Address to the Australian Christian Lobby's 'Make it Count' ACT Election Forum 2012

“…I have an ambitious vision for the first years of our second century. I want to build on the great things about our community, and position us for a prosperous and exciting future.”

(Check against delivery)

It’s a pleasure to be here with you tonight and to be given the opportunity to talk with you about my vision for Canberra as we head into our second century.

It’s 51 days until election day and I will be attending many many forum’s in the lead up to that day. These forums are an important part of our democratic process – because whilst some think elections are about political parties – they aren’t. They are about you and the hundreds of thousands of Canberrans who will vote for who they feel best represent them in the local Assembly.

I have been Chief Minister for just over 15 months now and can I say it has been a privilege to serve in this position and I look forward to contesting my first election from this position.

Whilst all elections are important I think the 2012 election campaign is a defining moment for the future of our city.

As we clear our first 100 years, we need to make sure the next 100 are even better and that will mean making some choices about what our priorities are going to be.

In many ways and whilst accepting there are different views on how to achieve these – I think that as Canberrans there are many more similarities than differences in what we would like to achieve as a city – things like

  • a strong future which provides opportunities for our children;
  • high quality and efficient services – hospitals, schools, universities, municipal services, roads, utilities, ovals, parks;
  • keeping costs as low as we can whilst providing the services people want
  • a community which cares for its most vulnerable and helps to provide an extra helping hand to those who need it
  • and a place we can call “home”, where we can put down our own roots, in safety and security.
  • Where we foster a strong, tolerant community

Earlier this week I was speaking at a multicultural forum, reflecting that while we may have come here from 200 different countries and while a third of us were born overseas – including my parents – we are all Canberrans because we want to be. Because Canberra is a great place to live, work and play.

This was confirmed in the Roy Morgan “State of the Nation’ report issued today. In general it finds that ACT community are well paid, highly educated and have good jobs. Business confidence is high, ICT use is part of our lives, we feel safe and large parts of our community embrace progressive social change.

The structure of our responsibilities as an Assembly and Government provide us with real opportunities. Our hybrid system of government is well-suited to this city. It lets us get close to the community we serve, to do things a little differently and in many cases a little better than elsewhere.

The two tier nature of our government means that we are we are not just a local government. We also have a responsibility for state-type functions: hospitals, schools, law and order, job creation, investment attraction.

We sit at the COAG table and help negotiate major country-wide reforms like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, or greater Commonwealth funding for hospitals.

The municipal side of our responsibilities is a fundamental part of the job we do. It’s often the interface that every home owner has with the ACT Government. Our community cares deeply about the city we live in and footpaths, potholes, ovals and parks matter.

But whilst we are managing these services we need to keep our eye on those other key services like health, education, public transport and supporting jobs in our local economy.

Now I am the first to admit that there is always room to improve every service we provide to the community. I look at every briefing and every constituent enquiry and every letter with that at the forefront of my mind.

If I could mention the health system here as an example – we do have  areas of pressure in our hospital system there is no denying that but we also have a lot to be proud of – firstly the care that is provided and the range of new services we have implemented over the last few years. More beds, more doctors, more nurses, more operating theatres, a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital, the nurse led walk in centre, complex eye surgery or treat head and neck trauma services. A dedicated neuro-suite, digital mammography, plans for a new northside hospital, new health centres in Belconnen and Gunghalin. These are just some of the examples of the work we have been doing.

In education we preside over a schools sector that leads Australia in 18 out of 20 measures of numeracy and literacy and that tops the nation on digital literacy.

The Property Council’s latest liveability survey found that 83% of Canberrans surveyed believe we have good schools, the best result for any city surveyed.

I’m really lucky to have grown up in Canberra, and to have gone through our fantastic education system, with a world-class university education at the ANU afterwards.

I know how life-changing these opportunities were for me, and I know the lengths I would go to as a parent to make sure that my own children have the same opportunities.

That’s why I think there are great opportunities for the next generation of children in the funding reforms that will flow from the Gonski schools review.

The message of the Gonski review is that educational funding is not just about dollars. It is also about getting the dollars to where the real need lies – to the most disadvantaged schools and students regardless of where that student is educated.

These reforms are grounded in core values I believe in: equality of opportunity, help for the vulnerable, attacking inter-generational disadvantage.

I believe that Gonski has the potential to transform the way school education is funded – to deliver a fairer funding model which removes the traditional divide of public v’s private which so often stalls any genuine funding reforms.

Whilst, we have not released our education policy at this point of the campaign what I can say is that we will continue to increase funding to the non-government school sector. As with all of our commitments, regardless of portfolio area, that extra expenditure will ensure that our dollars are targeted to where they are most needed and we will work in partnership with the peak organizations around those commitments.

As I said earlier Local government services do matter – that’s why I took on the job of Minister for Territory and Municipal Services because I think this area of government should have the attention of the highest officer in the executive.

Our local government service maintains 3,000km of roads, mows 5,000 hectares of grass several times a year and maintains 700,000 trees in our urban open spaces – more than in the entire City of Sydney.

They clean 88 shopping centres at least once a week – some of them daily – and maintaining 500 playgrounds and nine skate parks.

In the livability survey I referred to before found that 73% of Canberrans think our city is well-maintained and clean – the best result of any of the surveyed cities.

What’s more, 72% of those surveyed believed we had a good road network with minimal traffic congestion –the best result of any city.

Again, I don’t stand here before you tonight saying that there aren’t areas where we need to improve our services – there are and we will be rolling our policies to  address those areas in the coming weeks

And I don’t stand here and say that life is always easy for every Canberran.

While we are a prosperous community, some of us do it tough, including those who dip in and out of poverty and don’t easily come to official attention because they aren’t on Commonwealth benefits.

I would like to acknowledge at this point the work that many faith based organizations do is supporting our community’s most vulnerable citizens. Its often the various churches who have led the way – in the absence of government assistance – in delivering assistance to those in need. Canberra’s short history shows the extent of that work and it is appreciated.

That’s why one of the first things I did when I became Chief Minister was to commission some important work, to see whether the kinds of assistance that were available to the vulnerable in our community were adequate, whether help was finding its way to the people most in need.

That work was led by the Gordon Ramsay, of Kippax Uniting Care, and it was a wonderful piece of work.

As a result of this research and recommendations we now have a Targeted Assistance Strategy that lets the government and the community reach out quickly and effectively to those at risk and gives households the skills and assistance to get through the tough times.

If I could just speak briefly about tax reform as I am sure it will come up tonight – We have been up-front about what we are doing in relation to tax reform. Inefficient unfair taxes such as stamp duty are being phased out, with immediate cuts for everyone purchasing properties valued at under $1.2 million. This commitment to abolish stamp duty will eventually see one of these most unfair taxes removed from our budget – allowing for greater access to the housing market and greater mobility within it.

These cuts will be funded by an increase in the most efficient taxation we have – general rates.  This year rates will rise, on average, by $2.35 a week and a quarter of homeowners will actually see their rates fall.

For those who may be disproportionately affected – like older Canberrans living on high-value blocks but with low incomes – there are concessions specifically put in place based on feedback we’ve had from older canberrans – initiatives such as pensioner duty concessions scheme, general rates rebate, general rates deferral and duty deferral scheme.

We have also taken the decision to abolish insurance duty over 5 yrs eventually saving households anywhere from $100-$250 a year.

We knew that embarking on responsible tax reform would provide our political opponents with an opportunity to run a scare campaign – and that is what is happening – in a way that is politics – what I would say is don’t always believe what is said in a scare campaign – the information on what it means for you, why we are doing it and how we are is all there online for you to read and consider in detail.

The Government I lead will continue with this tax reform and with measures that target assistance to those most in need whether that be for people with a disability, for people experiencing financial hardship, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, for people experiencing homelessness or housing problems, for people who can’t pay off fees and fines, or continuing to increase our concessions frameworks to make sure it keeps pace with the modern world.

No-one denies that the cost of living is an issue for some Canberra households. We have recognized that – the challenge is to target the assistance so that it reaches these struggling households in the most effective way.

Whilst keeping costs on household as low as we can is a core responsibility of any government one of most important thing any government can do to help those at risk of financial stress is to protect jobs and keep the local economy humming. For if the economy suffers, if people lose jobs and businesses close it becomes harder and harder to provide the level of investment that Canberrans expect – and more people experience financial hardship within a declining capacity to provide assistance.

This is why I said earlier that this election is a defining moment for our city’s future. As we start our second century, and whilst we will always be the seat of the federal government and enjoy some of the security that brings – we must ensure that we have a clear vision for diversifying the economy and playing to our strengths, so that the jobs we create are high-skilled and high-paying ones.

Our focus is to help deliver those jobs by building strength in areas where we have competitive advantage, leveraging our science and research capabilities to attract and ‘home-grow’ knowledge-intensive businesses; expanding our talent pool through education and training; investing in clean industry opportunities; and ensuring that we are a preferred destination for the kinds of business that fit our future focus.

We are also embarking on a $2.6 million branding exercise, to take Canberra’s message and its vibe to the nation and the world.

We’re formulating a brand that articulates our ethos and our ambition for the future, a brand that stamps our presence all over the areas where we excel, and the areas in which we want to excel – clean new industries, innovation and education, services, knowledge, brain-power and entrepreneurialism.

The other area to ensure our future must be found in our location as the regional heart of SE NSW under an agreement with the NSW Government we are identifying economic opportunities we can collectively pursue and creating regional partnerships that have never existed before such as the Canberra Hospital/Queanbeyan Hospital elective surgery arrangement where Canberra doctors, perform operations on patients on the ACT waiting list but in Queanbeyan Hospital.

New technologies like Twitter and fast broadband connections are changing every aspect of our lives: the way we talk, the way we do business, get educated, get healthy and the NBN will continue to provide opportunities for that regional relationship.

Digital connectivity will help us play a greater regional role by allowing our medical specialists to diagnose and monitor patients in towns around the region. It will help our universities reach out into neighbouring communities, to help workers acquire new skills for emerging clean industries. Technology lets my local government colleagues and I share information so that we can plan for and properly sequence the infrastructure investments we’ll need to make as the region grows.

I want to see the national capital become the first truly digital city in Australia. I’ve already announced some initial aspects of this vision – including a pledge to financially help non-government schools connect to high-speed broadband so that every single child has the opportunity to benefit from high speed broadband at school.

A good education system for all is one of the building blocks of a civilised society just as having access to good public health facilities, well-maintained public spaces, good public transport, affordable and appropriate housing and a legal system that support all our system to live equality, side by side together.

I’m proud to lead a socially progressive government that takes human rights seriously, and that holds those rights up as a standard to be aspired to, whenever we make policy, or enact legislation, or design programs.

I know many of you here tonight will not agree with some of my views, or that of my party’s stand on certain matters such as abortion or marriage equality. You may have different views to mine. What I would say to you is that whilst we may disagree on these matters I respect your right to have those views and I ask that you in turn respect mine. I don’t seek to persuade you to change your views and I respect your deep beliefs in following your own faith.

To me this is what I love about the city I live in – a community made up of citizens from over 200 different countries speaking over 170 different languages, where diversity is welcomed not shunned, where vigorous debates can be openly held and where at, the end of the day when all is said and done -   It’s about a ensuring a fair go and a stronger community for all to enjoy.

I’ve never been an adversarial kind of politician. I work with people, not against them, to deliver practical results. I listen to everybody. I govern for everybody.

I want to work with your organisations, your communities, to create the kind of city that we can all call home.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have an ambitious vision for the first years of our second century. I want to build on the great things about our community, and position us for a prosperous and exciting future.

Thanks for giving up your time this evening. I look forward to your questions and suggestions.