Canberra Liberals Leader Alistair Coe may not have gone the Full Monty on the future of West Basin but his frontbencher Giulia Jones wasn’t about to hold back on the North Curtin Horse Paddock once she got the bit between her teeth.
Mr Coe was careful to give himself some wiggle room on the contentious issue of housing on the strip of land by Lake Burley Griffin but Mrs Jones soon got into full gallop about tearing up the deal with the National Capital Authority that delivered most of the horse paddock for new embassies.
”We will return the horse paddock to the people of Canberra,” she declared. ”We will do everything possible. We will be obstructionist.
”There is plenty of land in Canberra for embassies and it is not the top priority of the ACT Government to make land available to the NCA.”
It all left the government just a little exasperated, as Chief Minister Andrew Barr tried to explain that the federal Liberal Minister for Territories had signed the gazettal of the Curtin land and that the Commonwealth had the power to take ACT land for a national purpose, such as a diplomatic estate.
And where else will they build embassies? he asked. Yarralumla, which has already seen off such a proposal? Deakin?
He even ventured that there was no deal, alluding to the arrangement by which the NCA got the land and the ACT the West Basin lake bed to reclaim and expand the developable space there.
No matter when the horse paddock ”arrangement” was announced, I wrote at the time the smell would linger, and so it has, becoming a symbol of what some see has a pattern of opaque government behaviour.
Mr Barr may point to the long history behind its plans to re-create West Basin and the role of successive Liberal governments in setting the development rules through the amended National Capital Plan, but Mr Coe has decided to ride the storm around the proposal into the election.
It’s a decision that deals the Opposition in, providing a clear policy position that sets itself apart from the Labor Government and touches on some key themes that will have appeal across the city.
It will tap concerns that Labor is a development-at-all-costs government, that it prefers cranes to green space and it does backroom deals.
Forget tired and old. The Liberals are attacking the government’s real vulnerabilities, and Mr Coe was quick to depict skyscrapers on Commonwealth Avenue and the secret deals to make them happen.
The question is how widely this will resonate.
Have the Liberals been swayed by the squeaky wheels of groups, no matter how knowledgeable, with little real following?
The government will hope that the influence of the Lake Burley Griffin Guardians and others is as small as it makes out, and that people are focused on wanting somewhere to live and jobs.
And can the Liberals really deliver, especially on the horse paddocks deal Mrs Jones has promised to unpick?
It really is a topsy turvey election where the Liberals champion battlers, have turned green, anti-development and seem happy to take potshots at the property industry.
”The government is a great friend of certain developers in this city; unfortunately, they are not a great friend of people in this city doing it tough,” Mr Coe said when asked about whether he was sending the wrong message to the property industry at a time when investment was sorely needed.
Mr Barr, perhaps wary of the skyscraper claims, chose to play down the proposed multi-unit development at West Basin, saying it will be small-scale in keeping with the rules set in 2016 by the Turnbull Coalition Government.
For the record, building height on the waterfront promenade will be limited to eight metres and a maximum of two storeys, while the parapet height of buildings fronting the promenade will be a maximum of 16 metres.
Taller buildings to a maximum of 25 metres, and not exceeding 30 per cent of the site area, may be considered.