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The first woman to head an Australian state or territory government, and first ACT Chief Minister, Rosemary Follett AO, has had a diverse career in both politics and the public service.
Following the dismissal of the Whitlam government, Rosemary became President of the ACT ALP. Her negotiation skills proved of great use during the transition to ACT self-government, where she served two terms as Chief Minister: 1989-1990 and 1991-1995, and as ACT Discrimination Commissioner from 1996 to 2004.
Not only has Rosemary served as Vice Chancellor at the University of Canberra, and Chair of the ACT Board of Senior Secondary Studies, she was also instrumental in bringing Nara as Canberra’s twin city and led a trade mission to Japan.
Image: Greg Power, Portrait of Rosemary Follett during an Oral History Interview at the National Library of Australia, Canberra, 28 February, 2012, nla.cat-vn6186349
Canberra Day 12-03-20
*Speakers: Nick Swain, Rosemary Follett
*Location: National Library of Australia
N: So welcome to the 2020 Canberra Day Oration. It’s really nice to see you all here. I know there’s a former politician, Gary Humphries, here. Welcome, Gary and anybody else that I should recognise but don’t, welcome too. So my name is Nick Swain, I’m the President of the Canberra and District Historical Society. Today Rosemary Follett AO will be talking about her personal perspectives on Canberra’s growth. Our special thanks to the National Library of Australia for partnering with us, for providing such a wonderful venue for this oration and I’d like to thank Sarah Cleven, who’s the National Library’s Events and Venues Manager.
The Canberra and District Historical Society acknowledges that the nation of Australia, both the longest living cultural and heritage of any part of the world, we pay tribute to our first peoples, their heritage, their custodianship of the land and their contribution to our contemporary society.
Now as many of you know today’s the 107th anniversary of the naming of Canberra on the 12th of March 1913. This year the Canberra Day public holiday was on Monday but we always hold this oration on the actual anniversary which is today. This Society has sought to commemorate Canberra Day since its formation in 1953 and since 2002 we’ve invited prominent Canberra residents to reflect on aspects of Canberra’s past, to comment on the present and to contemplate the future. That’s what the Canberra Day oration is about, where we’ve come from and what it tells us about where we’re heading.
Now let me tell you some highly selective and necessarily brief things about Rosemary. This is a crash course for me. Rosemary has described herself as being in lockstep with the city of Canberra in her heart. Sounds good, yeah. Her roots in the region are deep, her parents were from Cooma and Bungendore and Rosemary has lived most of her life in Canberra. Growing up she was exposed to good female role models and before entering politics – there was a life before politics, I understand – she spent a little bit of time in Darwin and Sydney working in the male-dominated mining industry.
In stark contrast on return to Canberra she ended up working in the Office of Women’s Affairs and developed a strong understanding of feminism and the feminist movement. By the mid-1980s she’d become increasingly involved in the ALP, entered politics and eventually became the inaugural Chief Minster of the ACT and the first female head of an Australian state or territory government.
Moving along – covering a lot of ground – when her political career ended Rosemary was involved in a number of educational roles. She was also instrumental in establishing the city sister relationship with Nara in Japan and she’s also been the ACT’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner amongst a lot of other things.
So beyond work I understand Rosemary was perhaps most involved at the moment in playing the odd game of bridge and she advises me we have not dragged her away from any important games of bridge.
So that’s about enough from me. The subject of Rosemary’s talk is From Strength to Strength question mark, personal perspectives on Canberra’s growth. There’s going to be just a short time for questions at the end and our immediate past President, Julia Ryan, will provide a vote of thanks and we have to be out by 1:00. Thank you very much. Now Rosemary, thank you very much.
R: Thank you very much, Nick, and members of the Society and ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much to the Society for giving me the great honour of making the Canberra Day Oration. I think an oration’s a first for me but I haven’t changed what I normally do, you’ll be glad to know. But it is of course a great pleasure to join you in celebrating this wonderful city and wishing Canberra a very happy birthday, 107th, I think, yes? I will begin by acknowledging and paying my respects to the Ngunnawal elders, past, present and to come.
My comments today will cover two broad themes, both of which are guiding principles of my adult life. First, democracy and indeed some of its continuing challenges, and second, aspects of social justice and before I continue I will acknowledge a fellow former Chief Minister in Gary Humphries, it’s good to see you, Gary.
The Canberra of today bears very little physical resemblance to the place which my family settled in in about 1951 so we’ve been here longer than the Historical Society but as historians I'm sure that you will know what a small dusty country town Canberra was then. It was struggling to find recognition as the nation’s capital and indeed to attract the workforce that it needed to grow into that role.
My grandfather, from his fireside in Bungendore, actually berated my father for bringing the family to Canberra. He said that if Dad wanted the big smoke why not go to Queanbeyan? It amuses us now but at the time it wasn’t that silly a comment, you know, Queanbeyan was a thriving regional centre, a lovely town as it is now and as I say Canberra was struggling a bit.
But we came to Canberra for very good reasons. Both of my parents had served in uniform during the Second World War, my father in the army in the middle east and New Guinea and like many returned servicemen he refused to speak of his service so we don’t know a great deal about it. All he would ever say was war is hell. His medals and his two mentioned in despatches citations languished at the bottom of a drawer throughout his life.
My mother served in the navy, she was a RAN and served quite near here at HMAS Harman. Other than to tell us she was recruited straight from Sydney University, pretty much on graduation day as far as we can tell, she maintained throughout her life that she was bound to secrecy about her role at Harman but occasionally she did drop a veiled hint about codes. So she didn’t live to see The Bletchley Circle but I think she would have loved it, she would have related.
But upon joining civilian life in Sydney where Dad worked as a court reporter they faced what was then a catastrophic post-war housing shortage. With three small daughters, three little baby boomers born 1946, ’48 and ’50 they were forced to keep moving house between holiday flats and relatives. Mum sometimes spoke of the demands for key money from landlords which she described as little more than theft, you didn’t get anything for it, you just paid it. She was in fact offered one place for our family which had a dirt floor so that was Sydney after the war, a grateful nation. But imagine their joy then when Dad was offered a job as a Hansard reporter at Parliament House here in Canberra. Even the postman ran all the way down the street in Roseville – that was our suburb in Sydney – with the letter which was postmarked Government House.
The best thing about the job offer was that it came with the offer of our own little government house. It was in fact a brand new two-storey duplex in a cul-de-sac, albeit in a far-flung suburb, namely, Yarralumla, but it did await us and needless to say we leapt at it, I mean it was just a wonderful moment. I remember it now even though I was just a tot. But Canberra became home for me then as it is now.
So two things emerged here, I’ve been in Canberra for an awfully long time, bit of an expert and for much of that time the Parliament was a central character in my family’s story. We all suffered with Dad over the gruelling and excessive hours which were then the lot of Hansard staff, a much unsung group, I can tell you.
We went with Mum in our Morris Minor to collect Dad for the 6pm dinner break and we took him back again for the evening Parliamentary session. We also attended to his dinner table stories of the foibles and the wit of various Parliamentary members and senators, not to mention the doings of committees including the committee to select the new Parliament House site.
But it took the sacking of the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 to prompt me to turn what was a fairly vague interest in all things political into actual action and I joined the Labor Party shortly thereafter. I belonged to the Jinanderith sub branch as I lived in Belconnen at the time. I should mention now because I think people often don’t know this, throughout my younger years I was absolutely crippled with shyness, crippled. There were times when I could scarcely frame a word even when I was required to do so. My party membership therefore was positively Trappist for some years until finally I forced myself to get to my feet in a subbranch meeting and croak, I second the motion. I can’t even remember what the subject was but over time I gradually did develop more self-confidence. It was a slow process and there was many a stumble along the way.
Through my activism in the Labor Party and the union movement and some community organisations as well I became more and more convinced that the ACT needed to govern itself rather than relying on a federal minister. When the federal government decided to hold a referendum, I think a nonbinding referendum, so the people of the ACT could express a view on the matter I actually talked to Dad about it and I remember his reply, you should always vote in favour of democracy. He might have reminded me of Winston Churchill’s comment that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.
Just by way of a footnote I might just comment that that referendum in November 1978 was the only one, the only such referendum as far as I’m aware and contrary to many an urban myth. The result of the referendum as I’m sure you all know was that over 60% of voters opted for a no change position, 30% of them voted for self-government, I might say, it’s always overlooked. But the no change position at the time meant that there was an elected 18-person house of assembly in existence. That body whose powers actually only extended to advising the federal minister on issues, and he didn’t have to take their advice, but it did last up until 1986 when it was abolished to make way for full self-government. I was a member of that house of assembly in its dying days, I filled a casual vacancy, but I did get my first taste of being an elected representative for the people of the ACT albeit on a very part-time basis. We only met at night and as I recall it was a voluntary basis as well, I don’t think we were paid.
But I'm skating over a lot of history here because I want to spend some time addressing issues in democracy which I believe are actually important and we need to revisit them from time to time. I tried hard to address these issues once self-government became a reality in 1989. The first issue is the requirement that government be open and accountable thus from its very inception the ACT Legislative Assembly included a Public Accounts Committee, an Estimates Committee, an Independent Audit Office, all with the aim of oversighting government spending and efficiency as well as probity, and we also consulted widely on the budget.
We involved business, unions, community groups and in fact I remember when I was going over these issues that there was actually a multi-faith church service conducted early in the life of the Assembly which I attended as the Chief Minster and I was actually preached at against reducing the funding to a particular organisation. So there was a great awareness I think of what self-government involved at the time and an enormous willingness to have your two bobs’ worth.
The Assembly also formed a number of committees and this was no mean feat because there was a tiny number of members available to fill committee positions. In fact the ALP caucus had but one backbencher to fill all the committee spots but that was Bill Wood and anyone who knows him will know he was worth 10 of any other members. He was wonderful, magnificent teacher as well.
We also arranged with the Commonwealth that the Commonwealth Ombudsman would continue to serve the ACT so people’s complaints and so on could be made through that forum. But even just the establishment of an Assembly question time when ministers could be quizzed on their responsibilities, their decisions, that was a huge advance in my view on the remoteness and the very variable interest, at times no interest, of a federal minister whose portfolio more often than not included a raft of other responsibilities and of course their own electorate interests as well.
I also felt very strongly that the Assembly should be modest and modern in its approach so no fancy robes, no wigs for the Speaker, no chauffeur-driven cars, no Honourables or Right Honourables and a noticeable absence of lurks and perks of office. As far as I know this remains the case and so it should. I think nothing puts people off more than seeing politicians looking after themselves, so modest and appropriate. In fact the Assembly now even meets and works in a recycled building, a wonderful and imaginative way of preserving part of Canberra’s built history, gold mosaic tiles and all and I love those tiles. If anyone lays a finger on them they’ve got me to answer to.
Above all I felt, and I still do, that the Assembly should be close to the people it represents. Surely government of the people by the people for the people requires this as a minimum. I know how difficult it is to achieve however especially in these times when democracy’s not experiencing its finest hour. There’s a lot of cynicism, a lot of disillusion around. But I think perhaps there are some new and worthwhile ways of involving people more closely in the decisions that affect them and I applaud the trial a while ago now of the Citizens’ Jury to examine third party insurance and new ways of developing policy around that. I also knew somebody who took part in it and he found it absolute revelation and very worthwhile indeed.
I’m very impressed by the Assembly’s website. I hadn’t looked at it for a while but I have now and it’s very accessible, incredibly informative, I think, as is the Government’s Open Government website. The challenge of course would be to get people to use these websites, to use the information that is around and freely available rather than relying on media reporting which can be quite selective and can concentrate, as I’m sure you know, on the sensational, the conflict rather than good stories or innovations and agreements amongst members to actually do something for the good of their territory.
While the advent of social media seems to have lowered rather than elevated the quality of public debate I think perhaps it could still be harnessed in productive and inclusive ways. I like to think that, I don’t use it myself but I know people who do. I really do hope that there are good and clever people, people of goodwill who are working to achieve those kinds of outcomes. On a more mundane level I wonder is it time for electoral offices for MLAs? Gary might have a view on this, with the massive growth of Canberra, it really has been phenomenal, and the emergence of some distinct regional issues perhaps it’s time to think about electoral offices. Maybe just one shared office per electorate. Don’t know.
I was also quite interested just to see this morning that the Chief Minister is looking to introduce a wellbeing index and I think that’s also got enormous potential for getting into the minds of the community. I think we need to look for innovative ways and frankly anything that’s good enough for Jacinda Adern’s good enough for us. So I hope that comes off.
It seems self-evident to me that parliaments should be representative of the communities they serve and so we need greater diversity, more Aboriginal members, more people with disabilities, more from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, more LGBTI and of course more women. The ACT has led the way in many of these areas and I hope we’ll go from strength to strength there. I’m pretty confident of our community that we will indeed do that.
I want to mention one other thing that I consider absolutely essential to democracy and that is an apolitical professional, frank and fearless public service. At the start of self-government the Commonwealth lent its public servants to the ACT. There was something like 104 agencies or various organisations involved at the start so it was quite a loan, thanks very much. But it wasn’t until 1994 that we formed a separate ACT pubic service with the passage of the Public Sector Management Act and that Act included a code of ethics which was unusual for such legislation at the time but I do consider it has been instrumental in ensuring that the Territory has been very well served by its public service. Unlike the Commonwealth the overwhelming number of ACT public servants are involved in service delivery, they deliver direct to the people they represent and I think they do that very well.
But the Act that I introduced and that was passed by the Assembly certainly did not envisage the wholesale use of contract or casual employment which I really do believe must be counter to the objective of serving the government of the day without fear or favour.
As a final point just on that democracy just to finish up, the Commonwealth retained significant rights to interfere with the Assembly. When they passed the Self-Government Act they didn’t entirely cut the apron strings. I don’t really mind I suppose that we’re not allowed to raise an army or a navy or an airforce, I think a navy could be fun in an inland city. I don’t really mind that we’re not allowed to print our own money, could come in handy but they want to do that for us, I think we can live with it. I do however object to the Commonwealth interfering with matters like euthanasia and same sex marriage contrary to this community’s values and they’re known values. So I think they overstretch their big brother status there.
I’m very disappointed that they retain the right to dismiss the Assembly. Now I think if that power was apparently not needed in the very first days of self-government in those turbulent, uncertain times and in fact I’d go so far as to say scandalous times in some ways, if they didn’t need that provision then, they didn’t use it then, I don’t know why it would still be retained 30 odd years later. I think it should be ditched and done quickly. It’s not needed, it’s an insult to the ACT so get rid of it.
I want to turn now to my second theme and that’s social justice. I think there’d be little point in working to achieve office and form government if you didn’t have an agenda, it’s jolly hard work, you need to have a clear idea of why you’re doing it. My agenda could loosely be described as social justice although I think that term has fallen into less use nowadays.
Back in 1993 the government instituted a study called Canberra in the Year 2020. I don’t know if you know it at all? It runs to 12 volumes. But it did consult widely with all sectors of the community, in fact the reference group reads like a who’s who of Canberra at the time. The reference group was chaired by Professor Peter Elliard, former Director of Australia’s Commission for the Future. It also received a great deal of help from the University of Canberra so it’s a substantial study.
Its final report as I said, there’s far too much of it to canvass all of it today but I would like to just share with you some of the aspirations and their measures of achievement, what they saw in 1993 as where we should be in 2020 and some examples. They said, it was agreed that the Canberra of 2020 should be a more just, caring and cooperative and consensus society. Some of the facets raised in consultation that would be indicative of such a society included the concept of social justice is accepted as a fundamental principle of society and is deeply embedded in the aims and actions of that society.
The principle of respect for diversity in society provides the key to a viable and caring society. Choice in lifestyle, family structure and employment will be cherished. Discriminatory regulations and practices against minorities will be removed. Recognition and acceptance of women’s roles across all facets of society including employment and sport. Following reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and the remainder of Australians – I wish – Canberrans recognise original ownership of Australia, accept the value of Aboriginal history, language and culture and understand the diversity of Aboriginal culture.
They go on, educational and recreational structures that allow people to reach their potential regardless of their skills, and in another section, better use of existing infrastructure including higher urban population densities achieved in ways that do not compromise community values.
There are a great many more aspirational statements in that report and I just want to comment on some of them. Women obviously, an issue very close to my heart, and women in the ACT do fare somewhat better in aspects of the quest for equality than they do elsewhere. We have been and are better represented in elected office, we’ve in fact had three female Chief Minsters including the first in Australia to hold a similar office. Most other jurisdictions, with the notable exception of South Australia, first to grant the vote, last to elect a woman leader, they’ve all followed suit, some of them more than once. Women in the ACT also suffer a narrower gap in pay although the fact that there’s any gap at all, and I think it’s now about 8 to 9% pay gap for work of equal value, that’s pretty reprehensible and clearly an area where more work and activism would not go astray. So I think we need to keep reaching for that goal of equality in equal pay for equal work.
We've had and we still have some wonderful women leaders in our public service directorates and agencies and elsewhere, of course, but just one example, I think you’d all agree that Georgina Whelan’s performance as head of the ESA during this past frightful summer has been a model of calm, authoritative and informative leadership under extraordinary pressure so I applaud her efforts and I think we should all really value that kind of leadership in our community. We’re very well off there, I think.
ACT women like others however still suffer the scourge of domestic violence that’s been so tragically highlighted in recent times and we are certainly not immune to it by any manner of means. I know that the Domestic Violence Crisis service, the refuges, the police, the courts all work to achieve better, safer outcomes but it seems that this crime persists virtually unabated. Clearly we need better solutions. I hope that serious consideration will be given not just by governments and agencies but by our whole community as individuals even, we need to think about why this is happening and what we might do to provide relief from such an appalling crime.
On the plus side of course women’s sport’s gone from strength to strength, who watched the Capitals game? It was magnificent. I know that the area of sport and culture is a source of great pride and excitement in our community.
If I could look briefly at Aboriginal people in the ACT I think there has been some progress but there’s still a long way to go. In order to bridge the gap from the rest of the community, I hate to say it but when I was growing up in Canberra I cannot recall meeting or even seeing an Aboriginal person, not one. I didn’t rectify that ‘til I got to Darwin when I was about 18. Nor can I remember any mention of the first peoples in any of my schooling. Things are different today and so they should be. Much more is known about this amazing cultural heritage and at least some of the disadvantage that Aboriginal peoples still endure including in the ACT. For example they’re vastly overrepresented in our adult and juvenile correction systems. Their educational achievements, while they’re improving, there’s no doubt about that, they are not yet on a par with others.
There's been progress in recognition of Aboriginal people in respect for elders and for traditions and occasions like the Sorry Day march – I went across Commonwealth Bridge that time, the coldest day I’ve ever had in Canberra, I think – and the apology by Kevin Rudd have made a big difference. I think they really have in the hearts of people. I genuinely believe that most Canberrans have enormous goodwill and admiration towards our first peoples. I mean call me a cockeyed optimist but I'm pretty sure that the treatment meted out to Adam Goodes would not happen here. That is my earnest hope anyway so I think that was very black mark on Australia and I think we are a cut above that.
I want to have a look at education today because I think it’s really an area where Canberra does very well because it is the key in so many ways to a rewarding and fulfilled life and because frankly I’ve always felt a bit short-changed by virtue of my vintage and my sex amongst other things.
I started my formal education at St Christopher’s in Manuka, it was a school for a long time. I was in a kindergarten class of 95 little people sitting on the floor and I remember, actually, and I’ve never forgotten ‘cause I think it scarred me for life, my greatest challenge at the time was finding my voice to ask to go to the toilet. The even more challenging task was actually to find the toilet and I’d like to say that I had a very good record but frankly I didn’t. I think I was only four and it was enormously challenging to actually make your way across this enormous tarmac playground, up the hill behind the milk sheds and find the toilets. I didn’t always get there.
I went to St Peter Chanel’s Primary School at Yarralumla as soon as it opened and then on to the Catholic Girls’ High School at Braddon, now called Marici. I didn’t like school, I don’t think you were meant to in those days, you just went. The emphasis at least where I was was on discipline, on ladylike behaviour, on wearing the uniform including hats and gloves and sticking to a pretty restricted curriculum. We weren’t really encouraged to aspire to achieve much and I left after the leaving certificate without any real idea of what I might do in the future and I know that many of my schoolfriends did exactly that too.
My best friend was going to enrol at the Canberra Technical College, now the CIT, under a Public Service Board scheme where you were paid for a year to study as a steno-sec and then bonded to work in the public service for three years. In my mind I didn’t get past paid and it looked like a very good idea to me so I joined her. I worked as a secretary for the next 10 years before finally going to university, courtesy of Mr Whitlam, thank you very much. I should say that at the time that I worked as a secretary it was one of, if not the, only area of employment where you got A, an adult wage, there was no junior rate, and B, there was no female rate ‘cause we were all females, obviously, but that was also quite attractive to me.
I can tell you that now that I have spent some time chairing the ACT’s Board of Senior Secondary Studies, I was there for several years, found it an absolutely wonderful experience, I can appreciate the vast advances in school education over the years. I have enormous respect for Canberra teachers and their schools and I think it is very important that we work to preserve our continuous assessment model for senior students. Rather than just allow a single snapshot public examination I think our students do better, they certainly achieve better at university as far as I can see, and they find it much more rewarding because our curriculum is both wide and deep and it allows students who are actually young adults to find and follow their passions rather than being bored silly or simply serving time ‘til they can leave.
The curriculum now includes to my great satisfaction offerings in Aboriginal culture and languages, something I had long wanted to see so I’m delighted that’s there now. Our college system makes provision for young parents who are predominantly young women, of course, but they can continue their college studies, go on to their Year 12s while their children are safely cared for. I think that’s a remarkable achievement and a sign of our caring community. In fact the program’s called CC Cares.
At the tertiary level I think there’s been enormous expansion in universities here. When my mother wanted to begin studying for her master of arts once her kids were at school she could only enrol in a college of The University of Melbourne, there was no university here. I think she was under no illusion about what The University of Melbourne thought of that arrangement but she studied under the great poet, A D Hope, so she found that a wonderful experience, she just adored him. Since then we’ve seen the creation of the ANU, the creation of the University of Canberra which was actually established under ACT legislation, the only one which was, and there are other universities which have also made Canberra home including the Australian Catholic University. My aunt, who was a Dominican nun, had a bit of a hand in that. She was at Signadou at Watson at the time, for many years in fact and that is where the Catholic University had its genesis. I don’t think she was all that in favour of it but she worked for it anyway.
We've got the University Of Sydney Medical School, we’ve got engineering and so on at ADFA under the University of New South Wales and now we’ve got a proposal for another university in the city. So this incredible growth is over a relatively short period of time, over my lifetime, you know. But I do think it cements Canberra’s place as the clever capital and the learning capital, a place where learning is valued and excellence in learning at that.
I do hope that the TAFE system can not fall behind, it can also be upgraded, given the status that it deserves. I’ve got some concerns about moving it out of the city, especially as it may be some time before a new campus is established and I live in Woden opposite the Woden CIT. I like that building too but I think that ship has sailed but I think anybody looking at the arrangement would know it’s going to be quite a while before we get a new CIT in the Woden area, could be quite some time so I don’t want it all to fall into disuse or disarray, it’s a valuable part of our learning city and extremely productive of people who are needed mainly for the workforce, of course.
Overall however I think Canberra’s education system does pretty much allow people to achieve to their potential. But it is an area that we need to keep under scrutiny and we keep tweaking it as changing needs demand and I think the creation of universities pretty much as businesses is something we must never, ever lose sight of, it has to be watched carefully, I think.
Finally I want to say – you’ll be glad I'm nearly getting there – I want to say a few words about Canberra’s built form. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you historians of the importance of protecting and preserving the buildings that are recognisably Canberran. I don’t just mean the national buildings like this beautiful building, they’re obviously important and they will be protected and looked after, I’ve got no doubt about that but I’m thinking of the ones that maybe have greater local significance so the ones that mean a lot to me anyways in my growing up in Canberra, the Sydney and Melbourne buildings. I know they were a source of anxiety to me in government because they kept falling into disrepair and I kept wanting to explore resuming the leases. I can’t imagine I'm the first Chief Minister to want to do that and it hasn’t happened so far but I do hope that there can be an arrangement made to protect and preserve them.
I mean they are really an icon in Canberra as is the Causeway Hall, the Albert Hall. In fact the Albert Hall was practically our only recreational venue in Canberra for many years. Others that I think are iconic Canberra buildings, the Dickson Library, the Manuka Pool, spent many a happy day there. Callam Offices down in Woden. I know it’s called the Lego building and all sorts of epithets but it is I think an architectural marvel. It reminds me of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, you know it’s somewhat of the same style with all the working bits on the outside. As a building it was never finished, I know that but nevertheless it’s still got that style, it’s still worth protecting and preserving. Of course there’s the Olonya Brickworks, what can I say? It was the very first headline on the very first election day for self-government, was all about the Olonya Brickworks and L J Hooker being granted a lease to do something with it which hasn’t happened but it’s I think an incredibly important part of Canberra’s history, of our built history and we really need to look after it.
So I think we need to have a mind perhaps to some of the lesser buildings, not just the big national ones because the little ones are the ones that we spent most of our time in or I certainly have. I’m sure like many of you, you’ll experience your contemporaries expressing dismay that we have now too many apartment buildings in Canberra, that the quarter acre yard is a thing of the past and they don’t like the tram. So there’s not a lot of love around there.
I’m afraid they don’t get much sympathy from me. Just as foreshadowed in that Canberra in the Year 2020 study I believe we have a clear need and a responsibility to higher urban density and there are a number of reasons for it. We don’t have an infinite amount of land for one thing and I think sprawling over the borders and creating some sort of conurbation with Sydney or Goulburn would be very undesirable for Canberra, we’d lose our identity and I don’t want that to happen so we've got a limited amount of land.
The cost of carrying infrastructure to an ever-expanding urban sprawl, roads, sewerage, electricity, services of various kinds, schools and all the rest of it, that’s a very high cost and it’s a cost born by the community, it’s not created out of nowhere. The environmental impact of an urban sprawl is also undesirable. We lose green space, we create emissions. I think that there are a number of reasons why we need to consolidate. What we don’t need, of course, is poorly planned and constructed expensive apartment buildings which add nothing but more traffic, more population, less open space and fewer amenities for the community. We don’t need that and I think we should try harder to avoid it. Especially when apartments are built on the site of former community facilities, not mentioning Woden by any names, but I think it is extremely important that the community receives recompense in the form of replacement amenities, especially for outdoor recreation and relaxation. I think that’s crucial.
For much the same reasons I think Canberra needs to increase its use of public transport. I grew up with buses, I couldn’t wait to buy a car and I think most Canberrans felt the same way. However it is simply not sustainable to keep expanding and maintaining a road network to accommodate an ever greater number of cars, probably with one or two people in them and I actually applaud the courageous decision that has resulted in the tram. I love seeing it chuffing up and down Northbourne Avenue there, it gives me a little swell of pride there. I think from the usage that I have observed of that tram this could be a way of making real progress, for moving Canberrans towards public transport. I’d like to think that we could become a public transport-using city at some stage in the future like other cities and I think the tram’s a good start in breaking the habits of a lifetime, I really do.
If I could just conclude to tell you if you haven’t already gathered, I do love Canberra, I owe it a very great deal. It’s provided me with a wonderful life and wonderful opportunities. I urge everyone to celebrate Canberra as what a modern caring city can look like, it can feel like as a home, as a workplace, as a centre for education and the arts and sport and a place where we can embrace progress and look forward to an even brighter future. Thank you.
N: We’ve got time for some questions. Short questions, please, and no statements. Up the back there.
A: Thanks for that. We owe you a great debt of gratitude too, Rosemary, and my family owes one to your mother because she taught us how to say the hat of my aunt in French, very handy when we went to Paris. But one little inequity you didn’t mention, probably because of time, is one vote, one value. The Senate and Tasmania and the ACT, 12 senators versus two. People often say to me, oh you don‘t understand the role of the Senate. It’s different now it’s a house of review, not about the states hanging on. Have you got a view about that?
R: Well we have a unicameral system here, I think, one house. I think a Senate is a house of review, it probably looks a bit of a luxury in a place this size, don’t you think? We do have -
R: Oh we’re totally underrepresented. I mean talk about lean and mean. I think it’s always been the case. We’ve now got at least one extra member based on population but we had that once before and we lost it again too. I don’t think we’ll lose it again based on population and the size of the electorate. We could do with more senators and as I said before Canberra’s now so spread out and there are different regional interests emerging, I think, but maybe it is time to review it. I can't imagine it would be well received in the Canberra bubble but who knows? It’s probably worth putting the case. Maybe the political parties could raise the issue again. Good point.
A: Thanks Tony. Marilyn Truscott. Thank you so very much on your comments on the built form and planning, as somebody who works in heritage however my question is about domestic violence. Many years ago coming back from living overseas studying etc I came back to Canberra, I volunteered at the women’s refuge. At the time I suggested counselling for men as well. Didn’t go down that well but nonetheless. Okay, we’ve been hearing more and more and Canberra stats might be lower, I don’t know, I haven’t looked but nonetheless what can we do about – and I grew up with two sisters, three sisters family, I haven’t had children – what can we do about growing young men, boys, to have different attitudes because that’s a key aspect? Punishing later, yes but growing them up to see things. Now you’ve been dealing with so many things related to women you must have some views on that, I’d really welcome hearing them. Thank you.
R: Yes, I think that is a good issue. I mean previously when there was limited funding around, the priority was to protect women, to keep them safe but I take your point about educating boys and men to change their attitudes about women. I think it’s easy to say we should be doing it in schools, I actually think schools probably punch above their weight even now, if you forgive that expression, but I think there are so many things that we need to look at. I think the issue of alcohol is huge, a great many attacks are alcohol-fuelled and drug-fuelled. The worst one here, the Tara Costigan one, I think that man, for want of a better word, was on ice, I think, ice and it was a most vicious, unthinkable attack. I can’t bear to think of the some of the things that have been roughly called domestic violence. It was a heinous crime.
But I can’t think how you can change boys, I really can’t. I think it’s not even all boys, it’s only some of them and I know mothers –
R: Yes well my father was a feminist too and he didn’t have much choice in the household he was in, mind you, but I think it is a matter of changing perceptions. Maybe they should be added into schools but I basically think its parents and they need to look at things like pornography, at drugs and alcohol and start at a very early age. I was on the Parole Board, Sentence Administration Board for many years and I can tell you that most people with drug and alcohol problems started in primary school, nine and 10 years of age so by the time they’re even teenagers it’s an entrenched and horribly antisocial problem. I mean I’ve wracked my brains, Marilyn, I just don’t know what to do but I think it has to start very young and it does have to start with respect and just throw out all this issue about ownership of women and children, they’re not chattels. I mean that goes back centuries, what’s it doing still around?
I also think maybe the issue of domestic violence orders, you know the apprehended violence orders and so on and the enforcement of those orders, might be better handled. It seems to me that’s an inflammatory point, when there is an order made. It sends some people off the deep end so maybe that needs to be better handled, better managed, I don’t know but as I say I think it’s an issue for everyone in the community to look at. I don’t have children. I know the boys in my family, I just can’t imagine them even lifting a hand let alone doing anything more violent, they just wouldn’t and yet it is quite commonplace in our community as elsewhere.
A: Thank you for a fascinating talk, Rosemary. I was interested in your mentioning that the federal government reserves the right to sack the ACT Assembly if it chooses. The states of course reserve that right to themselves with local government and they use it quite often. Sometimes if the local government isn’t doing the job it should be, sometimes if it’s doing it too well. The job that local government does very well is really hold to account government detail and particularly with planning and compliance issues. If you go to a meeting of local government in your home town of Bungendore, early home town, which I covered the meetings of council for 11 years there and it was a fascinating experience but people, developers, those coming forward are held to account. Councillors have the right to ask questions, they have the right to ask questions of staff in committee so that they’re all in the same room. Any councillor with a conflict of interest is required to declare it at the beginning of the meeting as are staff.
Now if we had a progressive federal government I think they might be looking a little bit askance at our local government here at the ACT Assembly at the moment at least in the job it’s doing with planning and compliance. I wonder in my own mind if there could be a way of operating this Assembly like the local government where there’s a committee of the whole, everyone but staff are present, everyone has the right to ask questions of staff, everyone’s required to declare any conflict in development applications before the council. If that may be a way of resurrecting transparency to the operations of our Assembly because at the moment there is no transparency, it is absolutely opaque.
R: Thanks for that, yes. It’s a fraught issue and I mean there are a number of forums where planning matters can be examined, I mean the Assembly committees do so quite frequently and there’s also a process for notifying of a planning proposal and for objections and so on. I can’t comment on whether that’s working well, I know that people are quite dissatisfied with a great many of the decisions that are made. It is a bit of a difficulty, you know when you consult widely people expect that they’ll get what they want and if they don’t they tell you that that consultation was rubbish. So there is that expectation that if you come forward and have your say and object to something, that you will get that and it doesn’t always happen, of course.
There have been modifications and I know – Gary, you might like to have a word about the role of the AAT in some of those matters because I think that’s also very significant, an aspect of our planning laws where people, they have to have standing and I think that’s an issue. If you’ve just got an in principle objection or you think it might have an impact on you then it can be quite hard to pursue your interest unless you have that direct standing in order to take up an issue. But community groups do do so, I know they do. How successful it is I really don’t know except to say that it has always been an area of dissatisfaction amongst the community and if you look at the early days of self-government the very first election, the residents’ really which was an anti-planning part – very loose party, anti-planning, anti the casino and so on, anti-development, anti-Rocky Knoll in Red Hill, they won four seats, the same as the Liberal Party. So it’s been an issue in the ACT for a very long time and I don’t know that we’ve quite got it right but I take your point about local governments but we do have a committee system where people can have their say. I’m guessing they don’t always get what they want. Do you want to add to that, Gary?
G: I’d agree with you, I think the problem’s insoluble and I think the ACAT process of review of individual decisions is a good one and it preserves an arm’s length for government. It’s the macro decisions about planning the city and when issues are called in by the Minister and taken out of that more democratic process I think the problem really arises.
R: Yeah, thank you, yes, that’s true.
A: Well what a lovely heart-warming address, wasn’t it? Very much appreciated your family story which is so linked to the history of Canberra. I’ve got a few items here but I can’t mention all of them because we’re running out of time. I’m glad you mentioned that question of self-government and the famous referendum which people bring up. My point of view was that the 60% were bludgers who were bludging on the Australian taxpayer and supporting Canberra.
Bill Wood, the lovely backbencher who later became a Minister, he was a stalwart for the Historical Society and he’s been a very valued member.
I think it’s a jolly good idea to have electoral offices for local members, I mean people in Canberra, they know their federal members and it’s very hard to sort out who of the Assembly members are your local members and that would be a good thing, perhaps one office. I’m sure The Canberra Times will be horrified of the cost of such a project but I think it’s a very good idea and it should be picked up.
Yes, of course we all agree that federal control of births, marriages and deaths in the ACT is outrageous and so forth and that point has been picked up.
Thank you very much for drawing attention to that 1993 study of what Canberra would look like in 2020. We must all rush off and have a look at that and draw up a checklist, yes for future action. It probably didn’t have a great deal about domestic violence in it, though, and of course that has become – I do have to say as someone who was one of the original founders of the women’s refuge here, that at least it’s going on, the original women’s refuge unlike New South Wales where refuges were closed and lost and transferred ownership and so forth like that. It’s a rather a messy situation. At least we’ve hung on and increased it and people are trying very hard to work out how to solve the problems.
On education, as a former teacher, a lot of people here are former teachers, I think we would heartily agree with everything you had to say, especially the continuous assessment which of course is opposite to the NAPLAN idea which has narrowed the curriculum, really and that’s causing one of our problems at the moment.
Oh and the Sydney building, so glad you mentioned that. The Canberra and District Historical Society has a grand plan for the Sydney building which would include premises for us and other societies of our ilk and what a wonderful thing that would be so why don’t we all work towards that? Which would include of course fixing it up beautifully. Yes.
Your insight on urban sprawl which I'm sure we all share and the apprehensions about what that might do to us but I was very interested the way you went through the history of your experience in Canberra and always with a forward look. Where did it lead? Where are we going? That was so useful for us.
Finally I’d just like to say I'm very glad you overcame that shyness and were able to second that motion at the Jinanderith sub branch so thank you very much, Rosemary.
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