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The Canberra Liberals have welcomed the government’s announcement to establish the position of the ACT’s first Chief Engineer. However, the announcement raises questions as to whether the position would function effectively by itself and without proper support, Shadow Minister for Planning and Infrastructure Nicole Lawder said today.

“Ahead of last year’s ACT Election, the Canberra Liberals committed to establishing an Engineers’ panel, to work in consultation with the government on infrastructure. The government needs to ask itself whether a sole Chief Engineer, without a supporting panel is a half-baked policy,” Ms Lawder said.

“Having an Engineers’ Panel consisting of members who have different engineering skills and knowledge bases would ensure that projects are of the highest quality and appropriately selected so that the ACT can have the best infrastructure in the country.

“This point was highlighted by Engineers Australia’s General Manager, Sydney and Canberra Divisions, Greg Ewing who said in 2016: ‘Having a Chief Engineer, together with a dedicated engineers’ panel would provide government with a real focal point, as well as help solve problems in the design phase of major projects.’

“The government would not introduce a Chief Medical Officer or a Chief Scientist without appropriate support and the government should recognise that public infrastructure is vital to a vibrant community. The government should be doing all it can to support the new role,” Ms Lawder concluded.

Rachel Stephen-Smith should refer the disturbing allegations of systemic violence, drugs and a toxic culture at Bimberi Youth Detention Centre to ACT Policing for immediate investigation, Shadow Minister for Families, Youth and Community Services Elizabeth Kikkert said today.

“News of the sickening systemic behaviour inside Bimberi is in fact illegal if allegations of drug use and systemic violence are found to be true,” Mrs Kikkert said.

“It is imperative that Minister Stephen-Smith refer these matters to ACT Policing for investigation immediately, if she has not done so already.

“As a territory we do not tolerate this behaviour. Children, young people and staff will continue to live in this dangerous, toxic and illegal environment unless the Minister acts swiftly and decisively.

“Sadly, all we are seeing is a government that has lost its way when it comes to providing protection and care for the most vulnerable in our territory.

“Allegations of violence and a poisonous working culture are not new. The Opposition and numerous whistleblowers have for years persistently alerted Minister Stephen-Smith and her predecessors to the toxic situation, urging her and the ACT Government to resolve systemic issues.

“It was pressure from the Opposition that resulted in a Human Rights Commission report in 2011 which made more than 200 recommendations. What the Government seems slow to understand is that its continued resistance to act on these recommendations has meant more children and staff are suffering in the ACT’s youth detention system.

“Minister Stephen-Smith needs to step up and take responsibility before more people are harmed. The first step she should take is to refer these damning allegations to the police for immediate investigation,” Mrs Kikkert concluded.

 

Leader of the Opposition Alistair Coe has announced the Canberra Liberals will push for key government integrity measures as part of his official reply to the ACT Budget.

"This week's Budget was a bad one for families and local businesses, which will be forced to absorb increasing costs as a result," Mr Coe said.

"For the first time, revenue will exceed $6 billion. The government is producing a fiscal deficit of $485 million, while the interest bill will be $194 million. Clearly the government is taking more, and giving less back.

"Furthermore, there was nothing in this Budget to address integrity issues in local government. In addition to discussion regarding, health, education, business and urban services, in my speech today, I announced six separate integrity measures, in addition to an ICAC, that we will move to implement:

  • A Public Works Committee – to safeguard the ACT against recurring problems with infrastructure projects.
  • Giving more options to whistleblowers – making it easier for public servants tocall out actual or suspected wrongdoing.
  • Tracking agency audits – allowing Assembly Committees to receive twice yearly progress reports on audit activities of ACT government agencies.
  • Improving the unsolicited proposals process – to give more clarity in legislation with regards to timelines and IP protection.
  • Broadening the invoice register – by halving the notifiable invoice threshold to $12,500.
  • Reporting land acquisitions – to ensure all land acquisitions are reported to the Assembly Public Accounts Committee, addressing certain criteria.

"It's time we took these next steps to ensure integrity across ACT government agencies. These are worthwhile measures, to prevent the sorts of scenarios we've seen under this Labor government," Mr Coe concluded.

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A covert and questionable technical amendment has enabled the Barr government to proceed with public housing development in suburban locations where it would otherwise have been prohibited by the Territory Plan, Shadow Minister for Planning and Infrastructure Nicole Lawder said today.

Documents recently released under Freedom of Information show the ACT government previously could not build public housing on land zoned for community facilities because the Territory Plan did not permit community land for residential use.

The Public Housing Renewal Taskforce knew it would require a Territory Plan Variation in order to permit the government to use Community Facility Zoned land for residential purposes.

Aware that its public housing plans were in breach of the Territory Plan as early as April 2015, the government quietly put through a technical amendment, using a Notifiable Instrument, in December 2015. The amendment changed the wording, and subsequently the meaning of the Development Code from “supportive housing” (defined as housing for persons with special housing needs for reasons of age or disability) to include “social housing”, thereby enabling the government to argue that they can use Community Facility Zoned land for public housing.

This fundamentally changes the meaning of CFZ land.

“A technical amendment is not permitted to change the meaning of the development code, but in this case it clearly does,” Ms Lawder said.

“Minister Mick Gentleman needs to explain how this amendment holds up under scrutiny. The government knew its development proposal was in breach of the Territory Plan and so it quietly made an illegitimate amendment to skirt around the issue.

“Residents in Chapman, Holder, Wright, Mawson and Monash are anguished over current proposals, not to mention the manner in which the government has largely ignored their concerns through its lack of genuine consultation.

“What this means is that parks and other community facility zoned land all around Canberra may soon be switched over to public housing, given the government’s questionable amendment.

“The government owes residents a sound explanation on how this amendment stacks up,” Ms Lawder concluded.

The money hungry ACT government is slugging households more and more in today’s Budget, while future generations will be forced to pay for the incompetence of Andrew Barr as Treasurer.

The bottom line is, this Budget will make it more difficult to live, work and raise a family in Canberra, Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Treasurer Alistair Coe said today.

“While Andrew Barr has his own spin, the real numbers in this Budget paint a worrying picture. The ACT’s net debt will reach nearly $3.5 billion next year Revenue for the first time will exceed $6 billion.

Stamp duty, which the government promised to abolish, will bring in $300 million this year while interest payments total $194 million this year,” Mr Coe said.*

“The ACT government is gouging record revenue from Canberrans but it’s clear to everyone across town that we’re getting less and less in return. The quality of local services is declining while costs continue to rise.

“Andrew Barr’s rates increases are driving people across the border.

“We’re being gouged across the board.

In this Budget, the take from: 

  • Residential rates is up 12% 
  • Commercial rates is up 5% 
  • Land tax is up 18% 
  • Motor vehicle registration is up 6% 
  • Parking fines up a whopping 38%

“The cost of living is too high and it seems the government is profiting from the demise of those Canberrans that will need to go into survival mode as a result of this budget,” Mr Coe concluded.

*Figures are taken from BP3 pgs 223 & 377-381

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