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.”
“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.
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.