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State of the Territory: Canberra 2015

Jodi Morrell

Determined. Immediate. Practical. Unapologetic. Reform. Bold steps.

This is the language the Chief Minister used throughout his State of the Territory address to the Canberra Business Council held at the National Press Club yesterday. Despite being delivered in a subdued manner, the Chief Minister’s address reflected the pride Andrew Barr has in occupying the position. And Mr Barr’s rather stilted delivery did not hamper the conveyance of his passion for Canberra and its future.

The State of the Territory address takes a global tradition founded in the Speech of the Throne – an address given by Kings and Queens annually – and the US State of the Union address – founded in their constitution – and makes it uniquely Canberran. The State of the Territory is a speech designed to provide information to citizens of the way forward the government is seeking to implement.

The Chief Minister outlined a way forward for Canberra in 2015 that is designed to capitalise on a range of new strategies and opportunities. Mr Barr believes government leadership must bring together a desire for improvement and renewing our city in a way that creates the Canberra we all want to live in, and align this with the need to keep the economy strong. Far from being diametrically opposed, an innovative, forward leaning drive for urban renewal combined with the traditional, cautious approach to maintaining economic strength is what the Chief Minister believes will provide a strong core for Canberra’s future.

“For our city in 2015, a business as usual approach simply will not cut it. We need more. Our urban life is changing and we simply must renew our transport, our planning and our urban centres will change with it.” Mr Barr said as he outlined strategies which aim to join with the local community to create a city with its own distinct life style and a commitment to investing in creating it.

Mr Barr’s vision for the future of Canberra is supported by four strategies. The first strategy the Chief Minister is committing his government to takes a more active approach to attracting investment and renewing urban centres. Mr Barr is determined that the ACT government takes control of local development and has a coordinated plan that involves coordinated developments in a wide array of sectors, including public transport, roads, parking, and urban renewal.

The second strategy the Chief Minister outlined for Canberra’s future is a major investment in a light rail system. Mr Barr views light rail as a way to make Canberra a city in her own right and he is leading his government in the development of a light rail designed for Canberra to benefit all Canberrans. Mr Barr stated unhesitatingly that the light rail is a city defining project for Canberra.

Mr Barr is understandably committed to his governments’ light rail policy and he voiced his belief that transport reform, and the way forward his government has planned with Capital Metro, is the right thing to do for Canberra right now. Mr Barr reinforced his message that a forward looking public transport infrastructure is critical to the future of the growth of Canberra. Light rail is the next evolution of Canberra’s unique town centre design and, combined with our likely projected population growth – expected to be at least 600,000 by the 2040s – light rail is not just suitable but necessary to support the city’s growth.

The Chief Minister spent the majority of time in his speech on emphasising his public transport policies, conveying the need to invest now for the future. Mr Barr made the point that good governments invest now to obtain long term investment and he committed his government to always planning for the future and not getting stuck in short term opportunism. To demonstrate his commitment to this principle, Mr Barr made the point that, while a significant expenditure for any government, he has locked in the cost of the light rail at today’s cost. Payments are not required until 2019 and will be made over a period of twenty years. The Chief Minister is doing what he and his government can to design a light rail implementation which unlocks the benefits before the costs begin being felt. It’s just smart government and to further emphasise the point, Mr Barr asked a simple question; picture Canberra in twenty years’ time without light rail. What does that city look like?

The Chief Minister identified developing greater economic self-reliance as the strategy that will underpin the development of Canberra throughout 2015. Aiming to capitalise on Canberra’s natural advantages, Mr Barr is determined to make the ACT less reliant on and subservient to the federal government public sector economy.

The Chief Minister conveyed his commitment to putting Canberra into a stronger and more independent financial position that means the unique challenges facing the Territory at the moment present only minimal impact. Mr Barr outlined these unique challenges as the weakening national economy and the challenges presented by an unfriendly federal government. In his view, these two forces have never combined against an ACT government before and Mr Barr believes the task of minimising the impact is large, but manageable. The business, thought, community and education leaders in Canberra today are stronger and more willing to work together than they have ever been before.

“My government will be different from those who that have come before. Our economic circumstances demand a different approach.” The Chief Minister emphasised. Mr Barr is certain that his government is putting Canberra in a stronger and more independent position than ever before.

The final strategy Mr Barr committed his government to is the drive to make Canberra a true knowledge capital by giving local universities a structural advantage over their education competitors. The Chief Minister believes that thriving city campuses create opportunities for development, collaboration, innovation and new business throughout the Territory.

“Together we can renew our city and strengthen our community, but we’re going to do this the Canberra way. By being creative and clever, by being innovative and interesting, by building for the future, and by sharing as a community our values and strengths, we will ensure that this is Canberra’s century.”

During both his speech and his responses to the questions asked by the floor at the end, the Chief Minister demonstrated his strong grasp of the future he wants to build for Canberra, and a plan to build it. He and his team are prepared to fight for it if necessary, but would prefer conversation and consultation to confrontation.

“It’s a fight worth having and it’s a fight I’m going to win.” Mr Barr made this statement referring to possible Opposition resistance to his policies in the higher education sphere, but the message and attitude contained was reflected throughout his speech. The Chief Minister has a plan for Canberra’s future that he is determined to implement and he refuses to allow the Opposition to derail it.

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Jodi Morrell

Jodi Morrell recently abandoned her long-term public service career to pursue her passion for writing full time. She is passionate about politics, federal and local, and loves to explore and understand opposing political standpoints. Jodi loves travel, good food and wine, fitness and obstacle races (the muddier the better) and books. More about the Author

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