Last week I was contacted by a Mr Fluffy homeowner Nicole McNamara. This is her story.
14 years ago, Nicole and her husband bought their dream property in Farrer. Her husband is a tradesman, and they are a single income family with three young children. Last year, the McNamaras paid off their home loan and after being approved for renovations by the ACT Government they remortgaged their home to pay for $200,000 worth of renovations. In Nicole’s words, ‘we wanted to stay here, we wanted a life here, this is where our life is’.
Nicole and her husband couldn’t wait to make their dream home a reality. They purchased materials for the new water, gas and power infrastructure to begin construction. But after learning that their house was contaminated with life-threatening loose asbestos, the family was forced to vacate the house. As the McNamaras could not afford to find alternative accommodation, they moved into their backyard shed which left them ineligible for any ACT Government assistance for relocation. Additionally, the family of five have not qualified for any other financial assistance because they have been unable to afford to purchase the clothes and furniture to replace what they have been forced to leave behind and have therefor been unable to produce receipts for reimbursement.
Footings have been poured, building materials lay dormant, and a family have been robbed of the security of the Australian dream.
Last week’s announcement of the $1 billion buyback and demolition scheme did not come as a comfort to the McNamaras. Instead of quelling anxieties, it galvanized the loss and uncertainty already suffered. Under the ACT’s scheme the McNamaras will almost certainly have their property subdivided before it is offered back to them. As their renovations are incomplete and external, the market price of their home will not equate to their total investment. And as a result, after they buy back the land, if they so choose, they will be unable to afford to rebuild.
Given that the family commenced renovations at the determination of the ACT Government’s approval, the McNamaras would like to know why the government assumes no responsibility for the investment the family undertook. Questions such as these are being asked by hundreds of families across the ACT, and as the ACT Government scrambles to answer them, it will soon be time to consider the Mr Fluffy crisis in a new light.
The first rule of negotiating is to ask for more than you expect to receive. The ACT received nothing from the Commonwealth except a debt. The second rule is to act in goodwill when negotiating on behalf others. If goodwill fails, which it has, it is only natural for honest and moral assessments to ensue.
This situation is intensely political.
The Commonwealth signed a memorandum of understanding in 1991 which stated that it would shoulder two-thirds of the cost of the removal of any asbestos thereafter. In contravention of the memorandum, and as a condition of the $1 billion loan, the Federal Government will also require the ACT to indemnify it for any responsibility for the matter in the future. Yet, in its impertinent, immoral and un-Australian disregard for the citizens of the ACT, the Commonwealth has already presumed a position of indemnity.
Intelligent Australians are rightfully asking themselves what ‘Team Australia’ means. If you believe in the civil liberty of retaining the property you own, or live in the ACT, it obviously means nothing.
The silence of the Canberra Liberals on the federal response is indicative of the gutless impotence that characterises the spirit in which they engage in the contest of ideas. They should be fighting the feds for the good of the people they so wish to govern. The ACT Government should not take this lying down either. Even if politicians feel powerless to change a situation, a citizenry have the right to expect that their politicians at least stand up for what they believe in.
It was Menzies who championed the notion that a nation is made free by the liberty to invest in private tenure. Yet it is this very liberty that is being replaced by an ideology which says, ‘if you’ve got a problem, you’re on your own’. Go Team Australia; go!