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Seeking transparency in the ACT Government

By Paul Costigan - 14 April 2016 39

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There are many things about the current ACT Government that are causing concerns, to me and local residents I meet with often – and I think most of us voted for them. Now that’s a worry!

If all that was not enough, then along come a couple of Canberra Times articles concerning the employment of the TAMS Minister’s husband. According to the articles he is employed by developers on the push to super-size the Manuka Oval precinct. Wow! Now that caught many of us out!

I see loads of benefits in enhancing the Manuka Oval precinct. But….

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In a better time the government may have initiated friendly and transparent forums to elicit the electorate’s ideas and aspirations for the whole site. I wish!

Once the options had been identified, the terms of reference for a competitive tender would have been drawn up in partnership with the residents. Easy!

Instead we have a giant developer spruiking why they should be handed some land to plonk a ‘vibrant’ super sized development into this peaceful urban village.

Everything about this so-called ‘unsolicited’ Manuka proposal is amazing. That such a proposal materialised at all without any of the usual competitive processes is evidence that something has perverted the way this government goes about planning and development.

There is just no way, unless they had been given a friendly nod or two, that corporate developers would be allocating such resources to ‘get the community onside’ in order to have the government sign off on this questionable deal.

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The community is yet again being forced to deal with a stressful process that is already favouring a set outcome – and one that delivers huge profits to someone – and that ain’t to be the local community!

TAMS Minister Meegan Fitzharris, whose husband is directly involved, is reported as saying that she will ensure that she stays out of any dealings and decision-making when it comes to Cabinet.

Then I have to ask, what are we paying her to do? A part-time job?

When the government meets to discuss such major proposals, the electorate should expect all of the ACT Cabinet to be contributing to the decision. To have a minister absent herself from any such matters is ridiculous.

If there is the possibility of any conflict (real or perceived), then any minister should have been wise enough to make the necessary prior family arrangements or to have simply opted not to be in this government – especially as a member of the cabinet.

She was elected by the electorate to represent the electors in all matters – not just the ones she chooses. The ACT Government structure allows for a very limited number of ministers. They have complex portfolios, but they accepted that when they took the job. They are paid to be there and to contribute – full time – not part time.

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I am actually party to an email discussion involving many people on development matters. One current thought is that maybe – just maybe – there could be benefit in talking to one of the relevant ACT ministers about planning, urban development, urban infill, and the importance of biodiversity and green infrastructure.

My advice is always that we should be open to talk to politicians. But when by their own actions and words our politicians consistently demonstrate that they are removed from the realities of the aspirations of residents and are openly very close to developers, their lobbyists and advisors, is there even a chance that you would have something in common and anything to talk about?

This ACT Government is already not respected on so many issues around planning and development. Having this issue of a Minister’s direct family connection to such an important and controversial development – is just not a good look and I cannot find anyone who does not think likewise.

People want to respect those who have been chosen to lead.

People want their government back! People like transparency.

The 2016 ACT elections are not far away – let’s hope this matter is addressed soon.

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Background links – The Crimes’ article on the husband’s links.

Michael Moore on how serious things are.

A warning from someone who has seen it before.

 

What’s Your opinion?


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39 Responses to
Seeking transparency in the ACT Government
ungruntled 10:49 pm 14 Apr 16

Charlotte Harper said :

Besides no decision has been made, no firm plan presented to government for consideration, both government and opposition given the same briefing by the people proposing it. But early to be getting ones knickers in a knot isn’t it?

If people don’t start “getting their knickers in a knot” now, it will be fait acompli & the community effected, will, once again, have had no say in how things go.

ungruntled 10:40 pm 14 Apr 16

Yes Nilrem ! Most certainly.

ungruntled 10:38 pm 14 Apr 16

reddy84, I think you are very niave. Paul is absolutely right. This situation is really “on the nose” & does not “pass the pub test”.

rommeldog56 9:38 pm 14 Apr 16

dungfungus said :

Given the history of secrecy around the adoption of trams for Canberra & the past impossibility to gain access to all the facts & figures (far from a unique Canberra problem I am sure), such a review must be carried out by a body totally independent of the government. This is far from a trivial issue, a consultant hired by the government is simply not good enough, the Govt writes the terms of reference & have the opportunity, officially or otherwise, to influence the final report. I worked for a consultant for many years & I know how the system works. If a consultant wants more work in the future, they have to try to give the client the result they want (without fudging it too much).

Whilst I for one agree with most of what u say Arthur, unfortunately for the future of Canberra, I think you are flogging a dead horse raising these issues as they pertain yo the ACT Labor/Greens Government. Why ? Because of us – the voters. Just look at the comments in posts #2 and #7 (from JC) as proof evident of that. It certainly is a detached & rarefied existence living in the Canberra cocoon !!!

JC 7:43 pm 14 Apr 16

JC said :

dungfungus said :

I think you are clutching at straws in this opinion piece. Fitzharris did the right thing in this situation which was declare her interest and abstained herself from the bureaucratic process regarding it. This is nothing new and is practiced all over the country, to attack the government because of this seems petty.

ACT is a small jurisdiction with a small number of residents and an even smaller number of consultants. If Fitzharris’s husband is in the construction or planning sector then its more than likely he would be involved in many projects to happen in the ACT. What exactly do you imply by saying she should “make the necessary prior family arrangements”? Because her husband is employed in that sector, is it fair to ask her that she not pursue HER interests? Anyway, since when do all of cabinet discuss planning matters? Thats why we have a PLANNING Minister.

Im sure the development will be examined on its merits and the democratic process will take place, as has occured with most development proposals in Canberra.

Wow, ACT Government talking points, delivered in an almost convincing way.

Or the truth and some common sense.

Besides no decision has been made, no firm plan presented to government for consideration, both government and opposition given the same briefing by the people proposing it. But early to be getting ones knickers in a knot isn’t it?

HiddenDragon 5:42 pm 14 Apr 16

Everything which has thus far been made public about the Manuka Oval proposal is emblematic of how things get done in this town. The fact that two (of the many) players involved happen to be in a marital relationship probably, if anything, gives that aspect a little more clarity than might typically be the case.

Arthur Davies 4:39 pm 14 Apr 16

Well said, I too have found the ACT Assembly processes very secretive & totally lacking in “due diligence”, in my case regarding transport policy. We prepared technical information on transport options quite a while ago & put copies into envelopes individually addressed to each assembly member. On checking some weeks later, none of the assembly members had received their mail. I queried this with the then chief minister on air on 666 chief minister talk back & was told in a rather surprised tone “of course the mail was opened not passed on to the individual members, this is standard practice”. So how can a democracy run when primary data is withheld from the assembly as a whole?

I have spent a lot of time looking at how such a (transport in this case) planning exercise should be undertaken, the results are:-

Proper Evaluation Procedures

A proper evaluation of all options using “due diligence) principals would entail immediately implementing a full, formal, transparent, peer reviewed, public investigation into Canberra’s transport needs. This must be carried out, published, & evaluated PRIOR to formalising any any commitments on a light rail or any other option. Such a review would identify ALL technologies & the manufacturers of such equipment, including the following:-

1. Capital cost
2. Running & maintenance costs.
3. Noise levels.
4. Passenger numbers & the ability to reduce traffic congestion.
5. Proportion of the city’s population served, i.e. the equity of each proposal.
6. Travel times for a selection of travel distances & the likely productivity gains of all the systems.
7. Efficiency & carbon dioxide emissions per passenger km (at peak & off peak times).
8. Carbon dioxide emissions for the construction of each of the systems & all its components.
9. Average service frequency of scheduled services or is it “on demand”. Also if it can run 24/7.
10. Transport toll in injuries, lives & dollars.
11. Social impact for good or ill.
12. The attraction of the system to both locals & tourists & its addition to the amenity of the city, how it will make the city stand out & attract visitors, its WOW factor if you like.

All of the above factors, & some I have not thought of, would then have to be published as a public document so that it can be subjected to peer review by other experts in the field & evaluated by the residents who after all will ultimately pay for it & use it. Only after this is done, comments received, evaluated, & incorporated into a final document, can the ultimate decision be made as to which system is to be built.

Given the history of secrecy around the adoption of trams for Canberra & the past impossibility to gain access to all the facts & figures (far from a unique Canberra problem I am sure), such a review must be carried out by a body totally independent of the government. This is far from a trivial issue, a consultant hired by the government is simply not good enough, the Govt writes the terms of reference & have the opportunity, officially or otherwise, to influence the final report. I worked for a consultant for many years & I know how the system works. If a consultant wants more work in the future, they have to try to give the client the result they want (without fudging it too much).

In the past we had a specialist Govt Dept to evaluate and implement projects, the Dept of Works along with its other names over time. This was in a period when public servants had tenure and could give government proper fearless advice, long gone and lamented by many of us along with dedicated technical stream employees. I very seriously doubt that there is in the public service, as it is presently structured, the technical skills and academic rigour to properly carry out such evaluations. The outcome of some recent technical projects back this assertion.

The CSIRO could possibly do such work but it too has had a battering in recent years, I simply do not know whether they have the technical skills do do a full evaluation and subsequent implementation. Maybe some universities with electric traction and transport expertise could contribute. I do know that economists & lawyers have little to contribute, their actions speak for themselves.

Maybe by a body made up of people selected by ALL assembly members in a free vote, could nominate members of an independent technical body (an authority?) who would call in other technical & financial experts as needed & who would be given a proper budget to cover all the costs involved in the investigation of options & the letting of contracts for the project’s construction & its detailed supervision. I believe that no current or past MLAs or political party members should be members of that technical body. I seriously doubt that a royal Commission type of investigation would work as it would be primarily run by lawyers with no experience in technical matters, such a body really would not be able to follow through with detailed briefing, documentation, etc.

We all have to question the reasons behind the choice of an out of date expensive technology when there are newer cheaper & faster systems. The minister stated publicly on several occasions that the govt is totally risk averse, an interesting statement since there is more than one way to fail. His interpretation, I believe, is that using old technology will lower the chances of technical problems, time delays & cost escalations. However another mode of failure is to put in technology that does not satisfy the resident’s needs. If the transport is more expensive than necessary, but more importantly if it does not do the job & will fail by not properly meeting the communities’ needs, it will simply never attract much patronage. If the proposed transport system is not faster than current technologies, including cars, & if it is not very convenient, it will not tempt people out of their cars & solve the traffic problem, trams inherently cannot meet this goal.

There is another more basic issue involved in being “risk averse”. We are frequently told by govts of all persuasions that we must innovate or Australia will rapidly decline economically, especially given the totally predictable decline in mineral commodities. So which of the two mutually exclusive politician’s statements, risk averse or innovative are we to believe? To innovate or not to innovate that is the question! I remember when Canberrans took pride in the fact that Canberra was where ideas were tried out first. If we adopt an up to date transport system, such as an overhead rapid transit system, the productivity gain would put us ahead of the rest of Australia & of most of the rest of the world, visitors would specifically come to Canberra to see it as well as to use it. Such a system would be a source of pride for us & an example for them to follow.

reddy84 1:16 pm 14 Apr 16

JC said :

Wow, ACT Government talking points, delivered in an almost convincing way.

I was aiming for incontrovertible… dammit

Nilrem 12:55 pm 14 Apr 16

JC said :

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Megan Fitzharris become our next Chief Minister.
I am impressed by her work level and experience.
Who cares what her partner/husband does.

Errrr, we should all care if there is a perceived or actual conflict of interest, unless you want to live in a banana republic. And this “it’s a small town argument” is ridiculous – all the more reason to act with probity and ethically.

rommeldog56 12:47 pm 14 Apr 16

dungfungus said :

I think you are clutching at straws in this opinion piece. Fitzharris did the right thing in this situation which was declare her interest and abstained herself from the bureaucratic process regarding it. This is nothing new and is practiced all over the country, to attack the government because of this seems petty.

ACT is a small jurisdiction with a small number of residents and an even smaller number of consultants. If Fitzharris’s husband is in the construction or planning sector then its more than likely he would be involved in many projects to happen in the ACT. What exactly do you imply by saying she should “make the necessary prior family arrangements”? Because her husband is employed in that sector, is it fair to ask her that she not pursue HER interests? Anyway, since when do all of cabinet discuss planning matters? Thats why we have a PLANNING Minister.

Im sure the development will be examined on its merits and the democratic process will take place, as has occured with most development proposals in Canberra.

Well, I dunno. And it used to be said that ACT voters were the most politically aware in Australia ? amoungst the pearls of wisdon and denial in the above is this :

” Because her husband is employed in that sector, is it fair to ask her that she not pursue HER interests? “

Not only is her husband employed in that “sector” as you say, he is a prime proponent of the unsolicited proposal from DWS/Grocon for the redevelopment. He is employed by that consortium to help sell this proposal to the ACT Labor/Greens Gov’t.

If u see nothing very, very wrong in that, then you are in denial.

rubaiyat 12:40 pm 14 Apr 16

Holden Caulfield said :

This is just another example of ultra poor administration and decision making from this Labor/Greens ACT Gov’t.

Can’t wait to get back to the ultra poor administration and decision making from a Liberal ACT Gov’t, so all can go back to being Right with the World.

dungfungus 11:48 am 14 Apr 16

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Megan Fitzharris become our next Chief Minister.
I am impressed by her work level and experience.
Who cares what her partner/husband does.

Nilrem 11:34 am 14 Apr 16

dungfungus said :

I think you are clutching at straws in this opinion piece. Fitzharris did the right thing in this situation which was declare her interest and abstained herself from the bureaucratic process regarding it. This is nothing new and is practiced all over the country, to attack the government because of this seems petty.

ACT is a small jurisdiction with a small number of residents and an even smaller number of consultants. If Fitzharris’s husband is in the construction or planning sector then its more than likely he would be involved in many projects to happen in the ACT. What exactly do you imply by saying she should “make the necessary prior family arrangements”? Because her husband is employed in that sector, is it fair to ask her that she not pursue HER interests? Anyway, since when do all of cabinet discuss planning matters? Thats why we have a PLANNING Minister.

Im sure the development will be examined on its merits and the democratic process will take place, as has occured with most development proposals in Canberra.

Wow, ACT Government talking points, delivered in an almost convincing way.

reddy84 9:02 am 14 Apr 16

I think you are clutching at straws in this opinion piece. Fitzharris did the right thing in this situation which was declare her interest and abstained herself from the bureaucratic process regarding it. This is nothing new and is practiced all over the country, to attack the government because of this seems petty.

ACT is a small jurisdiction with a small number of residents and an even smaller number of consultants. If Fitzharris’s husband is in the construction or planning sector then its more than likely he would be involved in many projects to happen in the ACT. What exactly do you imply by saying she should “make the necessary prior family arrangements”? Because her husband is employed in that sector, is it fair to ask her that she not pursue HER interests? Anyway, since when do all of cabinet discuss planning matters? Thats why we have a PLANNING Minister.

Im sure the development will be examined on its merits and the democratic process will take place, as has occured with most development proposals in Canberra.

rommeldog56 7:54 am 14 Apr 16

Well written Paul. I couldn’t agree more. This is basically what I posted in another thread a few days ago:

Yesterday, Ms Fitzharris was running around after the criticism over this conflict of interest, claiming that such attention and claims were a reason why people are dissuaded from entering into politics. That it affects their families. Nice try at deflection that. .

On news this am, Ms Fitzharris admitted that she had actually attended a briefing on the development that her partner was present at or actually held or arranged.

Good grief – you have to be kidding.

Maybe Ms Fitzharris needs to read up on what a conflict of interest, or a “perceived” conflict of interest, actually is or looks like !!! She must have signed an undertaking at some stage (probably when ascending as a member of the LA or on being appointed a Minister), to declare any actual or potential conflicts of interest. Even members of Gov’t tender evaluation teams must sign those.

This ACT Auditor General must investigate this.

Now surely, with this conflict of interest out there, if this project is to proceed, the ACT Govt must go to open tender – if the GROCON/GWS consortia win it – that would be another issue to be very carefully looked at.

This is just another example of ultra poor administration and decision making from this Labor/Greens ACT Gov’t.

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