Page 1284 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 29 March 2017
MR STEEL (Murrumbidgee) (5.54): I would like to first thank Ms Orr for bringing this motion to the floor. As members are aware, Woden town centre in my electorate of Murrumbidgee is a symbol of some of the cuts the federal government has made over the years. Lovett Tower now stands abandoned above Woden like the clock tower in a ghost town. It does not have to be this way, though. A commonwealth government that has a conscientious strategy for developing the public service and sympathy for the residents and businesses of this city can see both grow in tandem, just as was originally intended.
When the early governments of the commonwealth decided to build a new city as the national capital, it was in recognition that the Australia that they wanted to nurture was not to be ruled over by a Sydney or Melbourne elite, but that it would be best to attract the brightest from all around the country to create a melting pot of ideas and innovation to assist government administration and good public policy.
It was a vision that was to persist for decades to come. That great founder of the Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies, saw consolidating the strengths of this great city to be a grand act of nation building. That is why he funded and built Lake Burley Griffin and substantially expanded the public service in the postwar reconstruction. So too did the Fraser government, which, among other things, moved the High Court to Canberra. Sadly, today’s Liberals have seen fit to betray that bipartisan history and plunder the ACT for cruel ideology and political gain.
Starting with the Howard government, the Liberals started to undermine the role of Canberra and the APS. The 1996 cuts devastated the public service and it took years for the city to recover. Additionally, the Liberals moved federal cabinet activities to Phillip Street in the heart of Sydney. As far as the current federal government is concerned, Canberra does not exist outside of the inner city. In 2014, they slashed the public service relentlessly. Joe Hockey saw fit to move parts of the industry, finance and treasury departments to the inner cities of Sydney and Melbourne.
The Prime Minister himself loves to focus on Sydney and Melbourne, never passing up a WestConnex photo op or an opportunity to lament the east west link. Yet the Liberals’ only interest in Canberra is to pork-barrel departments out of the ACT when it provides a political benefit to them. We are entitled to ask whether Mr Turnbull wants to actually be the Prime Minister of Australia or merely the Premier of New South Wales, or much less, the Mayor of Sydney.
However, the Prime Minister’s neglect of Canberra pales in comparison to his deputy’s active hostility towards it. Barnaby Joyce has engaged in some of the most blatant anti-Canberra rhetoric and acts of political pork-barrelling seen in Australian history. He first decided to move the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to Armidale in his own electorate without consultation with the Canberra community and ACT government and before conducting a cost-benefit analysis. He has subsequently refused to release that analysis, obviously because such a move fails even the primary public policy test for the federal government, that is, stringent “fiscal responsibility”.