 sees more action to protect consumers and the broader community from gambling harm.

I hope we become a more caring city. Housing affordability and homelessness continues to be a huge problem in our city. The long-awaited Housing Strategy was released in late 2018 and signals some important commitments to trying to respond to this issue. Resourcing such as the $100 million fund to renew public housing is an important first step. I hope that 2019 is a year where we see real action to ensure that everyone in our city has somewhere to call home that is safe and appropriate.

Finally, I hope we become a more sustainable city. 2019 is the final year before the 2020 deadline of 100 per cent renewable electricity. Excitedly, we are on track to meet this target. 2019 will see the first stage of light rail operational and this should reduce our transport emissions. There will be challenges however as we move into the next phase of reducing our energy emissions. It would be great to see continued support for people on low incomes to access more efficient appliances and be able to generate their own renewable electricity in 2019.

There are many more issues. There are great opportunities to become a smarter city by investing in education, business innovation and research. We can become a healthier city by encouraging healthier lifestyles, and improved access to healthcare.

Where do you think we should focus on in 2019 to make Canberra an even better city?

Rebecca serves on a number of boards and committees that are working in areas referenced in this article. This includes the role of Chair of Advisory Committee of getaboutable and co-convenor of the Canberra Gambling Reform Alliance. She is on the board of Royal Life Saving ACT, Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy (CAHMA), the Early Morning Centre and Canberra Community Housing.

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