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Canberrans, according to the statistics, we are living in Nirvana, and Switzerland is our major goods export partner… ..

By Tim Benson - 13 April 2018 19
Do statistics tell the full story in Canberra? Are we really living in Nirvana? (iStock image)

Do statistics tell the full story in Canberra? Are we really living in Nirvana?

Comrades, according to the latest round of statistics, we are living in Nirvana. Although, ‘Nirvana’ sounds like it could be a little boring, ‘Nirvana’ means ‘blowing out’ and is described, in the Buddhist tradition, as ‘the extinguishing of the fires that cause rebirths and associated suffering’.

I think, maybe, the current round of ACT statistics might better reflect Canberra’s ‘Age of Enlightenment’. The ‘Age of Enlightenment’ was an intellectual and philosophical, and then scientific movement, in Europe during the 18th Century.

But, I digress. The latest round of statistics are astounding… almost unbelievable.

Where to start? Okay, how about ABS statistics showing the ACT economy grew by 4.6 per cent in 2016-17 and that employment grew by 4.7 per cent. Although excellent figures, this ‘bush economist’ might proffer that this is a tad unsustainable without major policy changes in the ACT.

I mean, for a start, how will this rapid growth impact on house prices, wage inflation and the availability of labour? Is this level of growth sustainable or is it part of a boom and bust cycle?

What about Tourism Research Australia’s statistics that show that tourism’s contribution to the ACT has grown by 9.4 per cent to $1.1 billion and $1.1 billion in indirect tourism? Wow! But wait, what pressure is this putting on our already strained infrastructure? Once they’ve seen Braddon and Kingston Foreshore – what else do we have to offer? Of course there is the Casino… and hang on, don’t we have a lack of 5 star accommodation… and an inadequate conference centre…? And don’t start me on signage and general amenity of the place… and the minimalist marketing of Canberra as CBR…

It is interesting to note that if you Google ‘What does CBR stand for?’, you get a page and a half of references relating to Cross Beam Racer… then one reference half way down page two to ‘Canberra’ and then another on the bottom of page three…

Also, according to our Chief Minister, service exports have grown by a mind blowing 24.4 per cent in the past year. So, either this is from a staggeringly low base, or it is a miracle.

I contacted the Chief Minister’s office to find out some more detail about these ‘amazing’ figures – what they were made up of and what was the ‘secret sauce’ that had led to this massive jump… and was told ‘yes, it’s amazing, it’s a great story’… but when I asked for detail, no answers were forthcoming, and promises of someone from ACT Government giving me a call to explain the 24.4 per cent increase, were given… crickets… crickets…

In the meantime, I had a look at the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Australian Capital Territory Trade Resources Document. A most fascinating document… and as far as I could decipher, the biggest load of nonsensical rubbish I have seen in a long time.

Here are some fun facts from this document compiled by the Statistics Section of DFAT using latest published Australian Bureau of Statistics data (Based on DFAT STARS database and ABS catalogues 3101.0, 5220.0, 5368.0, 5368.0.55.003/4 and 6202.0):

Switzerland was the ACT’s major goods export destination, amounting to $19.74 million in 2016-17, followed by:

  • Hong Kong (SAR of China) $620,000; and
  • Belgium $6,000.

Switzerland was also the ACT’s major goods import source, amounting to $3.1 million in 2016-17, followed by:

  • United States – $2.18 million;
  • Canada – $1.07 million;
  • Papua New Guinea – $794,000; and
  • Germany – $544,000.

Oh, and my favourite from this most eye-popping document:

The ACT’s major goods export from the ACT in 2016-17 was… wait for it… Gold coin & legal tender coin worth $20.4 million – not closely followed by $6,000 of ‘plastic articles’…

I’m so glad I live in an ‘Age of Enlightenment’ (or is that ‘entitlement’?) in the People’s Republic of the ACT, and that the statistics, so readily supplied by our leaders, continue to show staggering growth and prosperity for all… just don’t dare look out the window… Namaste.

Do you believe growth is essential to Canberra’s ongoing prosperity or should we be looking to other measurables to gauge our success?

What’s Your opinion?


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19 Responses to
Canberrans, according to the statistics, we are living in Nirvana, and Switzerland is our major goods export partner… ..
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HiddenDragon 5:26 pm 15 Apr 18

“Do you believe growth is essential to Canberra’s ongoing prosperity or should we be looking to other measurables to gauge our success?”

The current prosperity is for some, probably still a majority, but as in other parts of Australia, and other western countries, it’s looking more and more like a tale of two, or perhaps three Canberras – a smallish elite which is doing very nicely indeed, a middle which is for the most part still OK, but increasingly feeling the squeeze of living in a very expensive city, and a third group who are either conspicuously struggling and vulnerable, or just one or two bits of bad luck away from that.

From time-to-time, ACT Government economic policies are claimed to be broadly beneficial because of the jobs and other positives they provide (as evidenced by those unimpeachable statistics….), but those who are outside the privileged bubble will be wondering just how long the increases in ACT Government taxing and spending which underpins at least some of the economic growth, can be sustained.

bigred 3:17 pm 13 Apr 18

Top article, with a nice bit of humour included. As a shareholder in this place, I want to know about trajectory. What is the high, middle and low estimate of our solvency? What replacements do we have in place for when we run out of land? I am far from happy about this short termism.

    Capital Retro 5:59 pm 13 Apr 18

    What do companies do when they need more liquidity?

    They have a call on shareholders.

    You raise some good questions – where is our opposition party on these critical issues?

    bigred 12:35 am 15 Apr 18

    Reportedly the Chief Minstrel admitted he shares my view about solvency and land sales during his regular segment on ABC radio on Friday morning. Seems he thinks 2030 is the tipping point. So why wasn’t this mentioned in his speech. Also why hasn’t the opposition raised this?

    Capital Retro 7:39 am 16 Apr 18

    The “opposition” is 100 miles offshore and still drifting.

bj_ACT 10:27 am 13 Apr 18

Yes this is great data for Canberra. It’s very positive data.

The issue is that outer areas of Canberra such as Tuggeranong are not experiencing the same positive results and data.

Look at the SALM Labour Market data from ABS and check out the Unemployment Rate increases in Tuggeranong suburbs since 2008.

Look at NAPLAN data and see how much worse Tuggeranong public schools are getting.

Look at DFA Mortgage Stress data and see how bad Kambah and Wanniassa are doing for Mortgage foreclosures and living stress.

This good news story for CBR has been driven by improvements in funding for infrastructure and services in certain parts of Canberra.

The good news has been paid for by increased annual rates for 85,000 Tuggeranong residents who haven’t seen the benefits of their additional payments.

It’s been Paid for by ACT Labor closing Tuggeranong public schools and reducing community services for Tuggeranong residents. It’s the greatest take from the poor and give to the rich story in Canberra’s history.

This is the real story and the lived experience for many residents I’m afraid. I can also add large chunks of Belconnen, Woden, and Weston Creek to the Tuggeranong issues above.

    Tim Benson 12:06 pm 13 Apr 18

    Sort of my point really. Statistics can be used used to argue almost any position of a argument. I think it’s far more important to try and understand what is behind the stats …

    JC 6:44 am 15 Apr 18

    Stats can be used to drive certain arguments. The post above being a good example of how the person feels they have been done wrong and now corellating them all to something totally different.

Belconandonandon 10:22 am 13 Apr 18

The tendency of the Canberra media to look for things to get outraged about, fixate on negatives and insist everything was better in the good old days can be exhausting.

    Tim Benson 12:04 pm 13 Apr 18

    Did you actually read this article?

    Belconandonandon 1:33 pm 13 Apr 18

    The question at the end of your article asks about using “other measurables” to gauge prosperity but you don’t really suggest any. You just put a negative spin on everything and use vague rhetoric about poor “general amenity”, “strained infrastructure” and the need for “major policy changes” without much detail. There’s strong economic and employment growth and you just list off a bunch of downsides. Tourism increases significantly and your response is to complain about how terrible Canberra tourism is.

    So much of the media in Canberra just taps into vague grievances without providing any real solutions. It’d be nice to occasionally read an article that properly acknowledges the positives and suggests actual solutions to the negatives.

    Tim Benson 3:39 pm 13 Apr 18

    Hi there, my point is that politicians and the media rattle of figures such as an increase of 10 per cent here, or in the case of service exports, a 25 per cent increase, without any context. This is a staggering figure … but is it from a low base? Was there something that was a one off or an anomaly … or a mistake??? My question is whether growth is always good. Don’t get me wrong, perception is almost everything – and we should talk Canberra up – but do it from a position of understanding the current economic situation. In relation to providing solutions – not my job – I’ll leave that to the elected politicians, their parties, advisers, consultants and Government departments …

    Belconandonandon 3:56 pm 13 Apr 18

    It’s not about talking up Canberra, it’s about actually acknowledging good things, and also offering practical suggestions for improvement when critcising bad things – that’s how things are actually going to get better. I don’t agree that only politicians can do that. Your article suggests these stats are not telling the whole story, what measures can we use to tell the whole story? “Looking out the window” as you suggest just sounds like anecdotal evidence, which is subject to a huge amount of bias.

    Tim Benson 4:20 pm 13 Apr 18

    In relation to ‘looking out the window’, I was being ‘metaphoric’. I was saying that rather than take meaningless statistics at face value we should use a dialectical method to investigate them and discover what they really mean.

    JC 6:43 am 15 Apr 18

    Tim you rattled off a heap of things with no context too.

    Such as strained infrastructure, is it really strained? I don’t think it is personally. I think in the past (roads being the primary example) were underutilised and now we are seeing them getting busier, but still well within their design limits. So hardly strained. Sewerage and power grids much the same.

    We need policy change, in what area? The way I read that is you don’t like the government and want a change. Why not just say that? Not that the opposition would do much different in power because there is little discretionary spending anyway.

Capital Retro 8:03 am 13 Apr 18

Great article Tim.
Can you find out how much CBR is costing us and how much they are spending on “our” sporting teams?
You have opened a can of worms here.

    Tim Benson 9:51 am 13 Apr 18

    I’m sure the fine apparatchiks in the regime would attribute all statistical tourism increases to the CBR ‘campaign’. I’d probably attribute it to increases in tertiary education exports and international flights into Canberra – parents and relatives coming to visit them in Canberra. My belief is that if we spend absolutely nothing on the CBR campaign and the millions of dollar in government media, communications and public relations people and the millions of dollars in advertising – that the tourism figures would still have gone up. It’s all smoke and mirrors, Capital Metro, smoke and mirrors …

    JC 6:52 am 16 Apr 18

    International flights into Canberra is actually part of the CBR campaign. Remember the government has offered incentives to bring the airlines here via this program.

    Capital Retro 10:34 am 16 Apr 18

    And what exactly are those incentives JC? (apart from a rainbow CBR lapel badge to wear).

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