A fiery, and hyperbole-ridden debate according to the Chief Minister, has taken place in the ACT Legislative Assembly over what would seem to be an innocuous subject – the Our CBR newsletter.
The newsletter, distributed to Canberra households 11 times a year at the cost of $2.6 million over four years, is laden with “propaganda” according to the Canberra Liberals.
Not so for the ACT Government, which says the newsletter is consistently ranked as one of the preferred ways to communicate with the community.
Canberra Liberal MLA for Brindabella Mark Parton kicked off discussion when he moved a motion in the Assembly on Wednesday afternoon (21 September), urging the Government to reduce the monthly newsletter to quarterly.
Mr Parton wanted the Government to walk the walk on climate action and save the waste of paper and resources.
He said the paper used by the Government was not from a recycled source and the 8.4 million newsletters printed every electoral term would stretch the distance from Canberra to Perth.
“If there is a single motto that comes to mind when it comes to this Government it would be `do as I say, not as I do’,” Mr Parton told the Assembly.
“This is the most arrogantly hypocritical Government in the history of this nation.”
He said the “virtue-signalling orchestra” of an ACT Government was forcing Canberrans to stop using single-use plastics, including straws, but continued to print its ” glossy communist times”.
“I’m not asking you to change the tune you’re playing … all I’m asking you to do is to live up to the song,” he said.
“If the ACT Greens don’t vote yes to this motion, they prove to their voter base what the rest of us have known for years. They are chameleons who preach the word of the climate gods with the conviction of American TV evangelists.
“But just like the disgraced Jim Baker, as soon as the cameras are turned off, they just go about their business living a completely different life to the one they present publicly.”
Mr Parton also questioned information in the newsletter, particularly the Tuggeranong version including an article about light rail on the way.
“These so-called newspapers have descended into the realm of campaign propaganda,” he said.
The Brindabella MLA said with the Government’s climate action record and its use of the newsletter to advertise its own Sustainable Household Scheme, it should be a “given” his motion was supported.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr accused the Canberra Liberals of having descended into stunts. Photo: Lottie Twyford.
But Chief Minister Andrew Barr hit back at Mr Parton’s “tax-payer funded stunts” and accused the Opposition of degenerating into “undergraduate behaviour that typifies those opposite … fit for a Young Liberals meeting”.
“The newsletter is one of many ways the Government engages with the community and keeps people up to date,” Mr Barr said.
He said there would be a future in which Canberrans did not want printed material to engage with the Government but “that time is not now”.
The Chief Minister ultimately scored Mr Parton a six out of 10 for his comedy and an 11 out of 10 for his hyperbole.
The ACT Greens did not support the Opposition’s motion either. Minister for Seniors Emma Davidson said the newsletters were important for older Canberrans.
The debate was interrupted by an attempt to stop Mr Parton from using the newsletter on the floor of the chamber. Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson said he was using it as a prop and “waving it around”.
Props are not allowed on the floor of the Assembly.
But Mr Parton was supported by Deputy Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson who said his colleague was reading from the newsletter. He was allowed to continue his impassioned speech with newsletter in hand.
The Government will continue to distribute its newsletter 11 times a year.