Allan Takes Aim Blog

Canberra People’s Place?

Posted on: 21 April 2010

First published The Chronicle, March 30

My view after reading the report (Convention centre tenders awarded, page 6, The Canberra Times, Saturday March 27) was that Professor Peter Shergold had been disingenuous about his proposed People’s Forum. What added to my view was that while Powerhouse Museum Director Dawn Casey, Professor Ian Chubb, General Peter Cosgrove, my favourite ABC news presenter Virginia Haussegger and National Gallery Chairman Rupert Myer are all worthy people, I doubt the man in the street’s vision of a people’s forum is the same as theirs. Added to that was: how would the man in the street from Darwin access the forum?

The Professor’s’ later comments made it clear that the professor wasn’t talking about a democratic agora making it unlikely that the man in the street from remote Australian towns would be able to access it. In fact, the Professor was really talking about an International Convention Centre (ICC) an issue that has been on Canberra’s agenda for years and discussed at a Federal level even before Professor Shergold became Head of the Prime Minister’s Department and long before he retired and became Chairman of the Centre for Social Impact, UNSW.

But not to be contentious aren’t existing parliaments people’s forums and places where democratically elected representatives are supposed to do what the people have asked them to do? Parliaments are not separate democracies.

Diana Streak in her Canberra Times Forum piece March 27(A place for the people’s voices to be heard) added further clarified my point about the building when she wrote; “it would be far, far more, than a building –a national meeting place on a grand scale that encapsulates the spirit of Western democracy. The people’s forum – a place to meet, debate, celebrate and, at times, grieve.”

Excuse my cynicism but I am less confident than Diana that the proposed forum will be a place where men in the street from across Australia, including isolated Australian communities, will meet, debate, celebrate and, at times, grieve.

Apparently the people’s forum is to be a “glittering” building, similar to those being erected in other world capitals, where glittering minds will gather to exchange ideas at major international meetings and conferences such as APEC. Clearly this will not be a forum to which all Australians can come and say their piece in the hope that what they say will help change faults in our current democratic system.

So let’s not disguise the true nature of the proposed forum? Lets call it for what it is: an ICC. The latter, of course, is not a new idea but an idea that has graced the pages of the Times on many occasions and also occupied the minds of many in Canberra’s tourism industry for many years.

Indeed during my nineteen years as a Business Council member it occupied mine to the extent that I wrote about it in an opinion article published in The Canberra Times, February 2006. In that article I called for an ICC with facilities and technology that national and international visitors [with or without glittering minds] would expect to find in a sophisticated capital so that when they left after a visit, they did so, not with a sense of relief but of pleasure at having experienced the best the world could offer.

To help achieve that I said the ICC should be a multi – purpose centre with shopping facilities, restaurants, offices and a thirty-storey luxury hotel, able to stage major entertainment and sporting events and seat an audience of at least 5,000. It is a project in which Canberra business, the ACT and the Federal Government should be willing investment partners.

I said also to make it unique aspect the ICC should be of radical design and an attraction in its own right. Today, in fact, many countries have buildings of radical design that are also attractions. As for where to build it, I suggested Lake Burley-Griffin and linking it to the city by mono-rail.

And while I doubt the National Capital Authority will agree with my suggestion, if Canberra is the Capital of a country that prides itself on its adventurousness, the ICC should be a place that reflects this ethos not another building that reflects a conservative image?


1 Response to "Canberra People’s Place?"

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