This is now my second time voting in an ACT Election, and this time, I am thinking quite differently to last election.
In 2016, I was looking to vote for the candidates that I believed were going to grow the Canberran economy the most while focusing on fixing social issues and addressing environmental sustainability.
This year, I am interested in who can fix the footpaths.
That is the single issue I am asking any candidate for my electorate of Kurrajong to address — the paths.
There are far bigger issues in the ACT, some of which impact me. But the path issue for me is the benchmark.
The Australian Capital Territory is a self-governing territory with a unicameral parliament (known as Legislative Assembly) made up of 25 members who are responsible for traditional state (health, education, transport, etc.) and local (waste collections, parks, recreation, etc.) matters.
Many voters are enticed by the glamorous commitments — the new multi-purpose stadium or tennis facility in Gungahlin, a million trees being planted, brand new schools in Canberra’s north. These commitments make headlines. They get faces on TV and front pages of the newspaper covered.
The problem is paths. ‘Upgrade to path in Inner South’ doesn’t have the same ring to it as ‘Free early learning for every three-year-old child’. Of course, early childhood education is important. As is health. But at some point, paths have to be important too.
The danger of a system of government where politicians are looking after both state and local issues is that the local issues can get pushed to the side when it comes to politics as they don’t get as much traction as ‘state’ issues. This means upgrades to small things like footpaths get overlooked. While they don’t have as much impact on someone’s life as something like increasing the number of doctors in emergency departments, they cannot be forgotten about. With a growing population, there will always be the need to develop health and education. Until our population stops growing, we will never have such issues ‘solved’. Everything needs constant attention in government. And I mean EVERYTHING — not just the ‘sexy’ issues.
On my street, there is a path from my house leading to a small shopping precinct nearby. It also connects me with a swimming pool, a park and playground and skate park and an arts centre. About 100m away from the end of the block, the path stops and turns into dirt. Across the road, the path also stops about 150m away from the end of the block… but about 5 metres into the block away from the road, there is another path that is connected by diagonal paths that require walking backwards or crossing the area of dirt and debris. If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is. There is no logical sense in any of this.
Furthermore, to walk from my house to the fresh food markets, approximately 2.5km from where I live, I have to cross the road unnecessarily between 5 to 6 times in order to find a path as the paths run out. There are also a number of instances where there are not accessibility slopes, which requires me to manoeuvre the stroller acrobatically up the side of the curb. The lack of these slopes impacts elderly people, people with disabilities and families with young children. It is also incredibly risky as it takes a couple of moments longer to negotiate. The debris covering the paths also are a hazard to people with mobility scooters or prams. I’m not talking about falling leaves. I’m talking about a thick layer of sticks and rocks, covering an average of about 70–80% of the path.
For a city so focused on becoming less car-dependent, it seems like something straight forward to address.
Throughout my health journey, I have been negatively impacted by the desperate need for a different approach to public health in Canberra, in physical health, mental health and the relationship between the two. But everyone is going to commit funding to hospitals at the next election. Everyone will talk about mental health. Everyone will commit funding to schools and talk about the need for improved education. But not everyone will be willing to address the smaller issues, the issues that don’t require multi-million dollar investments — just the attention to detail that citizens deserve. It is this attention to detail that can make big changes.
By improving the path connectivity in Canberra, it will automatically encourage more people to walk to places. This will lower the number of cars on the roads and have a positive environmental impact. Additionally, it will improve the health and well-being of the population both through physical and mental health which will have a positive social impact. It’s not going to solve health and climate change issues over night, but it’s certainly going to contribute at least a small amount.
It is my belief that the candidates with this mindset of focusing on how to make citizens’ lives better in every which way possible will automatically be able to tackle the bigger issues.
It’s time to get the basics right in government. While a new sporting facility sounds exciting, my question is whether or not I will have access to the necessary paths to get me there.