Mar 16, 2018

The terror of Toy Town

The clash between over-sensitive journalists and Canberra's chief minister reflects a town that is divorced from the tough realities of ordinary Australian life.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

The biggest thing to happen in Canberra for a while happened this week. Andrew Barr, mayor chief minister of Canberra, declared that he hated journalists and was over the mainstream media. Journalists, displaying a remarkable thinness of skin, then declared they hated Andrew Barr back, getting stuck into him on Twitter.

Press Gallery journalists, most of whom are Canberra residents, berated Barr and stood proudly on the Fourth Estate's tradition of speaking truth to power, holding governments to account, etc etc. He was compared to Joh Bjelke-Petersen. One former journalist invoked Stalin. As the response grew more hysterical, you wondered when Barr was going to open a gulag in a Hume warehouse. And The Canberra Times, which was directly attacked by Barr, was particularly aggrieved and compared him to Donald Trump. 

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

15 thoughts on “The terror of Toy Town

  1. Desmond Graham

    Aha ! what I have always suspected – funded by the rest of Australia- publicly funded DISNEYLAND.

    1. Arjay

      A former Canberra planning official once described the National Triangle as a “Walt Disney theme park without a theme”, so the criticism isn’t too far off the mark.

    2. terrygj

      The ACT gets its share of Commonwealth funding from the GST and other grants, on the same basis as the rest of the States and Territories. It also largely self-funds through rates, taxes and charges levied on its own residents and businesses, just like the rest of Australia. The Commonwealth does provide extra funding to support the Parliamentary area, the place the rest of Australia infests us with their chosen politicians, so, thanks for that.

  2. MJM

    “Since then, the Times, which later moved back into Fairfax control, has receded into a local rag; its best feature is that it takes the Public Service seriously and, particularly when Noel Towell was on the beat, subjected it to strong scrutiny.” So Bernard you don’t read Saturday’s edition with its articles by retired former editor and editor-at-large, Jack Waterford? It was Jack who started taking the public service seriously and writing about it. And he still does. Forcefully. Because he no longer needs to be anything but independent and call it as he sees it. His article on the AFP last October was an absolute ripper of plain speaking. Observe and learn!

    “And because there’s only one level of government, housing and infrastructure are actually planned coherently.” No they are not. That’s exactly Barr’s problem. It’s only two weeks since the ABC news ran articles on the appalling building standards that have resulted in widespread serious problems for owners. The local government is as much in bed with developers as they are everywhere else. And the shonky builders here, as elsewhere, are never brought to account. They just declare bankruptcy and re-open under another name and continue ripping off the buyers.

    The parliamentary press gallery is precious and self-absorbed while sneering at “the wonderful town” that they all “love” to live in. Rack off the lot of you.

    1. MJM

      See Bernard. It’s not so difficult. Jack has done it again. This article has just appeared on the website of The Canberra Times – the outlet that “has receded into a local rag” in your opinion.

  3. susan winstanley

    Bernard, being a journalist, and “underage”, you might have missed one of the important elements in the Barr Backlash, which you can see in the letters pages of the Canberra Times. Twice, in a period of a few weeks (which made the point stick) Barr managed to alienate “older voters”, and it is these people, a substantial and well-educated portion of the ACT electorate, who you will see in the CT telling Barr to get on his bike.
    Barr told us that “older voters” were standing in the way of his glorious vision for transforming Canberra with high rise towers like Singapore (and concrete canyons for his old tech trams) while ripping up the NCDC built arterial road system that was planned to support a flexible (electric) bus transport system servicing all Canberra, not just the citizens of Gunghalin.
    Older voters are apparently upsetting him by demanding more sensible and sensitive planning in developing Canberra for a growing population, and standing against the brutal demolition of our beautifully scaled and carefully planned Bush Capital nestling between hills on the Limestone Plains.
    Then a few weeks later he announced that “older voters” listen to the ABC and read newspapers so he was no longer interested in anything they have to say, and he will move onto social media to get his message across to younger voters (clearly so out of touch that he does not know many of those “older voters” are already highly engaged on social media and sitting there waiting for him).
    Barr never had much personal popularity in Canberra, he was just the last man standing in a city too smart to vote for the Liberals, and he will not be given a free pass by the electorate, poor press notwithstanding. The Labor Party had better replace him soon with someone who understands this “town” better than he does, before they go down the tube at the next election, when it is likely more independents (and ratepayers) will stand to put a brake on his brainless and expensive destruction of the National Capital.

    1. MJM

      I agree Susan. Those of us who have lived here for forty or fifty years remember what was intended to plan and distinguish the national capital, which Bernard feels free to diminish as “toy town”, from other developing cities.

      I also remember times when the electorate was not denigrated by its politicians. And I have not long returned from living in an Asian society where respect for elders was a basic tenet. Bernard and Barr would both do well to show more regard for others.

      1. susan winstanley

        yes and yes

    2. Alxtric

      Yes. Older voters are standing in the way of his vision (glorious or otherwise) but they are also standing in the way of any vision that does not strictly adhere to the nonsensical restrictive residential zoning that Canberra is overly locked into. As for the Singapore effect, any hopes of densification of this far too decadently sprawled town are limited to high rise in small parcels of land, lest any alternative housing model encroaches into the leafy streets and the predominantly older, white, middle class population is forced to share their neighbourhoods. Shame on them all and their cold and sterile NIMBYism.
      Last year, I attended a public seminar by former NCDC chief Tony Powell. The grey haired brigade were out in force on that day, cheering on this old relic as he castigated the Barr government (and in fact the whole concept of self government) in what amounted to a rant.
      During the Q&A that followed, Mr Powell had nothing to offer for any of the valid questions asked other than a call to return to the good old days of mid 20th century planning that has been thrown out the window across the western world.
      At one point, when asked how to alleviate hosing affordability issues, his answer was to ‘build more parks’– a reply met with approval by the septeganerian and well heeled grey army.
      This pretty much sums it up. Older Canberrans should definitely get out of the way. They got to live their docile suburban dream, and they don’t need to now foist it on the newer generations. And as for their ‘bush capital’, well give me less bush and more capital any day.

    3. Mike Smith

      I recall our last election was fought strongly, and lost by the Liberals on the issue of light rail, trams as the Liberals call them. I really doubt they’ll fight another election on this.

  4. klewso

    Was ‘Frontline’ a training video?
    It’s past bloody time that our by-line obsessed press took a good long hard look at themselves to decide whether they’re here to indulge their precious egos and opinions – to use their elite positions to patronise the public with their prejudiced supercilious interpretations of what’s going on, viewed through the prism of their personal politics : or whether they’re here to serve the society of which they are members.
    Whose side are they on.
    Who do they work for. Either some ideologue media mogul (bent on using their market reach/share to preach one side of politics to the detriment and negation of others; meddling in our political system, to influence electoral outcomes – the sort of thing Tuppence says he is so against) employing them to push those politics : or the edification and good of the voting public.
    That they are not “entertaining” when news seems to be aimed to that end.
    Those awards are Walkleys, not Wankleys.

  5. zut alors

    If, as a working Canberra journalist, politicians disliked or loathed me I would wear it as a badge of honour. As long as reportage is factual who cares what they think.

  6. DeeJay

    As a fellow Canberran I don’t disagree with the general depiction of Canberra, but I’m not sure what the point is, Bernard. Yes Canberra is privileged and a boring compared to many cities, but that’s not new. What starts with Andrew Barr then goes on to take a swipe at the Canberra Times and say the problem is that reason we don’t have a good newspaper (unlike Washington with 10 times the population, but not unlike Perth and Brisbane with 5 times as many!!) is that the place is too boring. I.e nothing happens here worth reporting? Maybe, but rather than explaining this point you go on at great length to substantiate the point about it being boring and over privileged, which no one was really contesting. But I’m not sure whether the argument holds without further explanation. As noted, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide are apparently all very much more interesting but still can’t produce a decent rag with lots more people. So if the point isnt to bag the CT what is the point? Just a chance to kick an already much belted target? Or maybe it was to shift focus and say that any opinion coming out of Canberra from politicians, bureaucrats or journalists is less valid because the place is less real? Again, not a new one, but something of a furphy. The politicians in particular don’t care less about Canberra but only about what the electorate thinks.

  7. lulu2503

    I have lived in Canberra for 30 years and I, like Bernard, love the place. I and would be among those who would defend it against Canberra-bashers. such as Desmond Graham’s. But I agree with what Bernard writes here – that we’re disconnected from the rest of Australia. But that’s because of its particular history and demographics. There ARE people here who struggle, are homeless, worry about losing their jobs (especially when the government of the day decides to cut back on public services), needing adequate health and medical facilities — not everyone can claim to having a breezy life here. So to call it Toy Town, perhaps, is stretching it somewhat. As regards the Andrew Barr “I hate journalists” comment, it was perhaps too strong a statement, but I understand where he’s coming from, having myself once been manipulated by a Canberra Times reporter to pose for a photo with a couple of immigrant/refugee women for what I presumed was to be a story on the opening of a new migrant support service, but instead used the photo to illustrate a story about poor, isolated migrant women in the Territory. It caused public shame for the women and their families to be represented as such, and destroyed their trust in me as a volunteer support worker. However, I still subscribe to the Canberra Times, as it is the only newspaper (correction: local rag) here (yes, Bernard, I believe it could have become like the Washington Post if Michelle Grattan had not been edged out), and because I support the continuance of a free press (only I wish the CT would desist from twisting people’s views and comments to create sensational stories).

  8. Mike Kelly

    I have been living here since the beginning of the eighties and our demographic has changed. Then wall to wall Caucasian, now in outer suburbia my local shopping centre is much more diverse. Still majority Caucasian, but now with African, Asian (east and south) and a range of languages spoken I can only guess their locale. I find this diversity reflected when I attend events. That said most of the groups I am in are 100% Caucasian so we still have a way to go but a lot different from 1980.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details