Federal Politics


Working together is an art in itself

If there was an award for patience in the field of artistic endeavour, Alison Alder, the artistic director of Megalo Print Studio, might well be in the front running. Megalo, a community access workshop for paper and fabric printing, has operated continuously in makeshift premises since its formation in 1980 – albeit on the understanding from government that a permanent home would be found for it eventually.

That goal began to take form in 2003, when the then government identified the old Kingston power station and surrounds as a future hub for visual arts production. In 2009, chief minister Jon Stanhope announced that the historic Fitters Workshop, next to the power station, had been chosen as Megalo's future permanent home and that architects had been engaged to undertake scoping and design work for the heritage-listed building.

Two years later, in April 2011, he announced a $3.9 million grant to fit out the workshop for Megalo's use. Not everyone in the ACT arts community welcomed the decision, however. Indeed, many prominent identities claimed the building's acoustics made it an ideal concert venue and that it should be preserved as such.

The dispute over the artistic destiny of the Fitters Workshop eventually made its way into the political arena. In June, a multi-party committee in the Legislative Assembly recommended the workshop be converted to a “multi-use venue".

Although the ACT Liberals and the Greens teamed up to pass a motion forcing the government to act on the committee's findings, the Gallagher government said it remained committed to its original decision. But in the months since then, it has not seemed in any particular hurry to make good on implementing that decision.

The long wait proved too much for the Megalo board, with Ms Alder this week announcing the studio had relinquished its claims in return for the promise of a purpose-built facility – a request Arts Minister Joy Burch apparently agreed to with alacrity. Ms Alder said although the Fitters Workshop would have been ideal, "We could foresee that [this was] not going to be resolved soon".


She and the board are to be congratulated for their decision. It is arguable that Megalo's claims for exclusive use of the Fitters workshop were the stronger, legally and morally, of the two competing interests, but the promise of a purpose-built facility in the near future was too good an opportunity to pass up. The upside is that what is claimed to be a "unique musical space" will now be preserved for the enjoyment of all Canberrans.

MBA on to safety

The decision by the Master Builders Association of the ACT to review the recommendations of the government's Getting Home Safely report – an inquiry into health and safety in the ACT's construction sector handed down last month – is praiseworthy. The MBA review, to be led by former Australian War Memorial director Steve Gower, is to examine the 28 recommendations in the report (and specifically those addressed at the MBA) and to analyse the organisation's own operations and services as they relate to safety in the sector.

With employers, unions and the government all having committed to improving the ACT's unacceptable construction safety record, the MBA review should, in theory, assist in the reform process.

The Getting Home Safely report was an exhaustive and thorough analysis of the health and safety issues that have bedevilled the construction industry in recent years – to which the MBA itself contributed. As it happens, the MBA is not entirely happy with all the recommendations – it would be unusual if it were – but it regards the recommendation that the Government, the Taxation Office and other agencies work to “eradicate sham contracting practices" as among the more problematic.

The government has already accepted some of the report's recommendations, and is to provide a detailed response to the rest by the end of February next year.

The MBA has every right to lobby the government during this time regarding its own concerns, and probably will. But with all parties having agreed to work together to implement the report's recommendations as quickly as possible, it is to be hoped that the MBA's own review will serve only to enhance this process and ensure that ACT construction sites are safer places to work in 2013.