Canberra’s generous six week holiday season is over and we can look ahead to see what 2017 offers. I see more bread and circuses as our ACT government continues to indulge developers while making money from land sales and keeping unions on-side from the resulting job opportunities.
Indeed there is to be a smorgasbord of building this year: City to Lake, Curtin and Dickson shops redevelopments, West Basin infill, Braddon’s ABC flats, the NRMA building on Northbourne, the expansion of the Canberra Centre, the new hotel at the Tradies in Belconnen and the ever-present tram, for openers.
With the ‘bread’ thus provided for, the ‘circuses’ can be indulged. Perhaps Manuka Oval can be revisited and more sporting venues upgraded or created. Even the arts might be favoured.
This cornucopia of construction, however, hides a harsh reality: someone has to pay and ultimately it will be the ACT taxpayer.
Has our ACT Labor government forgotten its roots? Certainly commitment to the building unions by association with developers is a mutually financial benefit for all three. But what about others: lower paid workers and welfare recipients?
What happens when Canberra ends up with an oversupply of expensive flats and units, expensive because of the land cost? With virtually every one of these high-rise more shops and restaurants are added to the existing competition – how do they pay their way? And is the government prepared to subsidise the “circus” component, the sporting and cultural areas, so ordinary people can afford to attend?
Our population could grow as a result of these exciting initiatives but whether this growth will be sufficient to compensate for the oversupply above is doubtful because jobs would be needed and this employment might not be in the areas matching these levels.
Increased population brings its own problems. Parking and transport particularly, because people still want their vehicles. Further, more people and supply and demand can force up prices and costs for those least able to afford them: the old, the young, the families in the mortgage belts.
Architecture will suffer because there is little confidence engendered to date that these future developments will be any more attractive in style and shape than the current crop.
Finally, the environment. Much of the planned development centres upon Lake Burley Griffin and inner Canberra, although outer residents should not be complacent. Their turn will come given land values. As has been said before, we are the custodians of Canberra as the National Capital of Australia. We are privileged to live in such a beautiful city and, in return for this opportunity, we have the responsibility to look after it.
If any ACT government wishes to profit by development they should seek further afield than the central basin where the only beneficiaries will be the wealthy and where the losers, financially through increased rates and taxes and environmentally via loss of lifestyle, will be all of the community.
Juvenal said the people of Rome only needed bread and circuses to be contented and it worked – for a time.