To have a tram or not to have a tram? To have well-behaved dogs on public transport or not? $50 or $20 notes for poker machines? Bikes or cars? These are not questions.
I appreciate that it is important that we as Canberrans discuss these issues, and I respect the principle that that the public has an inalienable right to partake in, and direct, such discussions. Though I am sceptical as to whether it is the public who drive community discussion in Canberra, or whether it is a lazy and small media establishment who reduces public discourse to its lowest common denominator and assumes that they know what we are interested in better than we do.
Canberra is home to many talented and experienced journalists, some of whom have more freedom to determine what they write more so than others. My criticism is not directed towards journalists. I’m directing my sentiments more towards the likes of political media advisors, social commentators, and media executives within the ACT, and I don’t exclude executives of the ABC.
Should we allow people to take their pets on public transport under certain conditions to accommodate for people who have no other means of transport? Let’s just give it a go. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
$50 or $20 notes for poker machines? This isn’t the issue. The issue is that Labor is as addicted to poker machines as problem gamblers, and the party should heed the advice of Jon Stanhope and be an example, not the exception, of the moral standards for which it so wishes to be known.
Bikes or cars? It’s not really a problem. There are going to be dangerous motorists and cyclists no matter how much the media carries on about it. So long as social engineers from both sides of politics don’t impose compulsory number plates and insurance on bicycles resulting in little Jonny being unable to ride to the corner shop without fear of being pulled-over for not having the pocket money to renew his registration, you’re not going to hear much from me on the issue.
We can spend months and years debating these issues but in doing so we will deny ourselves of more complicated and more important public discussions. Historically, it has always suited those who have power to diminish the public’s ability to challenge the status-quo and established power structures.
For me, some more important questions, just to name a few, would be these:
- Are our authorities given too many resources with which to harass and pester the public at the expense of protecting and serving the public?
- How can it be justified that a Year 12 student can graduate without having developed an appreciation of humanities subjects or the ability to fill in a tax return? And how can we expect our teachers to cope when their role in society is increasingly degraded by unnecessary rules and ‘administrative outcomes’?
- Is it justifiable to have religious doctrine instilled in minors through educational institutions? Why are churches given tax exemptions to promote religion? Why are lawmakers and the judiciary so lenient towards child sex offenders?
- Are we happy? Are we free? Are we becoming more, or less, democratic?
- And finally, are our civil liberties being eroded or protected and advanced by the political establishment?
As far as I’m concerned, the ACT is certainly the most unique jurisdiction in Australia; we are a highly intelligent culture, our social conscience extends well beyond the borders of our small territory, yet we are the most politically underrepresented population within the federation of the Commonwealth of Australia. Many people refer to the ACT Legislative Assembly as a ‘tin pot council’ but, for me, to do so is to undermine the most important democratic institution we have.
I hope that in the future the ACT Legislative Assembly not only asks the little questions but is brave and diverse enough to tackle the big questions. I hope that it becomes a place of hope and aspirations for all of us. Regardless of its constitutional restriction, there is no reason that the Legislative Assembly cannot give the ACT a stronger voice on the national stage.