23 August 2020

Election 2020: Liberals deal themselves in with West Basin, horse paddock stand

| Ian Bushnell
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Giulia Jones and Alistair Coe

Giulia Jones mounts up at the North Curtin Horse Paddock, backed by her leader Alistair Coe. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

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.

Andrew Barr

Done deal: Chief Minister Andrew Barr holding the Commonwealth Gazette of the Curtin Horse paddocks. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

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.

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Nobody seems to be asking what new embassies have to be built. I would prefer the green fields, walking tracks, kangaroos, horses, trees, birds and bucolic views to remain, rather than all be bulldozed to create an exclusive diplomatic enclave. But obviously the Labor/Greens/Geocon alliance and their beneficiaries have other priorities.

Capital Retro9:30 am 25 Aug 20

There are still blocks of vacant land in the embassy area of Yarralumla so none are needed elsewhere. There is a block allocated for a residence next to the Embassy of Spain which, last time I looked, was still as vacant as it was 35 years ago.

You are referring to the vacant, now overgrown and fenced off block between the Embassy of Spain and the mosque. This was allocated to the Islamic Republic of Iran, but obviously they are not in a hurry to build on it. Their contempt for Australia is shown by their continuing imprisonment of Kylie Moore-Gilbert.

You know that you can just read the supporting information in the change to the National Capital Plan right?


The existing estates are full or already reserved, DFAT have advised the expected need for new sites to accommodate future missions.

Although I do think it’s mighty hilarious that you refer to a future exclusive enclave when the land is now used almost exclusively by a tiny minority of wealthy horse owners and the new estate will almost certainly have more trees than the empty paddocks there now.

It would be more than simple to mandate some level of public access and a greenbelt through the area in any future development and that would already be a vast improvement from what’s there now.

And how do you think that the local government benefits from development of a diplomatic estate which is controlled by the Federal government? You seem to be insinuating something without having put too much thought in to it.

Capital Retro1:10 pm 25 Aug 20

“DFAT have advised the expected need for new sites to accommodate future missions.”

That expectation would have been made before the pandemic. Everything has changed now, forever. There won’t be any embassies and diplomatic missions here in a few years.

Capital Retro,
And you base your claims on what?

Regardless of what happens with the current pandemic, at some stage in coming years the new areas for embassies will be needed.

And it makes perfect sense to plan for that and set aside the areas now, rather than try to shoehorn them in to unsuitable locations when they’ve run out of time to plan appropriately.

You’re claiming that they don’t need any new areas, yet the people who manage the issue say they do.

Who to believe, who to believe.

Capital Retro5:36 pm 25 Aug 20

Since DFAT cited the need for new sites to accommodate new embassies and missions they have recalled staff from overseas operations. You cannot disregard the ongoing consequences of this pandemic and I guess many local DFAT staff will be working from home. Global embassies and diplomatic missions simply cannot function without regular air services and quarantine restrictions are difficult for them to deal with. This “industry” is still functioning however because they are finding new ways to do things, as are other industries that need to survive. All countries will soon be looking for ways to cut costs and keeping a symbolic diplomatic presence in other countries will be drastically curtailed.

Have you noticed that our Parliament is still sitting despite a lot of MPs being absent? Who would have thought this was possible? Everything is changing so look out for yourself.

By the way, I correctly predicted on RiotACT even before the pandemic had taken hold in Australia that airlines and cruise companies would cease to function and I was right.

Capital Retro,
Predicting that airlines and cruise ships will shut down during a pandemic is like predicting the sun will rise tomorrow. Closures of borders are some of the first actions in every pandemic plan.

I think the opposite of what you claim will occur and embassies and missions will become even more important than before due to the restrictions in movement. And you should note that international travel hasn’t stopped, Its just significantly reduced.

Global trade will become increasingly important for many countries because it provides a lifeline to their economies. Which means they need government officials on the ground.

And even if I’m wrong, you seem to be assuming this pandemic will last forever and embassies will disappear altogether.

This will end and it makes perfect sense to plan for the future.

Assuming that there will be no embassies in the future would be horrific from any sort of planning or risk management perspective. It’s far better to allow the space and not need it, than to need the space and not have it.

What an oracle. Predicting a pandemic that has basically seen large swathes of national borders across the globe would cripple the airline and cruise industry…. Who would of thought it?

Do you know tomorrow’s lotto numbers?

Capital Retro8:27 am 27 Aug 20

Chew14 and JS9, I was ridiculed also when I made that prediction. I wouldn’t know what a lotto number was either. I live mainly outside the Canberra bubble where it’s a different and larger world.

I hope that things don’t get worse but I have a “plan B” if they do.

The comment about international travel has only “significantly reduced” is risible as the regular international flights to and from Canberra stopped months ago.

Capital Retro,
That sounds horrible.

Seeing as you claim you made these statements and were ridiculed on Riotact, you can link the article for us. Should be more than simple to provide the evidence.

And despite your protestations, international travel has not stopped. Canberra was never truly an international airport so it’s irrelevant from that standpoint.

You seem to be claiming that diplomats won’t be able to travel, which is just wrong.

And once again, you still seem to be assuming this will last forever, over time the travel caps will be increased to free up travel. Diplomatic flights would also be given priority as it’s far easier to control the passengers movements if they are part of a diplomatic mission.

HiddenDragon8:01 pm 24 Aug 20

“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.”

These commitments by the ACT Liberals would target those concerns much more effectively if they were made in the context of policies (or at least clearly stated principles and values) about planning, design and building standards which set out a better and more balanced approach than we have had to date.

With the relative strength now of the ACT economy, we should be in a position to set standards which might, in more buoyant times across the nation, be resisted by developers and lenders.

That would take brain power Hidden Dragon, to actually demonstrate the liberals actually have policies. At the moment they again have the folly of thinking the electorate will simply vote for them because they’ll say ‘we aren’t doing what the other mob will do’….

With a decent suite of policies, this would be an easy win for the opposition this election. But there is precious little evidence they are going to do anything different to what they did 4 years ago.

Capital Retro12:33 pm 24 Aug 20

“Mrs Jones soon got into full gallop”

As much as I don’t agree with Giulia Jones on much, I think you have gone a bit too far in associating her approach on this matter with the actions of a horse.

You wouldn’t dare say something about the actions of Andrew Barr linking him with those of a queen, would you?

Agree, Chewy. When you add this to their breathtaking million-trees advance, it can only be a Liberal landslide.

The policy-maker is either a genius, or a failed writer for Mad As Hell.

Well they can hardly push the policies they would really no doubt like to push. Ban abortion, prayers in schools, spread Canberra suburbs as far as the borders, and further if they can manage it, cut back bus services to only those routes that pay, sell off the bus service, etc. These are very conservative people.
They are limited in this, because they know what they want, would not be vote winners.

If this is the Liberals “dealing themselves in” to the election, they’ll be disappointed when they look at their cards and find a 2 and a 7.

To call these niche issues that would only change the votes of a tiny minority of the electorate would be an overstatement.

Mike of Canberra10:32 am 24 Aug 20

Chewy, if you’re dismissive of this one, then I look forward to a similarly disparaging assessment of Barr’s desperate and divisive attempt to stir up controversy on so-called conversion therapy practices in Canberra. That’s pure grasping at straws territory.

Now now Chewy, they might get 100 votes out of it. Shame about 95 of them are from the ‘Guardians’ that don’t live in the ACT and can’t vote here….

Perhaps you should read my comments on Zoya Patel’s article on that issue then?

But the ALP and Greens putting some minor focus on fringe issues, clearly doesn’t excuse the Liberals from blatant stupidity.

At the same time they are calling for new major land releases, they are opposing potential new major land releases.

All because of a handful of NIMBY’s and people trying to protect the “natural character” of a man made lake.

Mike of Canberra1:55 pm 24 Aug 20

You know that for sure do you?

Its been shown multiple times on here, and the CT, that the main people in the guardians group do not live in the ACT….

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