11 September 2021

It's all COVID but where is the rest of government?

| Ian Bushnell
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ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr hasn’t taken a break in a month of lockdown. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian will be missing from our screens at 11:00 am today, and some may think that’s a good thing.

But when COVID-19 cases are peaking (we hope) and people are dying every day, and not just the elderly or those with the catch-all term ‘underlying conditions’, this is not the time to duck scrutiny.

She should be fronting up to answer journalists questions and be accountable.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr was quizzed about whether he would be following suit, and while he might finally have a day off soon, the daily 11.45 am presser is not going anywhere just yet.

What this attention on the COVID-19 press conference has highlighted is how the pandemic and the lockdown has diverted so many government resources and taken up so much of its time.

Like much of society, government, apart from COVID activities, appears to have slowed to a stop.

The Legislative Assembly sittings and the Budget have been rescheduled, senior ministers such as Planning’s Mick Gentleman, the Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury or Transport and City Services’ Chris Steel have disappeared from view, and any non-COVID announcements are few and far between.

Yet, when asked if the business of government was still happening, Mr Barr assured us that it was, that regular Cabinet meetings were taking place, and while there has been a reallocation of resources, the usual day-to-day activities were still being done.

Well, it’s time the community heard more about that work.

Probably the biggest change to the city centre is taking place with the next stage of light rail, a project that will change the face of the southern gateway and cause massive disruption to traffic and parking.

The planning review underway will have important ramifications for developers and residents alike. And housing, whether you want to break into the market or you are a renter trying to keep a roof over your head, is an issue that seems only to become more critical with every monthly price or vacancy report

The Alexander Maconochie Centre, the prison, remains a running sore that can’t be healed.

The Opposition has taken the high road during the lockdown, sensibly refraining from throwing stones when the Territory needs to get on top of the outbreak.

But more than a month into lockdown, it must be growing impatient and the first sign may have been its advocacy last week for more clarity from the government on supports for business.

How long it can remain virtually invisible, with about three weeks to go until Budget time, is the question.

There is no doubt the government has a job on its hands and its efforts to keep Canberrans safe should be commended, as should Mr Barr’s stamina and unflagging commitment to plain talk.

And unlike the NSW Premier, the ACT Government does not appear to be in the business of avoiding scrutiny.

But if government is indeed rolling on, it is probably time for it to become more visible, within the constraints of the lockdown, and start making inroads into the backlog of announcements, project milestones and reports that must surely be accumulating.

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HiddenDragon9:09 pm 13 Sep 21

Normal transmission will resume before too long, probably with a large dollop of vomitorious spin about “building back better”, “punching above our weight”, “not waiting for the feds” etc. etc., which will be used to hypnotise people into thinking that the policy rehash being dished up is new, exciting, courageous and (most slyly of all) absolutely essential, even if fiscally nuts.

I think Barr’s communication during the lockdown has been good. I’d be curious to see how his commitment to openness etc would go if the government’s handling of Covid turned out to be a debacle, like NSW’s. I suspect it would be somewhat less.

Maybe it’d help if some small businesses paid more attention to record keeping and filling in forms correctly (in other words, avoided contributing to the red tape some like to whinge about).

I’m expecting lockdowns until after the deferral elections, states/ territories are playing their part just like the US elections. Disgruntle the electorate and get them to blame the incumbent federal government for state decisions, it’s pathetically beautiful

Can we get a ALP disclaimer on these articles from now on?

The dripping partisan bias is getting as long in the tooth as this “7 day snap lockdown”.

Fair enough, if all your comments come with an LNP disclaimer.

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