16 December 2021

BEST OF 2021: What happened to the idea of roads, rates and rubbish?

| James Coleman
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Potholes in road.

Nothing to see here. Photo: Supplied.

Year in Review: Region Media is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2021. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking in 2021. Today, James Coleman has a crack at the Skywhale.

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.

READ ALSO Reflections on tragic Royal Canberra Hospital implosion, one of the capital’s darkest days

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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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.

HiddenDragon7:09 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.

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.

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

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.

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.

ChrisinTurner6:25 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.

Yup see them all the time.

russianafroman4:12 pm 26 Jan 21

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

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

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

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

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).

Is art only to be pretty? I admit there is definitely a place for that but can’t it also be other than that too? I’m not a huge fan of the skywhale but it does prompt me to think.

And, on the canberra roads. Granted they’re not perfect, but I’m not going to move back to Sydney where I’d be paying the same level of rates and getting more potholes.

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