Canberra is our nation’s capital city.
A city of natural beauty, open spaces, and spectacular scenery.
We are the seat of Australia’s government and the home of Australia’s national landmarks;
We are the bedrock of Australia’s public service; the cornerstone of Australia’s world-class universities;
And the heart of an innovative, exciting private sector.
But most importantly, we are a city of clever, generous and aspirational people.
Which is why I think Canberra can be so much more.
Canberra should be a city of opportunity.
A city where anyone has the opportunity to buy or rent a home, start a business, access quality healthcare, and send their children to schools that bring out the best in every child.
A city where we can enjoy well-maintained parks and community facilities, drive on roads free of potholes, easily access public transport, and live in safe neighbourhoods.
Given our circumstances, Canberrans should have the best of everything, and Canberra should be the best of everything.
But the reality of what Canberrans are getting from this tired, out of touch Labor-Greens government is anything but the best.
We saw earlier this week a budget that does exactly what this Labor-Greens government always does.
A budget that is big on spin, big on promises, big on announcements.
But we know from past performance, that this is a government that fails on delivery each and every time.
What we see is a Labor party beholden to the Greens. Just this week a senior cabinet minister threatened to vote against an expenditure item in their own budget.
Madam Speaker, this budget does not even enjoy the full support of the cabinet, let alone the Canberra community.
This government is a financially, morally and socially bankrupt farce.
This government is out of touch, out of ideas, and out of energy.
Debt and deficit
The ACT is in the worst financial position since self-government. The years of mismanagement under this Chief Minister will impose enormous hardship on future generations of Canberrans.
Our net debt is now forecast to be six and a half billion dollars this financial year and almost ten billion dollars in the forward estimates.
To service this debt, Canberrans will be paying half a billion dollars each year.
Let me say that again, Madam Speaker.
By 2024-25, Canberrans will be paying half a billion dollars a year on interest repayments alone.
The Chief Minister is failing to listen to his own Directorate to have a plan for sensible, responsible economic management.
And he is failing to listen to Canberrans on the government services they need.
On budget day the Canberra Times quoted the Chief Minister as saying the extra money from GST distributions to the Territory was not needed to deliver more services, because the government was already meeting demand.
For all his deflecting and fearmongering, he still hasn’t answered a crucial question:
For all the spending; for all the debt; what is our community getting? Where has all that money gone?
Our health system is in crisis.
It was already mismanaged and under-resourced long before Covid.
Labor and the Greens are responsible for the worst emergency department and elective surgery waiting times in Australia.
Patients are being treated in the corridors of the emergency department;
doctors and nurses are at breaking point;
And the ageing infrastructure is falling apart.
These issues are not new.
This is the result of deliberate, long-term neglect and under-resourcing by Labor and the Greens.
Year after year, hospital upgrades have been promised, abandoned, promised, rescoped, promised, then delayed.
By the time patients are treated in the Canberra Hospital redevelopment, it will have been more than 15 years in the making.
Madam Speaker, Covid added significant pressure to a health system that was already struggling.
Does the Chief Minister honestly believe Canberra’s health services are meeting demand?
Labor and the Greens talk the talk when it comes to education, but the reality is:
- academic standards going backwards;
- violence and bullying so bad that WorkSafe ACT banned students from coming to school; and
- crumbling infrastructure and hazardous materials in our learning spaces.
We also have a massive teacher shortage.
Only a few months ago, under persistent pressure from the community, the teachers union and the Canberra Liberals, Labor and the Greens were brought kicking and screaming to plan for recruitment and retention of more teachers.
Does the Chief Minister honestly believe our education system is meeting demand?
And Madam Speaker, the workforce shortage isn’t limited to our health professionals and our teachers.
Under this Labor-Greens government, we are seeing the lowest number of police per capita; and the lowest clearance rates for property crimes.
Does the Chief Minister honestly believe that police services are meeting demand?
City Services / Basic Maintenance
Delivery of basic, city services should be bread and butter for the ACT Government.
We should have a local government that treats our city with the respect that is befitting of our nation’s capital.
But what we see under Labor and the Greens is our city being neglected.
What we see under Labor and the Greens is grass not mown, cracked footpaths not fixed, potholes not filled and now garbage not even being collected weekly.
All the while, our rates go up alarmingly each and every year.
Does the Chief Minister honestly believe basic city services are meeting demand?
Public housing and vulnerable Canberrans
And Madam Speaker, the very real hardships faced by some of our most vulnerable Canberrans as a direct result of this Labor-Greens government is downright shameful.
We are a privileged city with a local government that will do nothing about the almost 40,000 Canberrans living in poverty, including nearly 9,000 children.
The utter disregard for Canberrans living in public housing – from the debacle that is the heartless relocation of tenants, through to the years and years of neglect of basic maintenance, is astonishing.
Does the Chief Minister honestly think that having over 3,000 people on the public housing waiting list is meeting demand?
Madam Speaker, ultimately the core of all this rot comes from a government that is long past its use by date, completely lacking integrity, and not governing in the best interest of Canberrans.
This term alone, we have seen Labor and the Greens embroiled in serious issues of probity over the Campbell Primary School modernisation project.
This issue triggered an Integrity Commission inquiry into procurement across the entire ACT government, because – in the Integrity Commissioner’s own words – these issues “rarely” happen “only once” and are more likely to be “endemic”.
We have seen the CIT contracts scandal with almost $9million in taxpayer funds being paid to a single contractor to provide services that are so unintelligible and jargon-filled that still, to this day, no one, including the responsible Minister, has been able to explain what it’s for and how it represents value for money.
The Minister’s way of addressing the problem was to promote the Deputy Chair to Chair of the CIT Board, despite the fact that she oversaw many of these contracts.
And then as if that wasn’t bad enough, the Minister flat out refused to answer questions on notice or respond to FOI requests.
The arrogance; the delusion; the lack of accountability is breathtaking.
Madam Speaker, only a few weeks ago, the Coaldrake Review delivered its scathing findings to the Queensland Labor government, saying their entire public accountability culture needed a do-over.
Imagine, Madam Speaker, what a similar review in the ACT would find.
21 years of this Labor-Greens government that is well beyond its use-by date.
21 years of this Labor-Greens government that has long stopped governing for the people of Canberra.
21 years of this Labor-Greens government that has fostered a culture of secrecy, and has completely eroded the trust of the community.
This is why I have proposed amendments to our FOI legislation to publish Cabinet documents within 30 days.
As a unicameral parliament, we do not have the benefit of an upper house to provide additional scrutiny.
The lukewarm response from this Labor-Greens government seems to indicate that they are only interested in talking the talk when it comes to integrity, but as we all know – actions speak louder than words.
It is imperative on all of us in this place to ensure the highest levels of transparency, accountability, probity and integrity.
And this is why today, I am calling on Labor and the Greens to take integrity in government seriously and commit to commissioning a review similar to Queensland.
There is so much murkiness; so many closed-door decisions.
A wholesale review of integrity in government will go some way to restoring much-needed confidence and trust for the Canberra community;
trust that has been eroded to its lowest ebb under this Labor-Greens government. This situation must change.
Madam Speaker, I believe everyone should have the opportunity to live in Canberra.
For years I would always hear friends, colleagues and constituents tell me they moved to Canberra for many reasons – mostly for work, or to raise a family.
Because housing was affordable, neighbourhoods were welcoming, and our schools were the best in Australia.
They moved to Canberra because commute times were short, we had access to green spaces; and the cost of living was manageable.
Sadly, many have told me in recent times that those reasons are fast disappearing.
And one of the main reasons – the reason I hear the most – is Canberra’s housing crisis.
And for months – months Madam Speaker, this Labor-Greens government has rejected every single one of the Canberra Liberals’ calls to improve housing affordability and choice.
They told us repeatedly that we were deluded; that we did not understand; that we were flat out wrong.
Only days ago, the Chief Minister did a stunning backflip, in finally conceding that, yes, the ACT government does have a significant role to play in housing supply.
He didn’t quite stick the landing though, Madam Speaker.
His grand pronouncement that there would be 30,000 new dwellings is baseless.
While there was some optimism at first, once we started looking at the detail in the new land release program – and I have to put “detail” in quotations here Madam Speaker – it became clear that blocks to be released for standalone housing will actually be reduced by 51 this year.
And over the next five years, the Chief Minister is actually planning to deliver an overall reduction of 17 dwellings.
Is this the best effort of the Labor-Greens government in tackling housing affordability, when our city has 20,000 more people than previously thought?
Is this the best effort from this Labor-Greens government in providing Canberrans with genuine choice when it comes to housing?
Does the Chief Minister honestly believe this will meet housing demand?
For all the spending; for all the debt; what is our community getting? Where has all that money gone?
The Canberra Liberals believe in the opportunity for every Canberran to own their own home if that is their wish;
whether it’s in a multi-unit apartment tower;
a mid-density option like a townhouse;
or a standalone house on a block with their own backyard.
The Canberra Liberals believe the ACT government should and must do everything in its power to support every Canberran to realise that opportunity if they want to strive for it.
The Canberra Liberals also understand that renting is preferable for some and a necessity for others.
And that is why today I am announcing a new shadow portfolio of Housing Affordability and Choice, which I, as Leader, will take responsibility for.
I commit to doing everything I can to ensure that housing affordability are choice within the reach of every Canberran.
The five key priorities for me in this new portfolio will be:
- A sustainable and measured approach to land release
- A review of the impacts of the rates regime on affordability;
- Adequate support for Canberra’s skilled workforce, who will build the homes Canberrans need;
- Ensuring that the planning system is working for the community; and
- Boosting community and public housing.
There is much to do in this space, and I look forward to initiating further discussions on this in the coming months.
Now, the creation of a shadow portfolio alone is not going to fix the huge problems we face in housing; the huge problems created by over 20 years of this Labor Greens government.
But it is an important signal to the Canberra community that we – the Canberra Liberals – are absolutely committed to addressing the housing affordability crisis and supporting every Canberran to buy or rent a home.
The Canberra Liberals are the only party in this place committed to addressing housing affordability.
Madam Speaker, every election is about choice.
And it is incumbent on the Chief Minister to not take his position in this place for granted.
To be elected by your community, to be their voice in representative democracy, is an enormous privilege.
And to be elected by your colleagues in party room to be leader is an extraordinary additional privilege.
It comes with responsibility, with humility, and with the will to serve.
Although we do not face an election for another two years, my message to Canberrans from all walks of life today is clear.
Labor and the Greens have taken you for granted.
Labor and the Greens do not respect you; nor do they care about governing in your best interests.
Labor and the Greens are out of touch; out of ideas; and out of energy.
A Canberra Liberals government that I lead will always respect you, and will always value the enormous trust you place in us to be your voice.
A Canberra Liberals government that I lead will govern for every Canberran, and make sure that our most vulnerable are not left behind.
A Canberra Liberals government that I lead will govern with integrity and it will always be about you, our community.