16 March 2017

Town Council – No Way José

| John Hargreaves
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I read the Letters to the Editor to see which of the offerings have been submitted by grumpy old men (and women too for that matter) who fall into the category of people with too much time on their hands.

When I was in the Assembly, I got belted frequently by the same old bunch of GOMs and I did a search of the electoral roll to see the age cohort that most of them might fall into. Guess what! All over 70 years old.

Most were retired professionals who thought they knew more than the current crop of preschool aged professionals, particularly in the town planning professional and the transport industry.

They used to, and still do, get my blood boiling because nothing is ever good enough for them, they have to criticise and whinge. Someone ought to tape all their fingers together to stop them using a keyboard, typewriter or cave wall. Or at least slow them down.

A glance at the authors of said letters will reveal the same old group. Perhaps they should all get together for a communal Bex and a Good Lie Down. But that would take away their raison d’être.

But you know, every Pancake Tuesday, someone writes a letter with which I thoroughly agree and which is brief, succinct and gives these GOMs a smack in the gob! Such a letter appeared last Thursday morning.

The author is a T.J. Marks who dispelled the notion that the Legislative Assembly is a town council and exhorted those pedalling this simplistic and naïve notion to spare the rest of us, “the persistent and ridiculous allusions”.

I’ve written on this before and feel compelled to do so again because to the frequency of the appearance lately of this idiotic notion.

Mr/Ms Marks challenged the purveyors of these falsehoods by saying “show me the town council which bears responsibility for matters like health, education, some taxes and duties and numerous other functions performed by state and territory government.”

Those other functions would include public safety, corrections, industrial relations, legal systems, motor registry and compliance, just to name a few.

To Marks’ points I would also say that it was a state government which amalgamated the councils in NSW and WA because they were financially unviable. No real consultation, just enforced amalgamation. Just ask the Burghers of Bungendore how they feel about amalgamating with Queanbeyan, how the Bastions of Braidwood feel about the amalgamations. How would it be if we were part of NSW and that state government decided to merge the ACT with Queanbeyan?

Anyway, the real point here is that there are overarching responsibilities which require representation in the fora where funds are distributed from the federal purse. There is a need to be in the conversation when policy is developed. Otherwise, we here in the ACT would be subjected to whims of the NSW State Government or the return to the past attitudes of the Commonwealth Government and we see with the APVMA move to Armidale how much the feds care about us.

When people whimsically recall the good old days when the streets of Canberra were paved with gold, they forget what happened when we received the self-determination we deserved. We had taxation without representation, the very antithesis of democracy.

When the states and the feds gather in a room to talk about the housing issues facing Australians, it is the ACT which is in the room with the NSW State government, not the Queanbeyan City Council.

When the issues of sham contractors, third party representational rights for unions, industrial safety and industrial manslaughter responsibilities are discussed, the local councils don’t get a look in. But it was the ACT who blazed the trail on industrial manslaughter across the nation.

I would also quote the achievements of Simon Corbell in his trailblazing solar energy capture programs, a leader in the country and something councils just don’t do. They whinge about those ugly wind farms but do bugger all else. And in the forum where the Environment ministers chat about water issues, the Murray Darling flows, sustainable energy supply, be it gas, wind, hydro or whatever, the ACT has a voice.

So, top marks to Marks for saying as it is. We have matured as a community, we are not a semi-rural community within NSW, we are a stand-alone jurisdiction which now has taxation with representation, we have a seat at the table in all national and sub-national decision-making and on occasion, have the opportunity to lead the country.

To those who would wish a back to the future approach, to take us back to the days when we had a Minister for Territories, like Ralph Hunt, a grazier, or Michael Hodgman, the mouth from the South; when the decisions affecting the people who live here were made by someone who didn’t live here, get with the program!

Stop calling us a local council! We are a mature sub-national jurisdiction, equal to the States and other Territory!

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Well that certainly was a download Johnno. Sorry I cannot agree with you this time. I cannot see how our little entity is fiscally sustainable in, say, 20 years time when we have flogged off all of our only natural resource; land. Face facts here, the city state is one big ponzi scheme almost totally reliant on land sales and land taxes (rates, land tax and stamp duty) to fund the luxury of self determination of sorts. We are running out of suitable land and the punters are squealing about the land tax rises. look over the border and one sees a much broader revenue base.

By of sorts, I mean our health system is buckling under the pressure of NSW residents sent here, our education system is full up with cross border burglars, our roads are salt and peppered with yellow and black plates. And we do not receive even the true monetary value of the services provided. We have a police force (I use the term liberally) that serves another master and decides who will be its Minister (remember Joy Burch anyone?). I could go on and on, but I am not anywhere near the magical 70.

I personally regard the Assembly, with a few talented exceptions, as a place for the loyal try-hards of the bib and bub parties. You know, do the rounds of branch meetings, community councils and pubs and clubs and you get your preselection and a reasonable job for 4, 8 or more years. Then the next one like them gets a go.

While the ACT may be equal to the other Territory, it is not equal to the States – one need only look at the ACT’s representation in the Senate to know that.

It may be good that the ACT Government is represented in the in the various national fora, the Government also has the local government functions that town councils have, and these functions do not always get the attention they deserve.

And lay off the GOMs. They are one of the few groups that has the time or inclination to deal with the bureaucracy for anything out of the routine..

HiddenDragon4:29 pm 20 Mar 17

“Otherwise, we here in the ACT would be subjected to whims of the NSW State Government…..”

Subsuming the ACT within NSW (putting aside the current consitutional constraints) would almost certainly produce significant administrative savings, because there would be no need to re-invent policy and administrative wheels for the supposedly special/unique circumstances of Canberra, or to carry quite so many diseconomies of scale. Public servants at lower and middle levels would have the advantage of being part of a much larger system, with scope for greater mobility in all senses of that word. There might, though, be fewer positions at the higer salary levels.

Against those benefits, there is the very strong likelihood that money would be siphoned – by NSW Governments of both persuasions – from a predictably Labor/Green voting Canberra to meet the seemingly endless infrastructure etc. needs of Sydney, particularly in marginal seats.

Whatever the public rhetoric at the time, self-government for the ACT was primarily about taking pressure off the federal budget – every federal Treasurer and Finance Minister since that time would be quietly grateful for that decision.

Elias Hallaj (aka CBRFoodie)3:12 pm 20 Mar 17

Nice work Johnno. I often dismiss heckling feedback as “haters are gonna hate”, but many people believe what they read in the letters pages, wrongly assuming someone might be an expert in a subject they are writing about, when often the opposite could be more safely assumed, particularly when no particular expertise is offered in the by-line.

The ACT model of government is a particularly efficient one when compared to similar-sized states and territories, without the need for an extra layer of representation at the local level and having a PR-based component in our unicameral parliament ensures better negotiation and less bureaucracy and parliamentary roadblocks for what is often a minority government.

We have a lot to be proud of in the ACT.

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