24 June 2019

On Canberra being "cushioned from reality": an open letter to Tim Wilson MP

| Nicole Lawder MLA
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Local MLA Nicole Lawder on why Tim Wilson’s comments on Canberra are ‘just not on’.

Dear Mr Wilson,

Canberra-bashing is pretty much a national sport for anyone who doesn’t live in Canberra. In fact, usually, I don’t mind – Canberra is such a lovely place that having a bit of a negative view of it elsewhere stops a lot of people moving here, so we have the place more to ourselves! But when you started attacking Canberra generally and public servants specifically in a recent debate with Andrew Leigh, I was very surprised.

It seems a curious argument that you have made – attacking not just a place but the people who live there.

My biggest objection to your comments was your characterisation of public servants who are apparently too “cushioned from reality” to be able to make economic decisions. Our public servants have the huge responsibility of implementing, operationalising and delivering government policies. Much of this involves crunching the numbers and managing million-dollar government contracts and grants. They work exceptionally hard to budget and deliver essential and trusted services to the Australian people.

Their job also involves making Ministers appear as well-prepared, well-briefed and as competent as possible. When a Minister looks bad, the public service looks bad. When a Minister looks good, the public service looks good. I know, I have worked in the public service, in several different departments. The public service is full of talented and selfless people, many them having left their homes and families interstate to serve the Australian people in Canberra.

Like many public servants, I moved to Canberra when my husband got a Defence posting here. I have lived here ever since, adopting Canberra as my home town. We did not come here by choice; we were sent here through government policy. Looking at my own family, who live and work here, we are a fair representation of the ACT workforce. Of 13 adults in my extended family (our five children, their partners, and one grandchild over the age of 18) two are in the ACT Public Service, three in the Australian Public Service, one in utilities, one is a tradie in the building industry, one is a GP, one a firefighter, one a courier driver, one in the community sector, one a financial adviser, and one a Uni student. A total of five out of 13 workers in the public service is a fair reflection of the Canberra community, considering less than 40 per cent of all Canberra workers are employed in the Federal and ACT Governments.

Rather than being “cushioned from reality”, we Canberrans are living in a two-tiered society. While it is true many Canberrans are well-off, there are thousands of Canberrans that are falling behind. The Canberra Liberals are inundated with stories of Canberrans who are struggling to keep up with the immense cost of living pressures caused by 18 years of high-taxing Labor governments. So many Canberra households are in mortgage and rental stress due to the Labor-Greens government’s artificial inflation of land prices and extortionate increases to rates and land tax. Canberra is now the most expensive place to rent in Australia. Many people have become homeless or rely on the goodwill of family or friends to put a roof over their head. Most Australians probably wouldn’t know that almost 26,000 Canberrans are living below the poverty line while 37,000 Canberrans, including 8,000 children, are living on less than $500 per week.

This is in the Australian capital.

What you really ought to realise is that you sold yourself short in your mischaracterisation of a whole city, and its workers. We are real people who make real contributions and who face real challenges. The argument you made would be equivalent to your debating partner arguing you were a goose, and therefore everyone in Goldstein is a goose. I am sure you and the good citizens of Goldstein would be insulted.

Our public servants are here doing the best they can, often under trying circumstances. Bringing them into a political debate does not help your argument one whit.

You and I share many progressive Liberal values as evidenced in our advocacy for marriage equality. Apparently, we also share a love of gin. But these type of sweeping comments about my home town, the city I love, and its diverse residents, are just not on.


Nicole Lawder is the Deputy Leader of the Canberra Liberals.

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HiddenDragon6:02 pm 25 Jun 19

According to the previous RiotACT post on Wilson’s comments, he said that Canberra is “cushioned from the reality of where people actually make money and make investments off their private capital”.

The same could be said about most Australians, including in Wilson’s part of Melbourne, bearing in mind that so much of the wealth that pays our way in the world is still generated from mining and primary production.

The denial of that reality, and the associated entitlement mentality does, though, seem to be more pronounced in Canberra – the latter was one of the main reasons for self government (i.e. let Canberrans pay for the high standards of public services which they demand).

Pretty gutless of an MP from another state to slag off people in Canberra whom he knows nothing about.

I said what I needed to in a response to a previous post:


Ms Lawder has said nothing that would change my mind.

Capital Retro2:30 pm 25 Jun 19

This article authored by a virtue-signalling public servant being paid about $200K a year who is a self-proclaimed advocate for the tens of thousand Canberrans existing below the poverty line.

I would love Canberra too if I earned that sort of money.

michael quirk2:00 pm 25 Jun 19

Canberra is more representative of Australia than the bayside suburbs of Melbourne where this right wing t@#$$#r comes from

Tim Wilson has no real experience of Canberra he just makes uninformed comments without evidence or experience. He’s never sat down with the Tradesmen drinking VB at the Kambah tavern. He’s never out visiting the single mum nurse in her Charnwood rental. He’s not taking over an hour on the Bus from Richardson just to have a job to clean the Parliament House toilets of his fellow politicians. These are all real people I know.

Time to get out of his own Canberra bubble and see life from the working poor in Tuggeranong or the strugglers of west Belconnen.

Nicole, thank you very much for pointing out that, against the prevailing view, people in Canberra do work hard. The many years of PS staff cuts and ‘efficiency’ dividends have indeed created areas of high stress.

I would make one small correction however, to point out that it was actually the Howard government that had the highest taxes as shown by this OECD document

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