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The Battle for the ACT

The battle for the ACT
by Ian MacDougall

There are only three settlements in the ACT: the city of Canberra, and the villages of Hall and Tharwa. Hall is on the Yass side, and Tharwa on the Cooma side.

Val Jeffery is the proprietor of the Tharwa General Store and Chief of its volunteer bush fire brigade. His latter capacity has brought him into conflict with fires in the fire season, and also with the Emergency Services bureaucracies and politicians of both the ACT and NSW. Michael Duffy has written a good article on the subject for the SMH.

From that article:

There are three particularly controversial issues that [ACT Coroner] Doogan was looking into before her inquiry was put on hold. One is whether enough burning off was done on public lands around Canberra in the years before the fire. The second is whether the initial fires, which began in the Namadgi (ACT) and Brindabella (NSW) national parks, should have been attacked more promptly and energetically. And the third involves the most important source of unhappiness for fire victims: the failure to warn residents of the threat posed by the fire. A timely warning might have saved lives and property. Doogan's inquiry has heard claims that senior bureaucrats were told, in the week before the fires struck, that the city was in danger.

The ACT Chief Minister is Jon Stanhope, and the buck stops where it lands: on his head. On January 18 2003, and in the days leading up to it, Stanhope and his senior bureaucrats had information that the whole city and the lives and property of all those in it, were at risk. He and the ministers responsible decided that that responsibility did not extend to warning the citizens who voted them into office by passing that information on to them. If they had, lives lost might have been saved. That angered Stanhope’s critics more than anything else, and they said so publicly.

Stanhope counterattacked like a cornered weasel. He chose to interpret their words as attacks on the firefighters. So he invited all and sundry to blame him, but told them to lay off the firefighters.

"I stand beside each and every member of the emergency services bureau, I stand beside every member of our fire services, our police savories, our volunteers, our rural services.

"I stand with them, I defend them, and I'm asking people not to point the finger at them."

The fact was that nobody was laying on to the firefighters, or attacking them in any way. Stanhope’s ploy was a deliberate furphy, though it did arguably elevate him to the status of Australia’s most cunning politician. The move to ostensibly draw the heat onto himself was in fact one designed to deflect it off himself. He was attempting to discredit his critics for saying things which they never actually said, and which cast those critics as pretty low types. In Australia, attacking firefighters is like attacking Anzac Day marchers or the Bondi lifesavers.

For that alone, Stanhope should have been chucked out at the following election. The fact that he survived speaks volumes for the weakness then of the ACT Liberal Party. Personally, and had I had a vote, I would have voted for Val Jeffery’s blue heeler before Stanhope, whose administration of the ACT ever since has shown that where they do give a damn, he and his team are well and truly out of their depth.

Val Jeffery is the sort of man of traditional integrity who we need at all levels of politics today.

Val Jeffery’s Speech at the Launch of the Community Alliance Party Election Campaign, Tharwa Hall, Friday September 5th, 2008.

Welcome everyone and thanks very much for your support and for coming along on this cold Tharwa night.

Here we are tonight to get Val Jeffery out and on the road to the ACT Legislative Assembly, the election the outcome of which will affect the future of the whole ACT and region. I am going to be part of it; I am on the road again. I am going on the road again to build bridges that need building. Not just road bridges but bridges between government and communities, bridges over troubled waters that are full and flowing with treacherous currents swirling around the Stanhope government’s legacy of arrogance and attitude.

I see myself a bit like the old grey bridge builder in this poem that goes something like this:

An old man traveling a lone highway,
Came in the evening cold and grey,
To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was sweeping a swollen tide,
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The swollen stream had no fears for him,
But he stopped when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man” said a Pilgrim standing near
“Why waste your strength with building here,
Your journey will end with the close of day,
And you never again will pass this way,
You’ve crossed the chasm deep and wide,
Why build you this bridge at eventide?”

The builder lifted his old grey beard,
“Good friend, in the path I have come”’ he said
“There follows after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm which has been naught to me,
To that fair haired youth might a pitfall be,
He too, must cross in the twilight dim
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him”.

I need you all to help me build a bridge for the whole Australian Capital Territory and regional community.

The result of this election on the 18th of October is vital for our neglected territory and we must sieze the opportunities. We must choose new leadership and new government; not only a new government but new policies, a new Chief Minister and a vision for Canberra’s future. The Stanhope majority government has been nothing but a sad failure. I am standing up here tonight to launch myself on the road to being an exciting part of bringing back honesty, integrity, accountability and respect into ACT governance: on the road towards building bridges for the community, your community.

An inspiring group of men and women with experience and vision, confidence and boldness have come together and formed the Community Alliance Party, a party destined to reshape the future of Canberra, and not before time. Our vigorous competition has attracted outstanding community support and reinvigorated interest in Canberra’s governance. I am proud to be part of that vision. Lord only knows, neglected Canberra needs the Community Alliance Party more than ever. We all believe and know that “Your Community Counts”.

It is well known that long tenure in the ACT Assembly is not the same as judgment, wisdom and vision. Sadly it is akin to complacency, arrogance and unaccountability.

The Stanhope government seems to think that their tenure and so called experience are the factors that will work in their favor during this campaign. But our shared experience of a lifetime of community values tells us otherwise for their tenure has been an abject disaster. We have been accused of being naïve and inexperienced and do you know what? They said the same things about John F Kennedy in the United States presidential campaign in 1960 when he was attacked for lacking experience. And as they say, the rest is history.

They reckon that I am too bloody old for the ACT Legislative Assembly, but do you know what? John McCain is lining up to be President of the United States and he is just one year younger than me!

I feel strongly the determination after seven years of the Stanhope government’s arrogance and disrespect that elections matter and this election on the 18th of October matters and matters even more than ever.

Stanhope in 2006 proposed to close almost 40 schools including our own 100 year old precious community school at Tharwa. Stanhope and Barr inflicted stress and uncertainty on all these communities although Stanhope only intended to close a quarter of those schools, using an old political ploy to make himself and his bunny Barr appear to look good. Pulling a bunny out of the hat as the saying goes. A $360M education budget made a farce of closing vital community schools, traumatizing kids, families and whole communities. If you are a member of the school closure communities, you know that this election matters!

Stanhope keeps telling us that our hospital system is being fixed despite him having 7 years in government to do so. If you are fearful of Stanhope’s hospital debacles and if you or your family have endured his long delays in emergency or on trolleys in the corridors, you know that this election matters!

If you look at your rubbish riddled roads, pathetic neglected sporting ovals, pot holed streets, dying trees, rotting dead kangaroos and you mourn the death of our garden city but yearn for green gardens again you know that this election matters!

Jon Stanhope stood in front of cameras after 500 houses were burnt, four lives lost, hundreds injured, hundreds of thousands of acres of our beautiful environment massacred, heritage destroyed forever and boasted that he would take the blame because he was Chief Minister Jon Stanhope. Stanhope did just the opposite, using legal ploys at your expense whilst taking all steps to forestall responsibility. So much for governmental integrity. If you were a victim of the 2003 firestorm or you are potential victim of the Stanhope government’s next conflagration caused by his deliberate destruction of the Emergency Services Authority you know that this election matters!

If you believe in accountability you would be shattered that Stanhope has condoned the risk to ourselves and our families by accepting that even the Minister charged with the responsibility for Police and Road Safety, did breach the prescribed limit and he did not deny he was a drink driver yet Stanhope just lets it slide. If you believe that Ministerial responsibility to setting standards for our younger drivers should be accountable then this election matters!

If you yearn for green gardens, ovals and sports grounds, you know that this election matters!

If you live in a quiet leafy suburb of Canberra and you are fearful of a noisy power station or something similar being landed at your back door or live on a rural farm and some unknown facility alien to rural pursuits is launched on a neighboring farm, you know that this election matters!

If you think that it’s about time for a bit of consideration for rural communities in relation to roads like the Boboyan Road which is the gateway to the Snowies, the Brindabella and Smith’s Roads, feral pests, failed park managements, lease inadequacies and lease manipulations etc., you know that this election matters!

If you believe that your beloved village of Tharwa and its surrounding community have been deliberately screwed into the ground by the Stanhope government you know that this election matters!

If you are a motor sports supporter and know that our young drivers must have and deserve a place off the main roads for their sport and your hairs are standing up on the back of your neck at the blatant and cruel steps that Stanhope took to destroy this vital sport and tourism opportunity, you know that this election matters!

And this election matters more than ever because the ACT needs change more than ever. After seven years of incompetence, arrogance, neglect, disrespect and failure, we need change.

To those who want to continue making the same mistake over and over again indefinitely, it is important for us to say loudly and clearly with our votes on the 18th of October, we need change. We in the Community Alliance Party intend to have change. The Stanhope government has passed its use by date so we must have change. Listen to me loud and clear and get this firmly into your head and don’t loose sight of it because this election matters!

That is what my party and myself are here for. Change and change for the better because, believe you me, this election matters and that’s why I am on the road again!

Further reading:

The firing line: http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/The-firing-line/2005/05/22/1116700595179.html

Stanhope defends firefighters: http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200301/s765775.htm

Criticism of firefighters ‘disgusting’: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/news/local/news/general/criticism-of-firefighters-disgusting/202512.aspx

Damning fire report puts ACT govt under pressure: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2006/s1815159.htm

The fires next time: http://sunday.ninemsn.com.au/sunday/cover_stories/transcript_1465.asp

Stanhope says ‘blame me’: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/01/20/1042911316457.html

Bureau chiefs contributed to fire havoc, coroner told: http://www.peterclack.com.au/view_article.php?id=11

Modern-day Nero fiddled after Canberra burned: http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/modernday-nero-fiddled-after-canberra-burned/2006/12/21/1166290676282.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

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