josh rosner

NOT HAVING A BARR OF IT

In Australian Politics on September 25, 2012 at 7:29 am

It’s election time again in the Australian Capital Territory and politicians and wannabe politicians have come out of the wood work. Where I live, in the Gungahlin region in the far north of Canberra, the sighting of an elected ACT politician is as rare as a sighting of the now threatened Rufous Owl. Except at election time, when they (probably reluctantly) schlep up north to try and convince us to vote for them. Most of us are not fooled by the gesture.

Most voters have a wish-list of ideas, issue and policies they would like to see their government tackle. I’m no exception. Actually, I only have one request. It’s something I have been banging on about all year with politicians of all persuasions, with varying degrees of interest. Only one politician, however, has bothered to take the time to engage with me and have a serious discussion and listen to my argument: the Greens member for Molonglo, Caroline Le Couteur. At the other end of the spectrum is ACT Deputy Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, who has obfuscated, brushed me off, lied, ignored me and, worst of all, remained silent as one of his Facebook ‘friends’ called me an apologist for rape.

My argument for adequate lighting in public spaces is a simple one. It’s a matter of public safety. Where I live there are a number of streets that have bicycle paths and bus stops, yet are without adequate lighting. Simple. Street lighting. So simple that I can’t seem to get the Deputy Chief Minister and Labor member for my electorate of Molonglo to say anything positive or coherent ahead of the October election about the inadequate state of street lighting; not only in Gungahlin, but right across the ACT.

A number of months ago I asked Minister Barr to make an election commitment to remedy this problem. He told me at that time that it likely didn’t require an election commitment and he’d get back to me. I’m still waiting. Over the past months I have raised the issue – in the form of commentary on his Facebook page – many times.

On 6 September 2012, Minister Barr posted the following status update to his Facebook page:

The installation of floodlighting at the Isabella Plains Neighbourhood Oval and fields 27 and 28 at the Charnwood District   Playing Fields commenced on Monday 3 September 2012.

The floodlights will be set at the Australian Standard for football training, with work expected to be completed by the end of October 2012.

That same day, I posted a comment to this status update:

And yet, we can’t get appropriate/sufficient lighting in public spaces in the Gungahlin area.

A seemingly innocuous comment designed, I had hoped, like my many attempts to engage with the Labor member on this issue, to illicit a response, whether positive or negative. Instead, Barr ignored my post*, as he has done on many other occasions via social media when I’ve raised this serious issue. However, Minister Barr also made no comment on his Facebook page in response to a personal, vicious and ugly attempt to smear me by one of his Facebook ‘friends’ and Labor apparatchiks.

In response to a comment posted by someone else about similar lighting issues in O’Connor, Lyneham and Ainslie, I posted the following in response:

Perhaps it is the same in O’Connor, Lyneham and Ainslie, [name redacted], but in the Gungahlin area we have walking paths and bike paths that have no lighting at all, despite being adjacent to residential areas, and buses stop to pick-up and set down in the pitch black of night. It is an accident/rape/robbery just waiting to happen!

My argument in support of adequate street lighting is encapsulated in the last sentence. In my suburb alone there are main thoroughfares, with moderately busy road traffic that have bus stops and bicycle paths, but no street lighting, resulting in pockets of dark spots. On a moonless night, it can be pitch black. These areas are, as I stated, prime targets for an accident, a robbery or even a rape. The chances of any of criminal activity are greatly diminished with the installation of adequate street lighting. Not eradicated entirely, but certainly diminished.

I went on in a subsequent comment to suggest that the ACT government has a duty of care to its citizens in regards to these matters. If they are to build roads and bicycle paths and bus stops, then it seems to me it is also logical and highly desirable to concurrently install adequate lighting.

One of Minister Barr’s Facebook ‘friends’, Claire Daly, disagreed with my assessment that unlit public spaces had the potential to be places where crimes could be committed. She commented:

Josh that is utterly moronic. Rape is entirely the fault of the rapist, poor lighting has absolutely nothing to do with.

Claire went on, in a comment now deleted but captured by me in a screen shot at the time, to call me an apologist for rape. It’s likely she deleted it at the behest of Minister Barr, but I’ll concede she may also have put her ANU law degree to use and realised her error. Either way, the comment was deleted without the appropriate apology to me and it was deleted without any public admonishment from Minister Barr. It is, at the risk of becoming shrill, the kind of indecent and contemptible behaviour one has come to expect on social media. The commenter should be condemned for making reprehensible and entirely unfounded allegations and Minister Barr should be condemned for allowing it to proceed without comment or apology.

I expect my plea for adequate street lighting in Canberra’s ‘black spots’ will continue to be ignored by Andrew Barr. After all, it’s not an issue that is going to interfere with his campaign at all. He is going to be re-elected as the Labor member for Molonglo. That is not in doubt. But the beauty of our democracy is that on election day I get to walk into a polling booth and vote for someone else. This election, I will be exercising my democratic right to NOT vote for Andrew Barr.

On election day, with a request that each of my Facebook and Twitter friends forward it on, I will post the original now deleted screen shot in which one of Andrew Barr’s Labor mates referred to me as an apologist for rape. Or Barr can apologise to me. But I won’t hold my breath.

*Although it is apparent to anyone who closely follows Minister Barr’s status updates that he does personally engage with his social media accounts, I feel certain that, from time to time, his staff also uses his account to provide ‘friends’ with updates, designed to appear as if they were written personally by the minister.

Disclaimer: From 2004 until 2008 I was a member of the Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch). I have been a member of Andrew Barr’s faction, Centre Coalition, and I have in the past been both president and secretary of my ALP sub-branch, Canberra North. I resigned my membership of the ALP in 2008.

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