9 February 2022

Dear fellow Australians, 'Canberra' and 'Federal Parliament' are not the same thing

| Zoya Patel
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Ummm … don’t you mean ‘Parliament House? Photo: Michelle Kroll.

There’s been plenty of rhetoric and response in the media about the current protestors, and there’s definitely a lot to dissect. I’m not interested in contributing to the conversation because not only do I find the whole thing somewhat distressing, I also feel like there’s little left to say other than that I’d like the Lifeline Bookfair to proceed unhindered.

But one thing that I can’t get past is the naming of the protest gatherings as ‘Occupy Canberra’.

There it is again – the constant and erroneous equation of ‘Canberra’ as being the same as ‘Parliament House’.

What’s it going to take for the rest of Australia to realise that Canberra is much more than Parliament, and that those of us who live here are sick of our city being conflated with whatever ruckus is happening in politics at any given moment?

Do people in Washington, or those who live in the suburb of Westminster, have the same problem as we do? Every time I hear a journalist on the radio refer to ‘Canberra’ when they mean Parliament House, it makes me want to call the feedback line and deliver a crotchety speech about how it’s factually incorrect to use the terms interchangeably. It does nothing for the well-being and community spirit of those of us who actually live here.

READ MORE Protesters should not take capital’s tolerance and hospitality for granted

We’re referred to as being in a bubble, having a toxic culture, being out of touch, and now being the target of a large number of yahoos who have disrupted our day-to-day lives when their presumed target are politicians on the hill who remain unaffected by the traffic incidents, honking, vandalism and verbal abuse that everyday Canberrans have suffered.

Canberra has had a bad reputation nationally for as long as I can remember. We’re labelled as boring, uptight, barren, and full of zombie-like public servants.

Personally, I don’t care much about those opinions because the fewer people who come here, the better for the rest of us to enjoy our city in peace.

But when considered in the context of the past week, I think it’s about time we started to push back against the misinformation. Journalists shouldn’t be allowed to refer to ‘Canberra’ in place of ‘Federal Parliament’. Neither should politicians and pundits.

READ MORE Leaders, Parliament apologise for toxic workplace and commit to change

We might have been established as the site of Federal Parliament, but our city and community are about much, much more than that. We’re a multifaceted community of different cultures, political beliefs, niche interest groups and activities. We have a local flavour that is distinct to different areas, and a love of the outdoors, art, sport and excellent food.

Unfortunately, we have to endure politicians and their staffers occupying our home during sitting weeks, but they largely stay confined to Parliament House and one or two bars and cafes, and we’ve learned to ignore their presence for the most part.

So can the rest of Australia please learn to define ‘Canberra’ as being a city loved by the hundreds of thousands of fellow Aussies who live here, not the catch-all term for the toxic political culture of Parliament House, which is actually mostly the remit of FIFO workers who don’t live here?

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Scott Anthony12:46 pm 14 Feb 22

huh…? For decades federal Parliament has been reported on as ‘Canberra’., even the late Peter Harvey’s well known sign off was ‘ Peter Harvey’ then about 40 seconds of silence before…. ‘Canberra’….. In any case, these people were coming to destination Canberra in the same way NSW protestors go to ‘Macquarie Street’ which is a much longer street than just NSW Parliament..!! this isn’t a local thing and its part of living here..

Perhaps rename Parliament, “Your taxes pay for my lifestyle”

Been a bugbear of mine for years.

The American media is starting to come around and replace “Washington” with Capitol Hill.

Would be a step in the right direction if our media replaced “Canberra” with “Capital Hill”

HiddenDragon8:07 pm 10 Feb 22

A virtual parliament, enabled by technology which we don’t (quite) yet have, would solve so many problems.

The same technology would also, of course, enable decentralisation of the APS and all the hangers-on who go with it – which would allow Canberra, in time, to morph into something along the lines of a southern twin of Armidale. Which could be quite nice………

As long as you don’t mind losing many of the big businesses and the career opportunities that come to us because of Parliament, along with many of the restaurants and bars. Armidale does not offer the same social, employment or other opportunities that Canberra does.

Milestone Entertainment7:16 pm 10 Feb 22

Thank you Zoya!! I couldn’t agree more!
Canberra does not equal Parliament House. They are not interchangable terms – something that has bothered me for some time!
As to the current enslaught, you absolutely nailed it. By way of direct example, the logic behind how abusing a teenager in Dickson for wearing her mask, equates to impacting political decision making absolutely baffles me! From my perspective, and indeed the particular teenager on the receiving end, it was nothing more than a group of adults bullying a lone teenager. Sounds more like cowardice than an effective act of protest.

A very accurate article. I am also sick of hearing about Canberra when the reporters actually mean Parliament. I wish there was a way we could get all reporters to change, but I really don’t think anything will happen. It’s too ingrained.

Yes, as someone originally from the United States and living in Canberra I’ve never understood the whole Canberra bubble thing. There is a clear distinction in the US between Capital Hill/federal government (Washington) and the surrounding city/suburbs (D.C.). If you ever protested federal politics in a mall or airport in D.C. you’d be put in your place very quickly. It’s like someone protesting Wall Street in New York by giving bad reviews to a local pizzaria (very bad idea in NYC!). As far as I’ve seen Canberra is a great city made up of all walks of life and can’t be generalised as a disconnected bubble of elites or politicians. Keep the peaceful protests where they belong and respect our city/town as we would be expected when visiting yours.

Its a Pollie Bubble!

Rubbish! They’re only here for a small proportion of the year and then they’re mostly in the House, certainly not part of the local population.

This article is largely self-refuting. You can’t argue that Canberrans aren’t out of touch and also dismiss any large scale protest taking place here as being nothing but a bunch of yahoos.

It’s largely a class thing. The demographics of Canberra is largely upper middle class given the work available here. The majority of Canberrans earn well above the national median wage. The politics of the ACT reflects that, and is reflected in the Public Service staff that works here as well.

The Silver,
Your comment assumes that much of the things being protested have merit.

Whereas in reality, as you say, Canberrans are generally highly educated, highly paid and informed. We can identify much of the arguments being put forward by the protesters as absolutely irrational and evidence free.

This isn’t a debate about opinions, ideology or logical arguments of equal weight.

That’s easy for the laptop class to say who were largely unaffected by working from home, rather than let go. Which is my point.

That’s a pretty meaningless cliche to throw around in substitution for an argument.

Which is actually my point.

Even if you removed the bulk of crazy conspiracy theories and proven misinformation being spread by the protesters, to (generously) say their position was soley around promoting increased freedoms and an end to mandated vaccinations. Then they are protesting in the wrong location.

It is the state governments who’ve enacted the laws and regulations they are arguing against. The Federal government isn’t in control in these areas.

Once again, it isn’t about equally weighted opinions, the protesters are verifiably wrong and their well documented abuse and harassment of locals only exacerbates the division.

Whatever they think they’re trying to achieve, they couldn’t go about it in a more ineffective and actually counter-productive way.

Having your life destroyed for two years is a “cliché”? Really? And you wonder why these people have poor opinion of Canberrans.

Also, have to come back to your first reply to say that wisdom does not correlate with education or intelligence. Most of the biggest disasters in history have been caused by Very Smart People who think they completely understood a complex system when in fact they didn’t. That goes double for public servants. The USSR tried to cross smallpox and ebola. That requires a tremendous amount of intelligence and education but requires almost no wisdom to know that was incredibly stupid.

The Australian system is pretty weird. I’d point out that a lot of the mandate requirements across the country are enabled by tying proof of vaccination to Medicare, which is within the Federal Government’s remit. The Federal Government also controls the purse strings for most of the funding States receive. Howard did fail in federalising the health system, but that is a lever the Feds could pull to curb authoritarianism as well.

The Prime Minister also has the bully pulpit. The current Prime Minister rarely says anything without it being polled and managed to death. I doubt Hawke or even Howard would have been so silent on a matter of such major significance for two years.


“Having your life destroyed for two years is a “cliché”? Really?”

Nobody said this except you.

Although you’re right, perhaps this type of deliberate strawman is why these protesters have a poor view of Canberrans.

And sorry, intelligence and education is positively correlated with a whole heap of things that benefit society including better decision making.

The fact that some bad decisions have been made by people you think were intelligent does not negate this. In fact, I’d argue that those decisions often weren’t made by intelligent or educated people but that’s another matter.

And despite your position that the Feds have provided supporting infrastructure that has allowed the mandates to be enacted, it also doesn’t negate the fact they are state issues.

And even if your position was correct, that type of nuance isn’t the argument being put by the protesters as to why they are in Canberra.

Arguments which have varied between getting the Federal government to repeal the mandates themselves to wanting to overthrow and execute the Federal government entirely.

I know it can be difficult to recognise and call out the irrationality of others when they hold broadly similar ideological views to yourself but sometimes it needs to be done.

These protesters are actively harming the position they are trying to progress.

If I was more conspiracy minded, I could posit an argument that the government is allowing protests to continue (or supplying plants) because it helps discredit those against the myriad of health directions that have been enacted, through association with the nutters getting most of the air time.

Actually – the Medicare Arrangements – are a State/Territory and Federal Government agreement. Not entirely Federal nor State.

The Covid arrangements are similar, but mostly State / Territory.

I’m retired, but I used to be the Risk Manager for the Health Insurance Commission back in the 1990s until I retired.

Both my sons work and have NOT found the Covid requirements onerous, nor has it destroyed their lives.

Are you opposed to the States vaccine mandates?

I’m not but that’s because I get epidemiology. It’s mostly statistics.

When was the last time that you – when sick – were expected to queue at your fund or medicare to get a rebate, after seeing a GP?

Getting rid of that queue not only saved lots of parent’s (mothers mostly) time and $$$. It also lowered the risk of infective transmission, while queue-ing.

I put that through, and, I was NOT in the 1st or 2nd Division at the time. It just seemed obvious.

chewy14, I went for my weekly bike ride around the lake. It just happened that today coincided with the protest. All well behaved. I didn’t get abused. Had to get off my bike going across the bridge, but that was because of the sheer number of people

If the Federal government had met its responsibilities in these areas (eg biosecurity, border control, quarantine, aged care) the state government wouldn’t have needed to put up such strong protections.

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