Federal Politics


Consistent hedge edict a tall order

Uniquely among Australia's capitals, Canberra's suburban streetscapes are devoid of front fences. This is by decree rather than choice. For this reason, many householders plant and cultivate hedges to delineate their property line and to screen out passers-by. The older inner suburbs boast some particularly fine hedges. Indeed, some are so luxuriant as to have spilled out on to nature strips, forcing pedestrians off footpaths and generally inconveniencing cyclists.

Where complaints about overgrown hedges arise, as they have from time to time, the Directorate of Territory and Municipal Services has directed householders to cut them back. Those who refuse to comply with such orders can be fined, but in fact TAMS has hardly ever done so, relying instead on ratepayers ''doing the right thing''. Those who choose to ignore rulings or to stonewall them keep their hedges intact - and many have done so, claiming that to trim them back would detract from their ''heritage value''.

This week, TAMS exempted a Braddon resident from trimming a hedge that had come to block access to a footpath. It will instead move the footpath around the offending hedge. The decision has, not surprisingly, been welcomed by householders with large, overgrown hedges. It has, equally unsurprisingly, caused resentment among those who have previously complied with TAMS orders to trim their hedges.

The obligation on householders to keep their hedges from encroaching on to neighbouring property or public land would seem to be fundamental, even non-negotiable, particulary if it becomes a public nuisance. While a case for leniency can be made for people whose age restricts their ability to tend a hedge, or who buy a house with an already overgrown hedge, ratepayers should not have to foot the bill for new footpaths occasioned by the inaction of others. Nor should arguments about ''heritage streetscapes'' be entertained. In fact, massively tall hedges detract from the overall appearance of heritage precincts - which is why the Heritage Register specifically declares that in such areas ''hedges should not hide the contribution of the dwelling to the streetscape''.

It is true that overgrown hedges, particularly conifers, do not present well after vigorous pruning. They still form an effective, if ugly, screen, and there is nothing to prevent householders from planting a new hedge. The key point, however, is that if trimmed regularly, hedges maintain their appearance and can be kept within proper boundaries. TAMS would have done well to maintain its consistent approach to those who let their hedges stray.

Snapshot revealed

The annual snapshot of the opinions and attitudes of the Commonwealth Public Service workforce has made its way into the public domain, with bullying, gossip and sick leave dominating the media coverage. In fact, these issues - which come under the rubric of ''employee health and wellbeing'' and ''innovation and social media'' - are but two of the six sections covered by the survey.


Probably the most revealing and interesting aspect of the survey is the accompanying overview by Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick. In it, he addresses the topic de jour regarding the public service: its size. ''Contrary to the commentary of some business spokespersons'', Mr Sedgwick writes, ''the optimal size of the APS is difficult to establish a priori. It is best derived from the nature and scale of the activities the government undertakes, and its preferred delivery model''.

Clearly aimed at Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott, the comments might equally apply to the federal opposition, which continues to maintain, somewhat disingenuously, that the Commonwealth public sector is over-manned and requires forced redundancies.

Also noteworthy are Mr Sedgwick's thoughts on the ''vast amount of sensitive information about the private affairs and views of individuals'' and his belief that public servants need to treat such confidences with ''care and respect and in accordance with the law''. The commissioner has of course remarked previously about public servants' obligation to put this duty ahead of any commitment they might have to freedom of information requests or, indeed to releasing information they might consider to be in the public interest. Social media has potentially made such disclosures easier to initiate, hence Mr Sedgwick's cautionary tone - although it tends to sit a little uncomfortably with public calls for a more open public service ''prepared to engage in dialogue with the community it serves through government''.