Standing up for Canberra

Australian Cities

I rise today to speak about the city that I represent: Canberra, our nation's capital. Canberra has been my home for close to 30 years. I love this city and I love this community. The nation's capital is home to around 360,000 people, some of who are the most altruistic people I have ever met.

Canberra is home to our national memorials, like the Australian War Memorial, the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, the High Court, the National Library, the National Botanic Gardens, the Mint, the Arboretum and the list goes on. Canberra is the heart of this nation's democracy. It is a city that was built by a federated nation. Without Canberra, there would be no Australia. To borrow the words of Sir Henry Parkes, the crimson thread of kinship runs through us all. Those threads are drawn together in this city, in our nation's capital, Canberra. They run from every corner of this nation, those crimson threads, and the knot that binds them is this House in this nation's capital, in the city that I represent, Canberra.

During my time here I have seen Canberra flourish, and I have also seen it suffer. There is a clear trend that has emerged in that ebb and flow over time. Under Labor governments Canberra prospers, while under coalition governments Canberra suffers—just like it did in 1996, when I lost my job. I was with Foreign Affairs, and I was one of the 15,000 public servants that lost their jobs here in Canberra, and 30,000 right throughout the nation. We were all victims of the Howard government's public service job cuts. At that time, non-business bankruptcies jumped sharply, in 1995-96 by 38 per cent, and again in 1996-97 by 17 per cent, while business bankruptcies jumped in 1996-97 by 38 per cent. I remember 1996 and seeing local shopping centres resemble ghost towns. The newsagent closed, the hairdresser closed, the video store closed. And they closed because incomes and wage earners just disappeared—they left town.

We have seen the same contempt for the public service under this government, which has cut more than 8,500 public servant jobs here in Canberra, 17,000 public service jobs right across the country. We read late last week that there is a new round of cuts coming. Even though we were promised that there was not going to be a new round of cuts, Prime Minster and Cabinet has announced that it is getting rid of 200 jobs by Christmas. There are suggestions that there are more on the way, not just in PM&C but in other government agencies.

CommSec's October State of the states report says the ACT's economy is the sixth best performing in the country. That is second last. It says that the ACT's indicators are mixed and the jobless rate is rising. So I find this motion frustrating. The member for Ryan is encouraging all members to continue to give strong support to the wellbeing of Australian cities, and that is a great sentiment. But I ask: where is the government when it comes to support for Canberra? Where is the government's support for our nation's capital? Where is the support for the wellbeing of this city and the support for its infrastructure, its work force, its economy? This year's budget included no— zero—new infrastructure spending for the ACT. Contrast that to when we were in government, and the millions that were invested in the Majura Parkway, which everyone would be familiar with as they fly into the airport; millions invested in trade training centres; and millions invested in school halls, libraries and facilities to enhance the primary school experience.

I note the member's motion congratulating the Prime Minister for recognising cities policy as a priority of government through the appointment of a Minister for Cities and the Built Environment. I am now calling on the Prime Minister and the new Minister for Cities and the Built Environment to recognise Canberra, to invest in Canberra, to stop denigrating its work force, to stop cutting its work force, and to start investing in new infrastructure. I have a few suggestions. They can start with the Australia Forum, a new convention centre here in Canberra. The member here suggested high-speed rail. Bring it on. Bring on high-speed rail. The studies have shown that the link between the eastern seaboard and Canberra would be most efficient and economically effective for the first round, so bring it on. Canberrans want it now.

Until now, this government's approach to Canberra has seemed to just be cut, cut, cut. I am sick and tired of coalition governments' continued contempt for my home. I will continue to stand up for my community. I will continue to stand up for Canberra. I will continue to stand up for our proud service to democracy and the businesses that support it.

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