3 November 2023

Letter from the Editor: Zed's dead, and other stuff News Corp doesn't understand about Canberra

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Anthony Albanese, Brendan O'Connor and Andrew Barr

Attacking the ACT is a convenient proxy for attacking Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, pictured here with Federal Skills Minister Brendan O’Connor and Chief Minister Andrew Barr. Photo: Supplied.

Canberra, you’re under attack (whether you know it or not).

It’s not a bird, it’s not a plane, but it might be an ageing superhero – one Rupert Murdoch (or his minions).

For the past few weeks, The Australian has been running a series of articles criticising how the ACT is governed. Stories range from our tax system to the way people with intersex conditions are treated in Canberra.

Some of these are accurate. Some aren’t. For example, the article describing the ACT as Australia’s highest taxing jurisdiction makes that calculation by including taxes that would be paid to local councils in states with three layers of government.

An apples-with-apples comparison of the state taxes levied by the NSW or Victoria state governments would show they are significantly higher than the ACT’s.

Region understands the campaign is doing very well with readers outside the Territory (mostly quite a long way outside the Territory).

“It is clear that for too long the ACT’s progressive fancies have escaped proper critical evaluation,” an unsigned editorial thundered this week.

“A Labor-Greens jurisdiction of richer-than-average voters who mostly draw salaries from the public purse has been keen to proffer progressive advice on everything from Indigenous welfare to gender and drugs, but universally has failed to deliver.”

READ ALSO ‘We want justice’: ACT coronial inquest opened into Canberra Indigenous man’s death in NSW jail

“Universally” is a long bow to draw. It’s an enduring mystery why the government can’t fix healthcare, and sadly true that Indigenous incarceration and child removal rates here in the ACT are often the highest in the nation. Both of these situations are disgraceful.

The rapid and remarkable literacy improvements achieved by the Catholic school system should throw a harshly critical light on failures in the ACT’s public education system.

But equally, drug decriminalisation has been operating since Saturday (27 October). How could you make a genuine assessment of its effects when police have stopped around three people?

And while alleging that the ACT will become “a suicide honeypot” (I’m not entirely sure what that is), even the Oz concedes the government won’t proceed with legalising euthanasia for teenagers and is only investigating who might be included in a future framework for voluntary assisted dying.

Apparently, a “dozy local media” is mostly to blame for this situation. Rather than, say, the voters who keep voting the current government in, election after election after election.

Twenty-five years of one-party government is bad for democracy, but the ACT is a functioning democracy nevertheless and the results are, self-evidently, what local voters want.

But all of these things are essentially local concerns. Despite The Australian’s best efforts, few Canberra voters will be swayed by its editorialising. Probably the reverse, in fact.

READ ALSO Is Canberra the best city to raise children?

So why would a national newspaper savage the ACT on so many fronts? Is it simply the clickbait value?

Putting aside the fanciful notion that The Australian must step in to provide critical analysis because Region, The Canberra Times, the ABC, WIN TV, Capital Radio and every other outlet are complicit in giving the Barr government an allegedly smooth ride, there may be some other politics at play for a campaigning newspaper.

News Corp lacks a meaningful local media presence (the Canberra Star is News Corp-owned and covers local courts and police news before defaulting to Daily Telegraph content). Many in their editorial camp will feel they have little influence here after Zed Seselja lost his Senate seat.

Moves are afoot to increase the Territory’s Senate representation to at least four, and while that might bring back a Liberal, it would almost certainly double Labor representation while maintaining an independent.

More importantly, the ACT is also a proxy for attacking the federal government. While some of the paint came off after the referendum, Anthony Albanese is still comfortably polling 30 points ahead of Peter Dutton. On current form, Labor is very likely to win a second term, or even a third if the federal Liberals can’t fix what went wrong under Scott Morrison.

And finally, there’s a long, long history of politicians and media earning some easy points with the crew at home by attacking Canberrans, not always with much understanding of the city.

Our rights should be the same as every other Australian citizen, our needs matter as much as everyone else’s, and that’s true no matter who we elect because, in the end, it’s the voters who decide.

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Genevieve, you displayed your own bias early in the article. The ACT government delivers local and state services, so the only way to compare apples with apples is to compare ACT taxation vs combined state and local taxation in other jurisdictions.

“Apparently, a “dozy local media” is mostly to blame for this situation.”

If what is happening in the ACT happened anywhere else the media would do a far better job of shining an unrelenting spotlight on the many failures of this local government and would be more successful in stirring up electoral revolt. But in the ACT each new revelation of local government incompetence is meekly reported and quickly forgotten. There is more investigative reporting, more analysis and more passion in the free edition of City News, which often carries articles from former Chief Minister Stanhope hammering Barr. RiotAct should not have given such uncritical and unbalanced support for the referendum Yes case. The CT is only of interest for the obituaries.
So ‘dozy local media’ is apt.

HiddenDragon9:32 pm 04 Nov 23

These articles were presumably prompted, one way or another, by the impossible to miss point that the Voice referendum vote in the ACT was an almost exact reversal of the vote in the nation as a whole.

That result, together with observations which point to the fact that Canberrans, through their own “local” government, are hardly setting a shining example of value-for-money service delivery and good governance, does raise valid questions about whether Canberra is so out of touch with the national mood and values, and so dominated by people who are not overly good at getting worthwhile things done (even if they waste a lot of money in the process), that it is doing a poor job in its primary role as the seat of national government.

Of course, these articles might also be laying the groundwork for a referendum which could find favour with a majority of Australians – i.e. amending the sections of the Constitution which stand as practical obstacles to Canberra having a city council form of government, rather than the current state-like model.

This could be presented, with obvious popular/populist appeal as “cutting Canberra down to size” and was, in fact, the self-government option preferred by the federal Liberals (but not, for predictable reasons, by the ACT Liberals) – it could also neatly skittle prospective changes to Senate numbers which would make that chamber a nightmare for future Coalition governments.

Where there is an element of truth to a story, the rest becomes easier to believe even if untrue and there is an element of truth to the criticism of Canberra.

We have the highest rates for homeowners to pay of any jurisdiction in Australia all levied by the ACT government as a local tax. It is no wonder our rents are so high and people flee the market as investors, with laws that are anti-landlord with no admission that this also affects tenants in terrible ways.

We also have a government that disregards the community on so many issues, using ‘consultation’ as a tick box exercise once all decisions have been made by politicians and bureacrats. This government is way too comfortable and smug to consider what Canberrans want.

Voted in by anyone living here at the time (and we have many students, short-term and longer term workers who have no plan to stay here, votes are populist with no consideration for the longer term impact on residents, unlike local councils where votes are by home and landowners.

Fortunately there is much that is wonderful about Canberra that keeps many of us here, despite these downsides. Whilst elements of the Australian articles are true, they have failed to see the advantages of this city, things that we love.

Daniel O'CONNELL3:14 pm 04 Nov 23

Methinks you are being slightly defensive in this article. What are you doing to keeping the local government honest, so much so that a national newspaper can and has stepped into the space?

ChrisinTurner3:10 pm 04 Nov 23

Who gives a s**t what the Murdock media think?

Stephen Ellis3:10 pm 04 Nov 23

Methinks Ms Jacobs protesteth too much and, as usual with the far left, she does not like being criticised. Everything mentioned in this article is true, apart from the bit about the ACT being renowned as progressive…it’s more often referred to as being of the far left. Look at our hospitals and our justice system. Look at indigenous incarceration rates and attempts to get the most radical legislation passed here. If Drumgold wasn’t guided by the far left ideology of the Greens-Labor Government, I don’t know who he was following…he’s certainly done nothing for victims of rape and family violence in the ACT, and his efforts to convert from “innocent until proven guilty“ to some sort of social justice approach has the potential to further undermine an already failing system. Perhaps all the left wing journos and media commentators in the ACT should try to take a more critical view of both sides of politics, instead of having another shot at their opposition, who seem to be able to attract an audience through subscription and without the luxury of taxpayer funding.

Terrence O\'Brien2:11 pm 04 Nov 23

Few ACT voters will be influenced by the criticism in The Australian because the median ACT voter ‘votes for a living’ – that is, they are net benefit recipients, counting their government salaries, or welfare, or other benefits, or the dependency of their small businesses on government demand, direct or indirect. Thus they support ever bigger government, regardless of whether it solves the alleged problems government is using to justify its policies, or instead makes them worse. The game is to pass the costs of ever bigger government to an ever smaller minority of net taxpayers, ideally also kicking the can down the road with mounting debt and declining credit ratings.

Rob McGuigan1:56 pm 04 Nov 23

“Labor-Greens jurisdiction of richer-than-average voters who mostly draw salaries from the public purse has been keen to proffer progressive advice on everything from Indigenous welfare to gender and drugs, but universally has failed to deliver.”
So, Mr Editor you appear to have shot yourself in the foot yet again. This is exactly what the ACT government is and does. It is NOT a euphemistically called “progressive government” but an extremist ultra-left and in a lot of ways a Socialist/ Communist government. This form of government is dangerous to Australian democracy because as always happens with these individuals free speech and individual rights sooner or later are impinged upon. Or, as in the case of this Territory government policy is enacted that threaten safety of its citizens.

Time for a Bex and a lie down?

Martin Keast1:26 pm 04 Nov 23

The ACT government rightly is being scrutinised – take the whole Drumgold saga, the recent Calvary Hospital compulsory acquisition or the rushed through Conversion Therapy ban laws. The ACT government and the associated ACT public service is ideologically biased against socially conservative positions. They do things in a rush, ignoring public opposition and are becoming more overtly hostile to people who disagree – the threat of fines and legal action because of the laws they make is indication of a very intolerant government that see itself free to do whatever it wants. The Australian is right to focus attention on what is going on here because the local media doesn’t do much at all. The most recent evidence was the attitude of the ACT Chief Justice Lucy McCallum, who uses her courtroom to channel Lidia Thorpe by acknowledging that sovereignty has never been ceded. She ought to be called to account for this but as she seems to be spouting the mantra held by the ACT regime, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Many of us would like to be elsewhere because of the highly progressive “woke” agenda. Parents are fleeing the public schools in droves here in the ACT. I don’t want to see children being caught up in all this, especially the confusion they must be experiencing on what is right and wrong. For example, drag queen story hours are already happening in ACT public libraries as well.
I applaud the Australian for pulling back the curtain in this leftist bubble we call the ACT which is so-clearly out of touch with mainstream Australia.

I’m glad ACT is “so-clearly out of touch with mainstream Australia”. There’s no law or rule that says we have to be like the rest of the country. We make our own decisions. ‘Mainstream Australia’ is so conservative it’s sickening. Many parts of the United States are now way more progressive than ‘Mainstream Australia’, and that’s saying something.

Vinson1Bernie1:07 pm 04 Nov 23

If you are old enough you would remember Richard Careltons disgraceful put down of Canberra on 60 minutes in late 80’s? with not even half lies and out of context numbers (eg Canberra public transport loses money – what state system doesn’t) and portrayed Forrest real estate as typical Canberra homes. And Carelton lived here as ABC political reporter. Just goes to show you should read at least one media outlet from both sides to get a better picture in these media polarising times.

Capital Retro4:13 pm 04 Nov 23

Carelton also had his negatively-geared hobby farm near Canberra and THAT is typically Canberran.

He died suddenly not long after that – maybe he ate the wrong mushrooms from his rural retreat?

GrumpyGrandpa1:02 pm 04 Nov 23

With Canberra being a city based juristiction where a significant percentage of the population is employee for or provides services to government (Federal or Territory), our electoral base is fairly unique.

Add to this, our proportional electoral system reinforces the tightness of it’s electoral base. And the third layer is the ALP’s preparedness to form an alliance with the Greens.

It’s almost a perfect electrol storm that ensures the Opposition is locked out of government.

With no house of review, and effectively no threat of defeat, if the media doesn’t hold the government accountable, then what can the Opposition do? Pretty much nothing; they don’t have the numbers.

I’m not saying that the Opposition would do any better, because frankly, I can’t see a lot of talent there. I guess it’s hard to attract talent when you know you’ll probably never be in government.

As for the statement that Zed is dead, I think that is part of the problem. Whether people liked him or not, he would call out the goverment. In my opinion, Elizabeth Lee is too meek and mild to take on Mr Barr, and be heard. Mr Barr is by far the best politican in the Assembly. Heaven help us if he retires, because he holds the government together.

What the critics of “Twenty-five years of one-party government” (its only 22 years & its a coalition of two parties) don’t understand is many here don’t think a continuous government is a good thing. There is a lot wrong with the current government, but they keep being re-elected because the opposition fails to put up a viable alternative. They continue to go to elections with little more policy than “we oppose” and assume if they hold on long enough they will eventually win. The thing about the ACT population being (on average) reasonably educated and with enough people with public service experience of trying to implement dead dog policies (from both sides of politics; at both commonwealth & territory level), it is able to recognise that the candidates put up by the Libs for the last umpteenth elections are not up to scratch. Re-electing the same old mediocre government is the less disastrous option by a proverbial mile.

This is objectively incorrect, at least in respect of taxes. Rates in the ACT have increased by multiples of themselves over the past few years and are far higher than those paid in Sydney – it isn’t even close.

Perhaps ricketyclik, but the cost to homeowners here is huge and way beyond that in other places. It hits us hard and drives many over the border.

Hmm. Rupert Murdoch. The prog-left’s favourite pantomime villain. And here we have a prog-left trash opinion piece complaining about non-prog-left trash opinion pieces. But luckily, Genevieve here tells us ACT will soon have more Labor senators. So that’s good, it’ll be so much easier to legislate misinformation laws. If the bovine racist masses won’t listen to their betters like Genevieve here, then we’ll be able to simply censor their ugly, bigoted and misinformed opinions. For their own good. We in the ACT should pat ourselves on the back, not only for being so superior, but for our willingness to guide the less intellectually fortunate.

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