Allan Takes Aim Blog

Canberra’s Hamelin connection

Posted on: 25 January 2011

 First published The Chronicle, Tuesday 25 January, 2011  

 What of Canberra’s future? Will it be a city with industries that add to its economic health, a city full of hope and promise, a city in which culture thrives, or will it be like the German city of Hamelin post the legendary Pied Piper, a city of geriatrics, absent of youth? But whatever its future I hope it will avoid the terrifying fate of becoming a city of monuments built by politicians as legacies of their own self perceived brilliance and that of other self-important wannabes. 

Let me put Hamelin in context. In the 13th century, Hamelin was so infested by rats that its Burghers, desperate to get rid of them offered a travelling Piper, known as the Pied Piper – who was said to have a magic pipe on which he could play tunes that made animals follow him – a contract to lure the rats away from the town. And so began the legend: the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

The Piper agreed, hypnotised the rats and lured them over a cliff into the sea where they drowned. Unfortunately, not knowing the Piper could also hypnotise children, the Burghers did not pay the Piper his contract fee. Furious, the Piper took his revenge by piping a tune that drew the children away from the town, leaving behind the old, disabled and grieving parents.

In a loose sense, Canberra could be compared to Hamelin. Substitute politicians for Burghers and take note that its young people are following the sound of pipes from other places and leaving Canberra because some politicians and other self-important people don’t seem to care about keeping their promises.

For example: the Chief Minister promised to cure Canberra’s affordable housing problem a promise that had some developers rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of more land being made available to them.

Ostensibly to show that he was keeping his promise, the Chief Minister approved the re-organising of Canberra’s planning whose officers he said had caused the shortage of building land. Now anyone who knows how Government works won’t need a crystal ball to know that re-organisation means more bureaucrats would be appointed but that there would be little improvement in the affordable housing situation. Both things occurred.

At the same time many people in the Canberra community who know more about planning than the Chief Minister and his planning Minister, also said the planning system was a mess but that it had been caused by the Government. Not one to lie down to accusations such as this, the Chief Minister in reply exonerated himself and his Ministers from blame by reiterating that the planners not his Government were responsible for the planning mess and thus were responsible for the lack of affordable housing. 

As income from land sales is a major source of the money the Government uses to pay for some of its promises, if land is not available for sale the Government will find itself facing not a GFC but a CFC (Canberra Financial Crisis) and in the same position as those who can’t afford to buy a house.

The effect of a CFC could be catastrophic. Not only would it hasten Canberra towards becoming the geriatric capital of the southern hemisphere it could keep it ‘going forward ‘(I seem to have heard that phrase before) to holding the title, the ‘Necropolis Capital.’          

Reading between the lines of what the Chief Minister had to say I got the feeling that although he thinks he is not responsible for the situation that does not necessarily mean he thinks the same about his Ministers. Not to make excuses for him, in part he may be right because often to counter bad publicity, it seems he found it necessary to intervene in their portfolios.

As a result, the oftener he intervened the more it appeared the Government was a one – man band (is it?). And though one – man bands can be entertaining at times, they will never replace orchestras of talented musicians just as a one-man government will never replace a government band of talented politicians, even with the best conductor in the world.

Perhaps we should start thinking of changing the Government band?

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6 Responses to "Canberra’s Hamelin connection"

Apparently, Time, like Space, is a sort of spiral, so all those people who keep telling us that we either are, or should be “moving forward”, are really saying that we are, or ought to be chasing our tails. Since everything progresses in a spiral, we never actually come “full circle”, but it surely does feel like it sometimes!

Marilyn, You never said a truer word.

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