Liberal Member for Brindabella Val Jeffery has used his maiden speech in the ACT Legislative Assembly to criticise it as a “circus” and slam the Government on its record on rural affairs and bushfire management.
Mr Jeffery opened by saying that self-government had been “a disappointment” since its introduction 20 years ago.
“Twenty odd years ago, we believed the ACT was grown up, and ready for self-government,” Mr Jeffery said.
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“I was one of those who held that belief, and I voted for its introduction. I’m afraid as I look back that we were kidding ourselves, and sadly the circus of its introduction has basically extended over 20 years to this day.
“We expected so much and deserved better.”
The new MLA went on to chronicle a series of frustrations about government handling of matters affecting the lives of rural ACT residents, saying they began with the rise of a generation of educated politicians and bureaucrats who were out of touch with the real world of the post-war decades.
“Red tape and rules were inevitable, and [the] ACT really started sliding downhill,” Mr Jeffery said.
“First came the mass … resumption of land in the ACT, done by letter without even the courtesy of discussion.
“I vividly remember Peter Snow, the owner of Cuppacumbalong property, an ex-gunner in the war, coming up to me with the letter in his hands that informed him that he had 14 days … and ex-soldier, a friend … with tears in his eyes.
“It was the beginning of the end of respect for our rural community.”
Mr Jeffery said uncertainty of tenure had led some remaining rural landowners to take less care with their properties, leading to weeds and other expensive environmental problems.
“However, we have also inherited a precious, beautiful heritage village. The oldest town in the ACT, and it has not received one iota of respect since self-government,” he said of his home village, Tharwa.
Mr Jeffery said that lack of respect and attention extended to the entire rural community in the ACT.
“Since self-government, not one kilometre of rural road has been sealed,” he said.
The former ACT Bushfire Council chair said that the bushfire management in the ACT was now worse than it had been prior to the 2003 firestorm.
The arrival of self-government had meant the demise of the council he headed for a decade.
“Politicians and bureaucrats couldn’t tolerate successful independence of the Bushfire Council, so bushfire management was transferred to the bureaucrats,” Mr Jeffery said.
“No longer were those with most to lose responsible for operational management.”
Mr Jeffery said red tape immediately got in the way and previously successful early detection and rapid initial response strategies “went out the window”.
He described the firestorm of 2003 as “the resulting disaster”, and said the management of bushfires in the ACT was now many times worse than in 2003.
“And do you know what, the people at the top don’t care,” he said.
“Surely it’s time for an ACT Government to take a deep breath, open its eyes, look outside the concrete bunker … and recognise that there is an important rural part to the ACT.”
Mr Jeffery thanked all the people of his “great community” and particularly his wife Dorothy for her support over 50 years.
The 81-year-old is a former cattle and wheat farmer who now runs the general store at Tharwa. Having joined the Assembly last week after the resignation of Brendan Smyth, he will not run for re-election in October, and is not expected to sit in the Assembly for the remaining five sitting days of its term, having arranged a pair with the government.