Chapter 4, Stunning Incompetence or Worse?

Mr Ian Cox in 2005 was the Director, Business and Economic Development in the ACT Government.  His job description entails the promotion of business and economic development, but he has determined to interpret his role differnetely as shown in Chapter 3.

The documents obtained under FOI show no attempt to understand the situation.  In this letter to the proponent of the Williamsdale airfield, Chris Price, He states that the ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA) believe there are a “number of significant issues to be addressed”.

“Firstly, the land resumption requirements are likely to straddle multiple blocks and associated leases.”

However, the three FOI requests reveal no ACTPLA documents other than some maps.  Here is one of the ACTPLA maps showing that only one block needs to be resumed.  The two southern blocks shown are held by the government.  So where does this statement come from?  Why did Mr Cox not glance at the map before making this statement?  Did one of his mates in ACTPLA tell him this?

There is also no documentation concerning the size and scope of the proposed airfield.  Surely this is a fundamental issue in determining that additional resumptions may be required over and above the proposed airfield.

Mr Cox then goes on to say that:  “ACTPLA also raised the issue about whether the land can actually be resumed under the “Land Acquisition Act 1994”  The Act requires a public interest case to be established to support resumption and given the scale and intended use and utility of the development the preliminary view is that a strong public interest case would be difficult to establish.”

This is a quite extraordinary statement.  Firstly, Mr Cox and ACTPLA seem to be unaware that the onus to some degree is on them to disprove the case.  Secondary airfields are a universal piece of infrastructure in western cities with scheduled jet passenger services, for the reasons described in Chapter 1.  This is a bit like arguing that a case needs to be made for installing water distribution in an urban development. Following the 2003 bush fires there was a strong case, see here, for an airfield close to the genesis of the fires to the south west of Canberra.  There was strong support, here and here, from 2 of the 3 peak industry bodies on file.  The third peak industry body later expressed strong support, but of course, if asked would have provided this responseThere was support from the operators of the Canberra International Airport.  There were numerous letters on file from other interested private parties and aviation companies.  There was also the evidence of the loss of general aviation industry from Canberra International Airport.

Clearly, Mr Cox made no effort whatever to establish whether or not a public interest case existed.

Mr Cox also states that the Government Solicitor’s Office (GSO) was reluctant to provide any definitive advice on airfield governance.  Mr Cox suggests that this is due to some deficiency on the part of Mr Price, the proponent of the Williamsdale airfield rather than a deficiency on the part of the GSO to conduct a basic piece of legal research.

In conclusion to this chapter it is worth reflecting on the relationship between Mr Cox and ACTPLA.  No written advice from ACTPLA is on file.  No ACTPLA officer is referred to by name.

So, why is it that Mr Cox and some unnamed officers in ACTPLA have determined that the airfield should not go ahead?

There are only two answers to this question.  Either Mr Cox is simply stunningly incompetent, or, perhaps in conjunction with mates in ACTPLA, has some other agenda.  That would be corruption.

Unfortunately it is Mr Cox’s narrative that has come to dominate the Labor Government’s thinking about this proposal.


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