28 October 2014 - Matter of Public Importance

Madam Deputy Speaker, in the time I have been a member of this Assembly it has been driven home to me just how important residents think urban maintenance is. The vast majority of concerns that come to me from constituents relate to basic urban maintenance issues.

Whether residents are in Theodore, Duffy, Holt, and Giralang.... or Chisholm, Ngunnawal or Curtin.... all of the suburbs of our city...... The basics of footpaths, roads, playgrounds, grass mowing, street sweeping, bus stops, and the cleanliness of lakes, ponds and parks are important.

Whether I am doorknocking or holding mobile offices, or inviting feedback from the community on their area in one way or another, the thing I have found is that it is the small things that count and it is the small things that people really care about day to day.

On my drive into work this morning, I came out of Fadden and up Erindale Drive, firstly on my left there were 2 large mattresses which have been dumped on the side of the road and have been there for a few days, then as I continue to drive up Yamba Drive the grass was very overgrown, almost a metre high in most places near the Canberra Hospital.

When I moved to Canberra in 1988 that was not the case. Canberra was always very well maintained, manicured even. It was a city that looked as though we were proud for it to be our capital and now more often than not it looks run down. Friends and family who visit me from interstate often comment on the change over the years.

One constituent who wrote to me recently said, and I quote:

“I have been a resident of Tuggeranong for 30 years & am noticing that, over time, it is looking sad & neglected. There is rubbish along roads & footpaths, lots of the roadside trees require attention & many of the suburban shopping centres just look shabby.” 

The Labor Government which has been running this territory for the last 13 years just does not seem to understand this basic point.

It is the day to day basics which people notice most. It is the day to day basics which have the greatest effect on people.

There would not be a suburb in Canberra that does not have footpaths that require renewal and fixing..... I know in my electorate it is a common issue that I am faced with.

A Theodore a resident said recently:

“There are numerous instances where the footpaths are breaking up or have distorted to an extent that they are a hazard to pedestrians. Over the years there have been a few instances of repair, but mostly after inspection and marking with paint or chalk, years elapse, the paint washes away and nothing is done”

In Chapman a constituent recently fell over on a broken pavement and sustained an injury. We were all lucky that the injury wasn’t any worse, but if the footpaths were properly maintained the chances of this occurring are much less.

In Wanniassa the footpaths on Fincham Crescent had entire chunks missing and numerous areas where the damage was so significant that prams or mobility devices would have found it incredibly difficult to move along this street.

In many areas where damage occurs, the footpath is ground down but the cracks remain and soon enough they crack again.... or if the damage is serious enough it will be patched and left for months and months before it is eventually fixed properly, or it is left until the patch deteriorates and the issue occurs again.

I am not standing here today pretending that footpaths wouldn’t crack and these issues wouldn’t occur under a different government, but what I will say is that the basics are not the priority of this Labor/Greens Government.

We spend more time caring about light rail, and unrealistic renewable energy targets than we do on the urban maintenance issues which affect all Canberrans every day.

Again, it is a very black and white example of how this government does not have its priorities right.

Playgrounds....... another neglected area of Urban Maintenance in this town.

As we go through what some call an Obesity Epidemic in Canberra, and right around Australia, we seem to be happy to pay for advertising to try and get people to lose weight yet apparently we cannot keep our playgrounds maintained or replaced to ensure an active lifestyle is promoted for our children.

One constituent who wrote to me stated:

“This time I was told there was no plans to replace the playground and that the current condition of the playground was 'fit for purpose'. Any person who has young children would completely disagree as the playground is not safe and the equipment is very run down.”

When receiving a response from the Minister regarding a playground which had been removed the Minister said:

“At the time of the forward design study it was anticipated construction of the replacement playground would be undertaken in 2012/13”......

The letter then goes on to say that another playground took precedence and the replacement of this playground was deferred.

While I understand that money doesn’t grow on trees, I also understand that this government has their priorities wrong.

And then we can talk about roads......

Roads. In a letter to the editor published in the Canberra Times on 15 June this year it states, when referring to the Minister for Territory and Municipal Services that

“his department obviously doesn’t have the funds to undertake basic road maintenance for fixing potholes, corrugations and rough surfaces, some of which have been evident for almost 12 months.”

A constituent who contacted me a few months ago in a letter wrote:

“When potholes are repaired they should be repaired properly. The common practice of dropping a ‘dollop’ of tarmac into the hole and flattening it is a waste of time and money”

This constituent then goes onto say that a large pothole at the end of her street was treated four or five times in this manner before it was finally repaired properly.

Again I reiterate that I know very well that we only have a limited pool of money of which to run this territory but what I say, along with my Liberal Colleagues is that this government is spending the money in the wrong way..... the priorities of this government are wrong.

While Minister Corbell is busy swanning around talking about how great we are with our 90% renewable targets and light rail.....we cannot even maintain our own city properly.

And then, Madam Assistant Speaker we can talk about the grass mowing..... this is another area that in theory seems so simple but we just do not seem to get right......

We all know that at some times of the year the grass grows faster than other times.... and that sometimes it rains more than other times, so mowing can be delayed and the grass grows very quickly..... but instead of long and unkept grass being an anomaly here and there, it seems to be a more often than not situation...... More often than not the grass is not mown frequently enough.... more often than not it looks unmaintained and overgrown before it is cut......

Then there are the issue of rubbish on the road sides and in parks, graffiti on signs or on fences...... overgrown trees in suburbs, broken street lights and blocked drains..... the issues go on and on.

I certainly am not meaning this as blanket criticism of the extensive work that the Minister for TAMS and his department undertakes. However, their department is facing huge challenges and obviously needs more resources.

This financial year alone this government is spending $32.7 million on a light rail project.... and we haven’t even started construction.... imagine what would happen if this extra money was invested into the maintenance of our suburbs.

On the 9th of February 2012 the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister announced the Government would inject an extra $22 million into maintaining and upgrading the urban amenity of Canberra. They went on to say that this fund would come directly from the Lease Variation Charge...... now as time has gone on and the Lease Variation Charge did not raise the funds it needed to and the budget slipped further into the red it became clear this wasn’t going to happen......

The Chief Minister said that this fund would and I quote “"more parks and playgrounds, more mowing, more shopping centre upgrades, better footpaths and more repairs to roads,”..... and we know this isn’t happening because the LVC isn’t raising what we need it too, but then you just need to focus your attention to the light rail and the $44.6 million this government has spent on this project to date (including this year), at least some of which could have been instead been spent on urban maintenance.

In every suburb I visit with my mobile office, someone says to me that they feel like they are the forgotten suburb...... which really highlights the entire point I am making here..... urban maintenance is important. People appreciate being about to walk down the street without tripping on broken footpaths or drive down a road without hitting pot holes...... and while the government is falling behind in keeping this city maintained people are noticing..... and they realise over time that its actually not just their suburb, it is in fact everywhere. Rates continue to increase, fees and charges continue to go up everywhere in this city, yet the upkeep of our city is going backwards.

I reiterate that generally I receive an excellent response from the Minister for TAMS and his department when I write about a particular issue, and I thank them once again for that. But overall our level of amenity, of cleanliness, of maintenance seems to be diminishing and the work done by the Territory and Municipal Services Directorate is not being given priority.

Community responses take place to address urban maintenance issues, such as Keep Australia Beautiful cleanups, and other community groups doing their bit such as the Tuggeranong Lake Carers Group doing a cleanup around Lake Tuggeranong this weekend. Scouts, girl guides, Lions, Rotary and many other groups do their bit. This is small scale community action at work.

But in general terms residents feel better about their fees and charges, their rates increasing if they see they are getting something more for their money. Or at the very least, maintaining the status quo. This does not appear to be the case – our basic services seem to be reducing despite increased charges.

If this government got its priorities right and focused on the things that matter, we would have enough lawn mowers to keep the grass cut, we would be able to keep on top of street sweeping and footpath maintenance.... we would have a better chance of keeping our roads maintained and having a city that looks like we are proud of it, as well as the capital of our nation.

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