by Mike Welsh

A CONTROVERSIAL feminist and writer whose bio boasts an ability to use humour and distilled fury to lay bare issues affecting women returned to the capital last week.

A GAMBLING addiction expert claims Canberra’s licensed clubs are “bending rules” and “sanitising” reports on the flow of poker machine profits.

Mike Welsh

Dr Charles Livingstone says the ACT formula, which requires clubs to give eight per cent of profits from pokies to community groups assisting those impacted by gambling addiction, is “deeply flawed, opaque and misleading”. The researcher says in many cases clubs “were giving the money to themselves”.

ClubsACT chief executive Gwyn Reesrejected the findings, suggesting researchers were “playing with the figures to get the answer they want”.

MEANTIME, some sobering statistics have been shared on the impact problem gambling has on the ACT community.

Local gambling counsellors estimate there are 14,000 problem gamblers in Canberra, with at least one thousand seriously addicted.

The experts say gambling harm expands exponentially when the equation of one problem gambler impacting six to 10 others is applied.

THE ACT opposition has accused the Barr government of “failing” inmates at the Alexander Maconochie Centre after the second death in custody within 12 months. But, according to a former superintendent, there was a time when the Hume complex was functional. Doug Buchanan, a highly experienced correctional manager, was seconded from NSW in 2010 with a single brief to “regain control of the prison” after officers “were being assaulted almost on a daily basis” and staff sick leave had “skyrocketed”.

The now-retired Buchanan says once he gained control his secondment was terminated (May, 2011) and is sure “today’s managers still have their hands tied behind their backs by a human rights agenda”.

CM Andrew Barr is unfussed about from whom he borrows a political stunt. Taking a leaf from PM Malcolm Turnbull’s stunts-on-public-transport playbook, Barr boarded the Xplorer from Canberra to Sydney to promote the need for faster rail services between the cities. The CM also fantasised of a time when Turnbull would be able to take a train from Kirribilli to The Lodge. By the time train travel journeys between the cities are shortened, Turnbull will likely be long gone from The Lodge.

FORMER Canberra man Baxter Reid’s 15 minutes of fame seems to have evaporated. Detained in the US for overstaying his visa by 90 minutes, the 28-year-old is expected back in Australia this week, but it’s unclear if he’ll make an appearance in his old stomping ground.

Social media, which was ablaze with pleas for financial help for Reid who innocently became entangled in red tape, has now gone quiet.

CONFUSION surrounds the variety of educational options available in the ACT. As families grapple with Gonski and do the NAPLAN numbers, stats reveal the capital as having the highest participation rate of homeschooling in the nation (up 122 per cent), begging the question why?

Added to that trend, figures from the 2016 ABS census show that after years of private secondary schools having the majority share, Canberra’s public schools are clawing back enrolments from the non-government sector at a rate of almost three times the national average.

A CONTROVERSIAL feminist and writer whose bio boasts an ability to use humour and distilled fury to lay bare issues affecting women returned to the capital last week. Clementine Ford, “The Panel” and “Q&A” regular, was guest speaker at a Women Lawyers Association dinner during ACT Law Week. According to those who attended the sell-out function, Ford did not disappoint.

A CANBERRA couple chose a radical approach to repairing their rocky relationship – reality TV. Sarah and Keelan (surnames are not used) featured in Nine’s The Last Resort”, which promises couples that a month on an isolated resort will “reignite their love”. But Keelan’s drinking apparently got the better of him and the troubled couple are back in the bosom of Tuggeranong. Nine says the raw reality show promoted as “the ultimate in car-crash television” will remain in its prime-time slot despite low ratings.

We now cross live to parsimony on the lawns

“Actor Sam Johnson was busily giving lingering and heartfelt embraces to hundreds of people toting bags and tins of five-cent coins.,” writes Seven Days columnist MIKE WELSH

MEANWHILE, at a suburban netball complex north of the truncated telecast another familiar TV face was also dealing with large amounts of money.

The face that wore a beaming smile belonged to Gold Logie-winning actor Sam Johnson who was busily giving lingering and heartfelt embraces to hundreds of people toting bags and tins of five-cent coins. The reason for the recently “retired” actor’s early morning exuberance was the emphatic support and genuine love on open display for his sister Connie, a Canberra mother of two in the final stages of terminal breast cancer. The charity the Johnson siblings founded, Love Your Sister, smashed the world record for the most five-cent coins in one enclosed space raising more than $2.2 million.

BACK at the House, the old one at the bottom of the lawn, a significant birthday was celebrated. The so-called Provisional Parliament House was officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of York on May 9, 1927.

The building, now known as the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, was once described as a “town within a city with its own bars and dining room, barber shop, post office and library”.

The ceremonial gold key to the building, which was only meant to last around 50 years but struggled on until 1988 was used again as part of the celebrations.


SEEMS an association with public housing can sometimes be a positive in politics. The “rub” being when you lived in subsidised accommodation. In 2005 ACT Greens MLA Deb Foskey was outed for living in public housing in Yarralumla. Today tales of housing “humble beginnings” are shared freely by MLAs. Liberal Mark Parton and CM Andrew Barr have both recently gone down the “I-lived-in-public-housing-too” path in order to appear sympathetic in the debate around the problematic relocation of public-housing tenants from Northbourne Avenue and surrounds to the outer suburbs.IMG_3554

IT’S been a heady week for a local radio lad. An emotionally raw video posted on facebook by Ryan Jon, acknowledging the woman who gave birth to him but gave him up for adoption at six weeks, at last count had been viewed more than six million times. The Hit 104.7 breakfast co-host says Mother’s Day brings up feelings for the woman he has never met.

On the career side of things the Melbourne-raised young gun has been featured in lofty company as one of commercial radio’s top five Rising Stars series on the industry site “Radio Today”.

A FORMER Canberra MLA killed in a motorcycle accident in California recently was remembered by a packed Assembly as a “Labor stalwart” and a man with a love for motorcycles.

CM Andrew Barr described Jayson Hinder’s story as “one of resilience, drive and passion for his community”.

The 51-year-old, Canberra-born lawyer won a seat in northern Ginninderra on countback after the retirement of Mary Porter in 2015.


Thirty nimbys and a greyhound take to the streets

By Mike Welsh City News

“If a costly citizens’ jury and a risky, interactive website are necessary, then the question begs, whatever happened to good old-fashioned grassroots listening?” asks Seven days columnist MIKE WELSH

Mike Welsh

Thirty Chapman nimbys, and a rescue greyhound, irate at a proposed public housing development on their patch marched 15 kilometres to Civic to deliver a petition containing 800 signatures to waiting (Liberal) MLAs Mark Parton, Jeremy Hanson and Giulia Jones.

TWO recent “listening” initiatives announced by ACT politicians might suggest a paradigm shift in the direction politicians now point their radars. If a costly citizens’ jury and a risky, interactive website are necessary, then the question begs, whatever happened to good old-fashioned grassroots listening?

Hot on the heels of the CM’s citizens’ jury concept, Canberra Liberals leader Alistair Coe has launched an interactive website designed to “empower the community”, “recognise the modern scourge of time poverty and allow the party to more broadly consult with the electorate”. Barr and Coe might need to be careful not to outsmart themselves.

john howard

The stellar career of one of the great sniffers of political winds, John Howard, quickly went downhill after he stopped keeping a practical ear to the ground.


CANBERRA-born sports reporter Erin Molan has been forced to pay a painful price for her success. The 34-year-old, who cut her teeth locally on WIN TV, has been drawn into a scandal via a court application for an AVO involving celebrity accountant and billionaire yatchsman Andrew Bell and his estranged wife.

An insinuation that Molan and Bell had an affair has been flatly denied by Molan, who tearfully told a “Footy Show” audience: “There is not one iota of truth to any of the speculation, it is not who I am and it is not how I was raised”.

A testament to the broad support the respected reporter enjoys was an on-air endorsement of her family’s moral fibre by influential broadcaster Alan Jones.

THE Queanbeyan-Palerang Shire clearly wants to have its cake and eat it, too, in the decentralisation debate – or at least be able to scavenge crumbs that may fall from the table.

Council administrator Tim Overall respects the status quo saying: “The national capital is where centralised government departments must be”. But Overall is selling the “opportunities Queanbeyan offers a range of smaller, less-significant-to-the-ACT” agencies. The shire recently greenlighted plans to build a state-of-the-art office complex complete with a smart hub to enable public servants to work remotely.

MEANTIME, the ACT branch of the Liberal Party has finally officially endorsed its opposition to the relocation of public service agencies. Relatively quiet on the issue to date, leader Alistair Coe is emphatic, saying: “Canberra is the home of the APS and APS jobs shouldn’t be seen by Federal governments, of either political stripe, as pawns to be moved around at any discretion.”

AN innovative business venture created by a Canberra family with a special needs member is rapidly gaining a national following. GG’s Flowers, set up by the Wijewickrema family and operated out of their Yarralumla home was featured on “The Feed”, the news, current affairs, and satire television on SBS Viceland. Nip Wijewickrema, 24, the 2016 ACT Young Australian of the Year, says the florist idea came about after concerns for the future employment possibilities for her 17-year-old sister Gayana, who has Down syndrome. GG’s Flowers now employs several people with special needs.

A DEDICATION to donating dictionaries to Dili has seen a Hawker man officially recognised. The Canberra Friends of Dili chapter presented Ron Robertson from Ron’s Book Shop with an award in appreciation of his commitment to the Dictionaries for Developing Countries program during which time Robertson has provided more than 600 dictionaries. Dierk von Behrens, from CFOD, says he saw a need after visiting a Dili school in 2006 that had 70 students but only one (spelling only) dictionary.


“If Miranda Devine had taken the time to speak with just a few of the tens of thousands who don’t live high on the Canberra hog she wouldn’t have had such a nasty piece of clickbait to publish

THOSE who indulge in the tiresome game of “Canberra Bashing” rarely rely on facts.

Mike Welsh

Case in point is columnist Miranda Devine’s recent rant in the “Tele” where she ignorantly describes a Canberra consisting of: “Smug, entitled public servants [living] high on the hog with taxpayer-funded massages, business-class travel, gentlemen’s hours, high-class restaurants, cafes on every corner and a furious resistance to Barnaby Joyce’ssensible idea of decentralising the Federal bureaucracy to repopulate dying country towns”.

Miranda’s only research appears to be a chat with a friend “who recently moved from Sydney to the Kingston Foreshore, where million-dollar-plus luxury apartments are springing up like topsy” and who says “she can’t believe how easy life is”. If Devine had taken the time to speak with just a few of the tens of thousands who don’t live high on the Canberra hog she wouldn’t have had such a nasty piece of clickbait to publish.

katie JETS pic

MEANWHILE, ACT Labor Senator Katy Gallagher is using strong language in a campaign against decentralisation, suggesting Liberal party founder and ardent supporter of Canberra as the nation’s capital, Sir Robert Menzies, “would be turning in his grave”.

The former ACT chief minister says: “It is either the beginning of one of the saddest chapters in Australian government history or a pathetic attempt to cloak the disaster of the relocation of the APVMA”.


A SENIOR US Republican with dexterous diplomacy skills is Canberra bound. Former presidential candidate Senator John McCain, who mocked President Donald Trump’s world view during a nine-minute speech in Munich in February without mentioning his name, is due in town next month.

The decorated war hero, down under for high-level security talks, “had words” with Trump after the new president’s terse phone hook up with PM Malcolm Turnbull. The senator will primarily cover Asia-Pacific issues, but given his recent form it’s inevitable he’ll drift off song and provide some entertainment at the expense of “the Donald”.


APPARENTLY we are punching above our weight in the seriously frivolous activity of the selfie. “Time” magazine ranked 459 cities in order of “selfiest” and Canberra came in as Australia’s #1 for 2016 and a respectable 169th on the global list. The Australian War Memorial is the top geotagged location for pics in Canberra with Lake Burley Griffin second.


“COMMUNITY consultation” is a catchphrase in the backpack of all politicians but one rarely exercised. Chief Minister Andrew Barr wants a citizens’ jury to assist government in forming policy on a diverse range of issues such as the desexing of pets and laws surrounding cyclists. Mr Barr is keen to adopt an SA model and has invited two experts from that state to Canberra to discuss what they call “deliberative democracy”. The experts, from Democracy Co and the SA Department of Premier and Cabinet, will speak at a city forum organised by former chief minister Jon Stanhope on Thursday.

THE citizens’ jury concept comes too late though for Canberrans to have a say in the naming of 13 tram stops along stage one of the light rail project. Transport minister Meegan Fitzharris unveiled the list of street and location names which she says follows the format of light rail systems in other parts of Australia and overseas. The minister dismissed suggestions the lack of public input was to avoid a repeat of last year’s “Boaty McBoatface” fiasco in the UK over public participation in naming a new research ship.


AFL Canberra’s season is just two rounds old but a long and humiliating season looms for at least one and possibly two clubs. In round one the Gungahlin Jets Div 2 team was obliterated by Eastlake, 39 goals to nothing. And, in a slightly less bruising season start, Belconnen kicked 23 goals 18 points to Tuggeranong Hawks’ 4 points. One of the league’s four guiding principles instituted in 2015 is “Competitive Balance”, which seeks to ensure “every team has every chance of winning”.



Canberra you can’t leave home without it

By Mike Welsh

A MEANINGLESS and often shifty phrase is echoing around places where Canberra public servants gather to “socialise”.

“Getting On With the Job”, ordinarily a deep scrape of the political barrel, is being used by a group, differently, but still drenched in dishonesty.

“Getting On With the Job” (GOWTJ) is the theme of scripted “talking points” supplied to anxious employees of the Australian  Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) to help shut down barbecue and dinner party discussions on the authority’s relocation to Armidale. The options were given to all staffers, regardless of whether they were staying put, relocating to Armidale or undecided.


BUT just as quickly as the catchy GOWTJ gained notoriety it became obsolete. The government now wants all departments to justify their presence in the capital, which will require a longer list of “talking points”. While GOWTJ may have been deemed sufficiently pithy for dealing with shifting a few hundred public servants from Canberra to Armidale, relocating more departments and agencies, impacting possibly thousands of people, is a whole other “conversation”.

THERE could be a silver lining though to the dark grey nimbus forming. The mass migration of one section of society may enhance the comfort of another.

A local community activist has floated an idea that could solve the city’s homeless problem. Kim Fischer says the Federal government has identified 200,000 square metres of unoccupied Commonwealth floor space in Canberra. With the additional vacant office spaces potentially created by relocation the district’s estimated 1500 homeless could be easily and economically housed. Ms Fischer says all that is required is “the vision to make it happen”.

orange van

LOYAL listeners to Canberra’s conduit for conservative commentary, 2CC, may have been confused recently by Alan Jones and Ray Hadley. A year after anointing Scott Morrison as the next PM Hadley punted the Treasurer from his program and installed former PM Tony Abbott. Meanwhile Jones was recommending something akin to a “thorough thrashing” at the ballot box as the only means of the LNP coming to its senses. Strange days, indeed.

ray an alan

STILL on the wireless and we have a new #1 FM breakfast crew. Hit 104.7’sRyan and Tanya leapt 2.7 per cent to 16.2 per cent. The biggest loser of GfK’s first sampling of the district’s listening habits for 2017 was the ABC. Despite plunging 2.7 per cent, new breakfast host Dan Bourchier starts with a 17.5 per cent share and overall #1 (his predecessor Phil Clark regularly posted 20-23 per cent audience shares). Over at 2CC, early-rising, steak-knife salesman Tim Shaw rose slightly to 5.4 per cent but has failed to threaten predecessor Mark Parton’s ratings PB of 7.3 per cent. Mix106.3 FM is overall market leader, up an impressive 5.4 per cent to 21.6 per cent

THE co-organiser of a recent Canberra town hall meeting featuring Bill Shorten has taken the concept further by proposing an extra public holiday.


Member for Fenner Andrew Leigh says “Deliberation Day” (held only during an election year) would be a chance for people to ponder politics and debate issues in the local community and the nation’s future. Dr Leigh says he borrowed the idea from US academics Bruce Ackerman and James Fishkin, saying it “builds off the notion of town hall meetings, which have seen an upsurge in attendance in the States recently”.

AT 21 years of age and with dreams of being an NRL referee, Canberran Brian Cobb’s career took a sharp detour. A role in a training video set Cobb off on the long and often rewardless journey of filmmaking.

Last Sunday, on his 40th birthday, the producer hosted the world premiere of his feature film “Indigo Lake” at Dendy. The picture, which was shot in Sydney, is written and directed by Martin Simpson and stars another Canberran, Miranda O’Hare.


My Dad Didn’t Get To Be A Teenager

By Mike Welsh

While researching for the new TBS Boomers section I stumbled across a batch of substantial sounding demographics of which I was shamefully unaware – groups of long forgotten last century people with more fashionable and intellectual tags than their feted Xs, Ys and Millennials of today.

My father was from the Greatest generation (1910-25) a period which sits between the Interbellum (between wars) generation (1901-1913) and the Silent generation (1923-44).

Sadly, and possibly ironically (irony not being a luxury broadly enjoyed by my dad’s demo), members of the Greatest generation suffered the potentially soul-destroying deprivations of the great depression, and would not experience the special freedoms of being a teenager or, in my father’s case, the opportunity to offer “his two cents worth”.

This generation was often forced to leave primary school and join the workforce in order to put food on the family table, vaulting across their teens, essentially becoming adults. A double tragedy by today’s standards as their lifespans were substantially shorter.

“Most cultural observers agree that the strange and fascinating creature known as the teenager – as we now understand the species – came into being sometime in the the early 1940s.”
Ben CosgroveTime Magazine

By the time my father left school at the age of 10 he’d been fatherless for two years. Undaunted and without an adequate education, he set out as the vast majority of his contemporaries did to make a quid whichever way he could. Like the rest of his generation which needed to be flexible and adaptable to survive, my dad mastered cooking, SP bookmaking and barbering (all of which are now firmly back in vogue).

It’s doubtful my father’s grandchildren – of whom there are many, and many of whom have university degrees and well-worn passports – actually still draw from the well my father dug. Today’s Xs, Ys and Millennials (the Me Generation which gave us the Me Me Me Generation) are sometimes characterised as superficial and easy prey for the predatory marketers. But these demographics which are surgically cropped and probed and prodded and targeted to within an inch of their lives now have a competitor – The Baby Boomer. The Boomers are rapidly shaping up as a very desirable and cashed up cohort which savvy advertisers are keen to separate from their vast piles of disposable boomer bucks.

Also on The Big Smoke

Almost a decade ago, demographer Bernard Salt described baby boomers as “an optimistic and even idealistic generation…educated, articulate and opinionated, and ultimately demanding”.

My father was not formally educated nor from my memory, opinionated or demanding.

He was a quiet man, strong on values such as respect for women and punctuality (though he did question the trustworthiness of men with beards). He was big on polished shoes and for his four sons, a mandatory neatly combed and Brylcreemed head of hair before stepping out of our three-bedroomed weatherboard home en route, on foot, to Sunday Mass. My father did not own a car or hold a driver’s licence.

In 1966 my dad was engaged and excited about the introduction of decimal currency which hit Australia just as the first batch of Boomers was coming of age. Sadly he didn’t get to “put his two cents worth in”. He died suddenly and prematurely aged 52, a few weeks shy of the 14th of February 1966.

But for what it’s worth, he did belong to the Greatest generation.


No Fences and Hedges Butt plenty of No Smoking signs

By Mike Welsh

FOR a city uncluttered with fences and hedges there sure seems to be an obsession with erecting signs banning all manner of activity in the most inappropriate places.


A sign proclaiming a ban on smoking within 10 metres of a set of swings at a Higgins park (and at others, I suspect) has just appeared. Is an ugly steel post standing in concrete three metres from a set of swings in a very large and, sadly, often deserted public facility, warranted? Should not a more concentrated focus be applied to the second-hand, smoke-filled haze around the 30-metre radius outside office buildings in nearby Belconnen?