14 January 2016

Oaks Estate, the forgotten suburb

| A_Cog
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In yet another snub to Canberra’s forgotten suburb, Shane Rattenbury has said Oaks Estate residents should clean public toilets.

As Transport Minister, Shane Rattenbury has previously refused to provide an ACTION bus. This is despite Oaks Estate having 55% public housing. The ACT average is 7%.

In mid-2015 the Oaks Estate Progress Association (OEPA) received first-phase approval for a $20,000 federal grant, which would go towards building a public toilet in Gillespie Park. The community approached TAMS seeking cooperation on paperwork and servicing, offering to help fund and build public infrastructure which is everywhere else in the ACT but not in Oaks Estate.

Initially TAMS refused to cooperate, estimating that a public toilet would cost over $100,000. This was despite quotes of $43,000. Then, discussions focussed on how TAMS could avoid supporting the project at all, denying help with paperwork or with maintenance and servicing after installation. The excuse given was ‘insufficient funding’.

The neglect of Oaks Estate over 90 years is legendary, almost mythic. Oaks Estate has been denied and had to fight for clean water (1920s and 30s), diphtheria vaccinations for children (30s), electricity (20s and 30s), sewers (40s), pavements and gutters and drains (50s), bridges, public transport, police (70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s), bushfire hazard reduction, maintenance and regulation, traffic calming and road safety (90s, 00s, 10s).

What’s disturbing about this debacle is that even when Oaks Estate tries to pay for its own infrastructure, Shane Rattenbury and the ACT Government stand in the way. It harkens back to the 1930s, when residents had to pay for the electricity poles and wires to be extended from Queanbeyan, because the Federal Capital Territory refused to provide electricity, even though the mains were only a few hundred metres away.

But back to 2015.

TAMS bureaucrats said that Oaks Estate was “a remote community that is too hard to service”, despite being only 12km from the city and 5km from Fyshwick. Shane Rattenbury himself, as well as one of his advisors, suggested residents should clean the public toilets as a way of TAMS avoiding maintenance costs. This is the “range of options” the Minister refers to in Hansard. Presumably, this novel and innovative efficiency drive would never be suggested to residents in the inner-north suburbs where 9 of 15 greens candidates reside.

The unfairness of Minister Rattenbury’s suggestion is shown by the rates rort imposed on Oaks Estate. Since 2004, Oaks Estate rates have tripled from $511 to $1,519. Oaks Estate rates are higher, sometimes far higher, than rates for the well-serviced and well-maintained inner-north suburbs of Civic ($894), Braddon ($1,286), Dickson ($1,385), Downer ($1,465), Lyneham ($1,138),Turner ($1,104), and Watson ($1,192). Oaks Estate gets almost no services or maintenance compared to those very well serviced and well maintained suburbs.

In the weeks after TAMS initially refused to help because of ‘insufficient funding’, Shane Rattenbury announced an on-demand weekend taxi service for bus travellers who already have ACTION bus routes, three new hiking and biking tracks at the Arboretum (despite the recently-completed $3.3m Centenary Trail) and a new Civic swimming pool.

As an inner-north resident, Shane Rattenbury has denied being out of touch. Yet he appears to care more about the leisure time of inner-city Canberra residents than the most disadvantaged suburb in Canberra, which is also in his electorate of Molonglo.

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