Allan Takes Aim Blog

Archive for May 2011

 This is the original of the column published in The Chronicle , Tuesday,

May 24, 2011  

I hope the proposed Australia Forum does not become a case of fools seldom differing. You will see what I mean as you read the extracts of a Canberra Times article of mine, published February 2006.

 “Let’s not compound the mistake originally made with the National Convention Centre. Let’s do it right this time. Let the International Convention Centre offer facilities and technology that national and international clients would expect to find in a sophisticated international city so that when they leave it is not with a sense of relief but a sense of pleasure at having experienced the best the world has to offer.

“The ICC should be a multi – purpose centre able to house major international exhibitions and seat a minimum of 5,000 (the 2,500 seating capacity of the current NCC is not enough) making it a venue attractive to entrepreneurs wishing to stage major shows or sporting events.

“And why not let it house shopping facilities, restaurants and a thirty, or even fifty, story luxury hotel? This is a project in which Canberra business and the ACT Government, if they really think the convention industry essential to Canberra, should be willing investors.

” But let me be more radical. Why not use a feature that, since its creation, has remained virtually unused? Why not build the new ICC in Lake Burley-Griffin? Why not also get away from the conventional lego style block and invest in a radical building that will be an attraction in its own right? And why not service the ICC by a mono-rail that will loop around and link the city to the lake in spectacular fashion.”

That said, and glad as I am of the proposal to build the Australia Forum proposal, a couple of things niggle me. First: when I phoned the National Capital Authority seeking more details about the proposal, I spoke to the planner who said he knew nothing about it. Second: will the forum also host a casino? Third: isn’t the idea of a ballroom and dialogue centre passé? Wouldn’t a disco and IT centre be more appropriate today? Fourth: the illustration in the Canberra Times showed a collection of stand-alone buildings that seemed unspectacular and lacking innovation.

Let me now make the plea that if the Forum goes ahead let it not be like the NCC which, after completion and despite the hype of Canberra having been improved by its presence, soon started to be seen for what it really was, a second rate building that needed pulling down so that the space it occupied could be put to better use.

From the published perspectives in The Times the proposed buildings will have more attraction for builders than clients. And with the Forum Committee comprising mainly academics, bureaucrats and politicians, little wonder that the international dialogue centre takes pride of place. Unfortunately with an Old and New Parliament House, an Assembly and multiple centres of academe, Canberra is already well served with dialogue centres.

And as for being ‘unique,’ Chris Faulks, Chief Executive of the Canberra Business Council who likened the development to Melbourne’s South Bank destroyed that idea when she said ”It’s not just about a Convention Centre, it’s about place-making.’ 

But more surprising to me is that if the powers behind the venture want Canberra to be seen as an important world capital why hasn’t an international design competition been mentioned? I feel sure architects such Ms Zia Hadid, Lord Rogers or Frank Ghery would be delighted to enter such a competition and also feel sure that such a competition would elicit a range of proposals that not only would make a unique Forum but also would meet the demands of convention organisations for many years to come.

The ‘Forum’ should epitomise excellence and also be a Centre that will still have purpose when new technology, new video, and new TV systems knock holes in the convention and exhibition market and other activities that, currently, we think will go on forever.

Finally, if the project goes ahead, let us make sure that Canberra gets the facility it needs, not just another legacy to satisfy the ego of a few influential bureaucrats, business people and politicians in Canberra.

The Chronicle for Canberra’s best community news. Published every Tuesday


First posted to The Chronicle, Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It would be remiss of me not to make mention of Jon Donald Stanhope MLA stepping down as Chief Minister and his resignation as a Member of the Legislative Assembly. (He might be pleased to know that ‘Donald’ means Proud Chieftain in Gallic.)

When he became Chief Minister in 2001, after entering the Assembly in 1998, on a number of occasions during his time as Chief Minister I admired him. However I would be telling a lie if I said I have been one of his greatest fans. I dare say that if he has ever read my columns he might well think the same of me.

But if he has read my columns I hope he read the April 12 column titled ‘Old fashioned pollies needed’ because the old fashioned politicians I was writing about were those who were more principled than pragmatic and more interested in the future than many of those currently representing them. He is one of those old fashioned politicians.

Sadly, too many politicians today only think of the future in how it will affect them, not the people they were elected to represent. They are people for whom politics is not the avenue that leads to the development of the ideal just and democratic society but is an exercise in acquiring power that will bring them personal benefit.   

Although Jon Stanhope is not one the latter, this is not to say I agreed with everything he did. I didn’t, but I feel sure he did what he did was not because he sought power, but because power was what would allow him to put into practice the ideas he thought would bring about the ideal just and democratic society that would allow people to benefit from their talents provided they did so without harm to others.

Many people have tried to form parties that practiced this philosophy only to find out that not enough members of society would give them the necessary support because, unlike other parties, they did not promise to deliver Utopia. Not that society gets Utopia now. Instead, every three years nationally and every four years in Canberra, they get promised a new Utopia. 

Returning to Jon Stanhope: he attended The Australian National University in Canberra and after graduating became a bureaucrat. Like most Canberra bureaucrats he supported Labor. He also joined the Labor Party.

He enjoyed a successful bureaucratic career but eventually politics called and he entered the ACT Legislative Assembly at the election in 1998 as an MLA. He was one of the two cleverest Labor Members (Ted Quinlan was the other) in that Assembly. But when he became leader and Chief Minister in 2001 many looked on him as a compromise but, compromise or not, he remained Chief Minister until his retirement last week. 

But what will he be remembered for in retirement, if remembered at all? No doubt he will be remembered, but not necessarily affectionately, for his public art program. Many will remember him positively for his Human Rights Act of 2004. Some, however, including notable Labor colleagues in different jurisdictions, see do not agree with it. 

Many people, myself included, will remember him for his strong push for full self – government. And while I hope full self – government is granted, I hope it does not lead to euthanasia being made legal  – I’m with Mr Stanhope on this – in the ACT, or the legalisation of same sex marriage.

Others, but not me, might point to his 100 forests arboretum. Unfortunately the forest of sycophants supporting this project has grown quicker than the 100 real forests. Sycophants’ forest apart, it is too early to say if the programs he left behind will be successful. 

The development industry no doubt, will remember him in the future for his contribution to the wealth of so many of its members by giving his name to a suitable new ACT building – not the proposed new Palace of Politics in Civic.

But regardless of my disagreeing with him on many things, I wish him well in his retirement. And a last compliment: I feel sure that whatever he does in the future, principle will be at its core.

The Chronicle for Canberra’s best community news. Published every Tuesday

A blog. Not a Chronicle column.

If you visited Canberra during the past few weeks you might have imagined you had returned to an earlier time and landed in Babel. You would have gained this impression because of the wall-to-wall sound made by politicians babbling away about the budget all the while imagining voters were waiting eagerly to know what it said in relation to particular issues.

For example many people I know wanted to know how the mental health area was treated because, in previous budgets, this area had not been given the funding it deserved. In my opinion it was passed in previous budgets because politicians never thought they would be affected by mental health problems. That it has now gained funding is due, no doubt to the fact that some politicians have been affected.

But mental funding apart, in case you didn’t hear or haven’t read the budget speech let me take you through a few extracts and make some comments

“Mr Speaker, the purpose of this Labor Government, and this Labor Budget, is to put the opportunities that flow from a strong economy within reach of more Australians.

 “To get more people into work, and to train them for more rewarding jobs. So that national prosperity reaches more lives, in more corners, of our patchwork economy.”

Much as I, personally, wish for a strong economy and infrastructure development, the question that must be asked is: will Australia have the housing necessary to accommodate the people who will manage and operate increased infrastructure?

In his speech the Treasurer also made the claim that “over 300,000 jobs have been created in the past year and the unemployment rate is forecast to fall further to 4½ per cent by mid 2013, creating another half a million jobs.” Well, who am I to argue with the Treasurer’s figures, but 800,000 full time jobs seems more aspirational than real?

And let me ask also how many of the 300,000 were in the one hour or few hours a week category that classed people as being employed thus removing them from unemployment statistics and will the same happen with half million?  To be fair however, as this system also applied when the Coalition was in Government I think it’s about time a new system was developed.

Apart from that fact that we need a new system to show the real number of unemployed, the new system should also show how many jobs are being left unfilled due to a shortage of staff. Such a system might also prevent the unemployed being used as political tools.        

As for screening people on a disability pension, being disabled myself but having worked in the disability field for many years before becoming disabled, and with family members born with a disability, I feel qualified to talk about this issue. That being so, I worry about where the hundreds of qualified people will come from who will be needed to carry out the screening process and assess whether or not a person should receive a disability pension.

Let me add that I favour getting rid of the fraudulent disabled who collect disability pensions. At the same time, however, I’d like to rid the disability field of those for whom the disabled are simply a short-term meal ticket, because getting rid of them would also bring benefit to people with a disability.

Perhaps the latter could be retrained in the skills many employers say they are short of? I’m not talking simply about mining skills but the skills needed for industries the Greens, in particular, say are Australia’s future. If, apart from wind and solar power, they said what these industries were, I might be tempted to believe them, but until then, and to quote Samuel Goldwyn: “include me out”  

Now let me turn from the jobless to the homeless. By homeless I don’t just mean people who, find themselves in that situation through no fault of their own, but hardworking families who have lost their homes because they can’t afford to pay the mortgage or afford ever increasing rents and so have to live with relatives and/or friends or possibly in their car. 

This leads to the issue of affordable homes. For some unknown reason this issue didn’t manage to make it into the budget speech. Presumably these families were included in “building the productive workforce our economy needs,” a statement whose credibility might best be summed up by the phrase: tell that to the marines.

While increased funding will help provide better hospitals and health care, unfortunately, many homeless families are likely to draw heavily on both services. And while better schools are welcome, children from homeless and disadvantaged families are also unlikely to feel the benefit. Sadly, it has to be said Governments use budgets to gild the lily.

Indeed, even according to families with homes, the budget will further strain their finances and add to their social problems as they face the mounting costs of electricity, water, interest rates and other new taxes on living being introduced by the Government. Some even might feel inclined to think themselves, in the words of former Prime Minister Robert Menzies, as forgotten people.                

Although impossible to cover the budget comprehensively, let me draw your attention to a statement made by the Treasurer during a number of interviews following the budget: “a surplus in 2013 is an achievement.” This is a statement of aspiration but whether or not it will come true won’t be known until 2013. It also puts into doubt some of the Treasurer’s other claims.

That being the case, can we even believe the words with which he closed his budget speech?

“We believe in the Australian promise; that if you work hard, you won’t be left behind. We believe our economy can’t afford to waste a single pair of capable. And we believe this budget, our tax reforms, and our plans for a carbon price will set Australia up for the prosperous future all our people deserve.”

I don’t think so

First posted to The Chronicle, Tuesday ,April 10, 2011

Last Tuesday, the ACT Government delivered its 2011-12 year budget. Not that it’s a budget for a year because much of the money won’t be spent until 2013 or beyond. Nor is there any guarantee it will be spent then. That will depend on the Government elected in October 2012.

That apart and despite the Government’s rhetoric about the future, the only future it wants to secure is theirs and how better to do it than by dishing out budget sweeties. Well it seems the ACT Government thinks that health, education, business, property, transport, sport and development need sweeties. But don’t forget that before the next election, the Government will open the sweetie jar again, although by that time more Canberrans might have joined the already long homeless queue.

Reports clearly indicate the budget has caused the ACT Public Service some discomfort but there is little chance that discomfited as it is, in an effort to discomfit the Government in return public servants are unlikely to give up their jobs because where else in Canberra will they get one. Indeed Government itself might get discomfited because while a budget is a financial instrument and the treasurer first fiddle in the Government orchestra, if the first fiddler gets the orchestra out of sync and the conductor loses control, the audience could get so annoyed it might decide not to renew the orchestra’s application for another four years’ licence.

If this happens some individual Government members would be more discomfited than others by the thought that, after October 2012, they might need to audition for a position in an unknown orchestra. And while the next election is still too far away to decide which Assembly Members are likely lo be affected, the oracles are being consulted already to try and ensure that during the next eighteen months everything they say and do will help them avoid having to attend an audition.

In the meantime talk back radio commentators and newspapers will cover this budget comprehensively a cover that will be backed up daily by letters to the editor as to the Government’s incompetence or otherwise. As usual the letters will come mostly from supporters of both Government and the Opposition although in this case there is a third party, the Government’s partner, the Greens, a party given to make grand gestures which says it wants to govern but doesn’t want to be seen as making hard decisions.

Indeed at times I am a given to think it should change its name to the Cherry Pickers Party because while all parties occasionally tend cherry pick, the Greens try to make a virtue of it.

To assist their cherry picking agenda the Greens signed a pact with Labor that ostensibly allowed them to influence Labor policy. But whatever the Greens think, for Labor the pact was a matter of convenience as it gave them the support necessary to form Government.

Two and a half years later, Labor might now see the pact as a matter of inconvenience but one they cannot afford to ditch as it might make the Greens and its supporters ditch Labor at the next election. Although that is pure speculation on my part, it is not speculation that I know a number of previously rusted on Labor supporters who think along similar lines.

This not to say The Greens have nothing worthwhile to say. Indeed Caroline le Couteur and Amanda Bresnan have impressed me to some degree although I don’t know if they have impressed the electorate at large; that is something the rest of the electorate will have to make up their own minds about as they judge the Greens contribution to the budget.

Now if you think I’ve forgotten the Liberal Opposition, I haven’t. I imagine their having to face two parties of Government at the same time has been no easy job but they seem to have tackled it with some success. Perhaps too, the electorate at large will see that and also see their alternative budget proposals and their budget criticisms as sensible? 

If it does and though the result of their efforts will not be seen in the current Assembly, the election in October 2012 might reflect those thoughts.  

 The Chronicle for Canberra’s best community news. Published every Tuesday

First published The Chronicle Tuesday 3 May 2011

A  few weeks ago On Radio National I heard the story of a young intellectually disabled woman called Melissa Avery, following her arrest for minor shoplifting offences and being sent to jail. This had happened to her a number of times.

That Melissa didn’t know she was doing wrong did not prevent her being jailed and incarcerated with dangerous people who do know the difference between right and wrong and will take advantage of her inability to know the difference. But politicians who should know the difference seem reluctant to acknowledge the situation or do anything about it perhaps because, as one astute carer said, there are no votes in disability. 

Metaphorically, Melissa was not the only intellectually disabled person being sent to jail, so too were thousands of Australians, young and old, with an intellectual disability. At the same time parents, brothers, sisters and others who care for people with an intellectual disability would continue to live as prisoners of love and care because of Government indifference to the problems they faced as carers.   

If true that a country should be known by how it treats its disabled and disadvantaged then what all Australians should be worried by the Melissa case. Why should it worry them? It should worry them that, if by accident they too become like Melissa or have a child or children like Melissa, they don’t know what will happen to them.

Melissa’s situation is something I am conscious of more than others because of my intellectually disabled nephew John, aged 44, who, fortunately, is not in the same position as Melissa but whose parents worry about what will become of him when they die. I have never asked them and never will but I suspect that at times they hope he will die before them.

This places an enormous burden on the shoulders of all parents who have a child with an intellectual disability. But even if they have children without a disability whether five, fifteen or twenty five years old, parents worry about them. But if they have a child or children with an intellectual disability, they worry even more.

They worry about the child’s place in society and as the years pass the worry does not get less but greater. Some also feel that many in the wider community blame them for their child’s disability despite being reassured constantly otherwise by specialists. In some cases, sadly and unfortunately, they blame themselves. On the other hand, some parents of children with a disability display what can best be described as worthy of a gold medal in caring.

Many parents fit into that category. Let me give an example of a family that lived in Canberra until eighteen months ago and had two autistic children. Disappointed at the treatment and services their sons were receiving Canberra they examined the treatment and services available elsewhere, including overseas. After carefully weighing up all the information their investigations produced they decided that the autism treatment and services being offered in England would improve their sons’ chances in life.

As a result they decided to sell up and move to England., a courageous decision that many people would not make. I have kept in touch with them and am pleased to say they are happy and that what they hoped for is coming true, with the boys having improved beyond measure.  Let me make it clear they would have preferred to remain in Canberra, but like many other loving parents their personal feelings took second place to their feelings for their children. 

Returning to Melissa, because the law does not distinguish between people with an intellectual disability and others who have committed the same offence is that become habitual criminals in the eyes of the law and spend much of their lives locked up in prison.

I can but add that if, as a society, we devoted as much time and money to  keeping our intellectually disabled people out of prison as we do on people who deserve to be in prison, the world would be a be a better place and carers of people with an intellectual disability would have a better life.

The Chronicle for Canberra’s best community news. Published every Tuesday


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