I am not sure which is worse – when politicians deliver on their election promises, or when they don’t. Over the past few weeks, the major parties in the ACT (if we are to believe them) have committed enough funds to send the territory budget into fiscal overdrive for years to come.
Health, which at election time means (mostly) hospitals, has been made a priority. If we vote Labor we will have further development of the Canberra Hospital. The Liberals will invest there, too, as well as at Calvary. They will also create small emergency-focused hospitals in Tuggeranong and in Gungahlin.
Both parties have promised school upgrades, although surely these would have been budgeted for, anyway. Labor, in a move that will send shudders down the spines of many teachers (and parents and administrators too), has promised to provide every ACT high-school student with a tablet-style device.
Labor and the Greens will give us a tram that will run, not only between Gungahlin and Civic, but eventually as far as Woden. The Liberals have put together some more sensible transport options, and full credit to them for doing this. But the bidding-war atmosphere is all pervasive. An election without promises is like a birthday party without cake.
Whichever way the seats go, though, we will be faced with the same problems we have now. While there will be a number of new faces many, if not most, of the politicians in the enlarged Assembly will be the same as the current ones.
So, I would like to submit my own post-election request list. Could we, please, have a government that worked properly? I would like a government that spent my money wisely. I would like a government that actually listened. I would like a government that did much more to develop and promote the best talent within its public services, rather than paying consultants to pay still more consultants. I would like a government that was committed to excellence in urban planning, design and development. I would like a government that fixed the roads and footpaths, and kept them fixed.
I would like a government that had some sort of vision for the economic future of the city, one that extended beyond property development and embraced the technologies of health and education.
I would like a government that took the environment seriously. I don’t mean still greater commitment to solar and wind power, I mean not promoting new housing that gobbles up scarce habitat. And I would really like a government that did something about waste management, instead of (literally) burying the problem. This means thinking through product life cycles, investigating the practicalities and regulatory impediments that prevent recycling and reuse, and having public servants who will really push the whole thing through.
I would like a government that made the most of the public housing we already have, instead of tearing it down, so that not-so-well off people can be closer to whatever viable public transport we have left.
I would like a government that sorted out its conflict of interest in relation to land development. Private developers are one thing. But when the state is itself a major developer with targets to meet (as is the case with the Land Development Agency) what should be a support for outcomes in the public interest becomes too narrowly focused on revenue.
I would like a government that expected – and got – a bit more from the development industry than has been the case in recent times. If that means that the pace of growth slows a little, that is no bad thing, when so much of the growth is based on federal tax policies that encourage much more investment in housing than is sensible.
I would like a government that took planning (and its administration) seriously. When, as often happens, developers over-reach themselves, it seems a bit rich for governments to expect the community to inject commonsense into proceedings. Too often, ambit claims are bowled up, which the community is expected to understand, dissect and deal with. The community’s instincts are generally a lot better than those of developers, but we should not have to do the work we pay the professionals to do on our behalf.
I would like a government that cares deeply about Canberra as a regional centre. That means thinking seriously about bus and train connections between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. The Jolimont Centre is seriously overloaded, yet no one seems even to be talking about modernising it.
The train service between Canberra and Sydney is looking very tired. How about putting in some funds to help fix it up? We could even have – now here is an idea – a public-public partnership between the ACT and NSW governments.
What about some longer-term thinking? The earth may have ceased to spin on its axis by the time is happens, but eventually, there will be a good case for a coastal train link between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. I hasten to add that this does not have to be a very fast train: one that is moderately fast will do.
I apologise for being a bit parochial at this point, but I would like a government that actually gives Woden Town Centre a proper bus interchange, instead of relying on the private sector to provide the waiting room, and then (when it became obvious that the private sector had its mind on other things) building some propitiatory architect-designed stairs.
I would like a government that worked sensibly with commuters to improve the bus service, and did not import so-called experts to solve its problems.
Finally, I would like a government that rescinds Brendan Smyth’s ambassadorial contract.
I know that, come October 15, we will have more independents and minor parties to vote for than ever before. And many of these people and parties are putting forward some good policy ideas. But those votes will either exhaust, or end up with the major parties anyway.
It takes a lot of blood sweat and tears to found and run a political party. Winning votes is far from easy. For a bit of a change, why could not one or the other of the principal contenders say, “I have no promises to offer you, but I will undertake to develop good government in the public interest”. I think I have the answer to my own question. No one in his or her right mind is going to believe that.