What happened to the idea of roads, rates and rubbish?

James Coleman 27 January 2021 38
Potholes in road.

Nothing to see here. Photo: Supplied.

I don’t know about you, but I appreciate art because it’s pretty. And because someone worked hard to make it pretty.

On 6 February, the Skywhale will take to the skies over Canberra, joined this year by its new hot-air-balloon daddy, Skywhalepapa. But I, for one, will not be looking skyward.

Sorry, they are not art.

They are, respectively, seven and 10-storey-high grotesque testaments to the fact the ACT Government has lost the plot.

You see, a Western, liberal, democratic government such as ours is essentially a group of representatives elected by the hoi polloi, on the charge that they will take some of our money and give it back to us in the form of useful things.

Things that oil the cogs of society and make it all run more smoothly.

For starters, new roads will be built and existing ones maintained, sufficient supplies of water and power will be secured, and rubbish will be collected.

What a government is not is a child who draws a woeful picture and then expects us to pin it on the fridge door for all to see and celebrate. Not least a picture with 10 boobs on it.

So, why then – if indeed the ACT Government understands this – did my wife hit a pothole in Chisholm the other day and blow out a tyre?

Yes, it has been a wet few months, and potholes form when the patch of dirt underneath a road subsides, usually due to erosion by water.

And, yes, most of them are repaired eventually, which should be a wonder given how many roads and, in turn, road patrollers there are in the entire region. Not only that, but imagine all the red tape they must have to machete through to close off a section for repairs.

The ACT is also getting to the stage where all those things that were built in the 1960s through to the 1980s are wearing out. Like the toilet cistern in my unit – it’s just what happens in this world when something is used for long enough.

I’ll go on in their defence. Compared to the roads in many countries around the world, those in the ACT are still a billiard table.

Nope, can’t do it any more, because the people in many countries around the world are also not each paying $2000-plus a year in rates.

Too many of our local roads are crumbling and riddled with ruts, bumps and potholes for much money to be going anywhere near them.

I should admit that just across the border in NSW, things are even worse. My wife and I are renting in Queanbeyan, where the roads were obviously designed by a group of preschoolers throwing wet spaghetti onto paper. The council looked at the result and said to the surveyors and drafters standing around, “Make it exactly like that”.

So they did, and the result is predictably chaotic.

Skywhale floating above Lake Burley Griffin.

The Skywhale floating above Lake Burley Griffin. The author is not a fan. Photo: Supplied.

Of course, the ACT Government will say it is very busily improving our roads. It is, after all, painting rainbows on roundabouts, lowering speed limits and dropping speed humps and safety chicanes everywhere like someone who has picked up far too many M&M’s for the size of their hands.

But by the time you add this to a concoction of potholes and bumps, you end up with a road that isn’t much more comfortable than the dirt wallaby track that was there to start with. Why did they even bother?

As far as I can make out, there are a few things going on here. One is the modern trend to expect a lot more from our governments than merely the basics. But that’s a discussion for another time.

The other is that it’s not really much of a legacy. No-one will remember the string of lumps that was patched on Streeton Drive, but they will remember the traffic lights in Braddon feature two men and a love heart.

But happily for us, there is some incentive.

Insurance companies are bloodhounds at sniffing out money wherever it is to be found. So if you happen to shatter a wheel in a pothole and it’s worth a claim, chances are they’ll go after the local government or council, teeth bared.

It shouldn’t have to come to that, though. It’s well overdue for a return to the good old three Rs: roads, rates and rubbish.

Nobody asked for the Skywhale and its equally deformed father.

I ask for the three Rs. I’m sure my now deflated tyre isn’t alone either.


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38 Responses to What happened to the idea of roads, rates and rubbish?
Rob Rob 9:44 am 01 Feb 21

This column makes much sense. The basic compact between government and taxpayers is that taxes should be spent competently and efficiently. Skywhale may well be artistic (personally, I don’t like it, but my opinion is only one) but it should be funded like other art—by private benefactors or those who think it is beautiful. Go for their life. I got no say in its funding. Meanwhile my rates are sky high and, like the author, my area is plagued with potholes. It took me 3 reports of a very dangerous (and large) pothole on a nearby intersection for it to be repaired—only successful when I raised it on Chief Minister Talkback.

Government should not be like this.

Patrick Keogh Patrick Keogh 4:55 pm 28 Jan 21

So many bitter and narrow minded people here...

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:09 pm 27 Jan 21

The ACT tends to be run by people who have a knack for finding the most expensive way of doing things, but some of the problems go back to the fact that self-government was inflicted on the ACT without an adequate revenue base to deal with the inexorable real growth in the cost of major programs – particularly health and education.

We are now the only jurisdiction which explicitly uses annual rates revenue to fund state-level functions (others might do it in practice by under-funding local government from state-level revenues) which might help to explain why parts of this town are maintained to the standards of a pizzas and pot group house.

JC JC 5:00 pm 27 Jan 21

Anyone who thinks our roads are bad needs to get out more and when you do don’t compare suburban streets to the Federal and Hume highways or the motorways of Sydney or Melbourne.

And best of luck finding a free carpark let alone a free one where you don’t have to walk less than 20m to get to the shop you are going to.

Ash David Ash David 12:21 pm 27 Jan 21

Poor roads (Monaro Hwy especially), rubbish not collected for weeks, grass over a metre tall on the side of our roads.

I haven’t seen any improvement in the ACT at all. Why did this bloke get re-elected?

Mark Dando Mark Dando 10:17 am 27 Jan 21

A comment here described the author of this op-ed, James Coleman, as 'a local expert with skin in the game'. But his bio says he lives in Queanbeyan, which means he doesn't pay tax or vote in the ACT, so why are his views on ACT government spending relevant?

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 10:29 am 27 Jan 21

    Mark Dando because some think like 40% off people cluttering our city ona normal business day use our facilities.

    Mark Dando Mark Dando 10:35 am 27 Jan 21

    Bill Gemmell people from across the border may use our facilities but they don't pay for them so I'm not interested in their views on whether money currently spent by the ACT government on art should be spent on roads. It seems odd to give someone from Queanbeyan a platform to comment on ACT spending.

    Deborah Gale Deborah Gale 11:12 am 27 Jan 21

    I do live in the ACT and he has managed to very clearly describe everything that annoys me about the ACT.

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 11:21 am 27 Jan 21

    Mark Dando yes, and as the chiefly one said recently when we do get some $$$ for the services, it is less than cost recovery and much later than when the service had been provided. I am all for having a cross-border freeloaders tax

HSewell HSewell 9:11 am 27 Jan 21

But…but…but wasn’t Skywhalepapa commissioned by the NGA, not the ACT Govt?

Acton Acton 7:15 am 27 Jan 21

Skywhale shows how the ACT Greens-Labor government misuses our rates. Skywhale shows how they subsidise their parasitic support base. Skywhale is a visual obscenity that perfectly represents corruption, contempt, extravagance and mismanagement. It is the ACT Govt.

    salvatge salvatge 2:18 pm 27 Jan 21

    Spot on Acton. I can’t believe the ACT Government would so brazenly coddle their base by letting the National Gallery of Australia launch these balloons and then export their corrupt values through a national balloon tour.

ChrisinTurner ChrisinTurner 6:25 pm 26 Jan 21

Has anyone seen a street-sweeping machine in the last three years? We used to have one. Where I live near Civic there is so much dirt in the kerbs we have weeds growing 50cm high.

Avril Pounds Avril Pounds 4:34 pm 26 Jan 21

Lots of new speed humps around but not where my local school p&c have been begging for one for at least a few years now.

    Roderick Saunders Roderick Saunders 5:23 pm 26 Jan 21

    Avril Pounds the ability for residents to get pedestrian crossings etc installed does seem to vary for no apparent reason

russianafroman russianafroman 4:12 pm 26 Jan 21

Great article. It’s time the government starts addressing the basics and serving the people.

Mark Hudson Mark Hudson 4:09 pm 26 Jan 21

Never seen so much rubbish lying around the roads as there is now. There used to be road patrols out picking it up quite a lot, but no more, I assume that was a budget cut

    Emilia Roberts Emilia Roberts 9:32 pm 28 Jan 21

    Mark Hudson I agree that there could be more rubbish clean ups in the wetlands, they are in seriously bad shape in my suburb. However, it's not either/or - I love Skywhale, she's delightfully ugly and she and other weird Canberra public art projects have become much loved and started to define the Canberra community. You might not appreciate her, but people here and interstate do.

Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 3:26 pm 26 Jan 21

I still don't understand why a place no larger, but resource poorer, than the Hunter Valley or the Illawarra is self-governing. Destined to be the poor cousin of South Eastern Oz!

    Lynne Staunton Lynne Staunton 8:57 am 27 Jan 21

    Bill Gemmell because the feds didn't wish to keep paying for place.

Robert Hawes Robert Hawes 1:44 pm 26 Jan 21

If you see a pothole like the one photographed report it via fix my street. I have done this sort of thing many times and I get action.

Matt Turtles Matt Turtles 1:17 pm 26 Jan 21

Sky papa whale is funded through the NGA; ie your Federal government.

    Tom Munro Tom Munro 10:21 am 27 Jan 21

    Matt Turtles Correct but that doesn’t suit the author’s (and others) anti Labor\Greens narrative. This opinion piece should just be titled ‘I want to have a whinge’

Angela Clark Angela Clark 1:15 pm 26 Jan 21

And Poilce and hospitals and the list goes on.....

Zahidul Alam Zahidul Alam 1:03 pm 26 Jan 21

Sky whale is Canberra’s pride and joy 👍

    Ed N Joanne Towner Ed N Joanne Towner 1:09 pm 26 Jan 21

    Zahidul Alam For some people and not others. Apart from not being something I like I don't see the relationship between it and Canberra.

    Deborah Gale Deborah Gale 11:13 am 27 Jan 21

    The most idiotic piece of 'art' ever produced.

    Debbie Baker Debbie Baker 11:27 am 27 Jan 21

    Deborah Gale and now there are 2 of them!

    Deborah Gale Deborah Gale 11:29 am 27 Jan 21

    Debbie Baker Once is an error, twice is a crime!

salvatge salvatge 12:55 pm 26 Jan 21

Excellent commentary, from a local expert with skin in the game!

Murray Lembit Murray Lembit 12:44 pm 26 Jan 21

Bah Humbug

Mello Mello 11:53 am 26 Jan 21

It is time to stop this self government experiment. We simply don’t have the numbers to collect the revenue.

    salvatge salvatge 10:19 pm 26 Jan 21

    You’re so right Mello! Bring back the National Capital Development Commission.

    JS9 JS9 11:21 am 27 Jan 21

    The rose coloured glasses are out again I see. Things weren’t particularly flash under the NCDC for large chunks at all, and just when was the Fed Government ever any good at doing what its meant to do (I.e. big policy matters), let alone dealing with day to day issues at a community level (i.e. the issues whined about here).

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