19 June 2020

Interview with MLA Meegan Fitzharris

| My Gungahlin
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I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the latest Member to be appointed in the ACT Legislative Assembly. Local Gungahlin resident Meegan Fitzharris was appointed into the Molonglo electorate following the resignation of Katy Gallagher in December last year.

The following outlines the chat we had about her appointment and views on Gungahlin.

Meegan, firstly, congratulations on being elected into the ACT Legislative Assembly based on the casual vacancy brought about by Katy Gallagher’s resignation last year.

Thanks Mark, I’m very excited and humbled by my election. It’s particularly exciting to be the MLA living in and representing Gungahlin. It’s humbling to fill the vacancy left by Katy Gallagher, a great community leader and role model.

This is a bit of a funny situation I must admit. We first met several years back now at a Gungahlin Community Council meeting. We would then catch up each month at subsequent meetings and talk about Gungahlin, roads, schools and our kids. Back then My Gungahlin had a couple of hundred Facebook likes and now look at us, you are in the ACT Assembly and My Gungahlin is pushing to 10,000 LIKES!

I agree, funny, but good! We’ll definitely be continuing those conversations. Looking back over my Facebook page from 2012, the last post I made was to share your post to get to 1,000 likes. Another 9,000 likes later – it’s a tribute to you and to My Gungahlin and shows how much people love living here and how much they want to engage.

Noting the election you ran in was held in 2012, it must feel a little strange getting in now two years on?

It does feel a little strange, but that is the way our system works. For those who don’t know how it works, the ‘count back’ held after Katy resigned was re-counting the votes cast in 2012. It’s our version of a by-election and is a reflection of what people wanted at the 2012 election.

When you ran in the 2012 election you made yourself quite visible in Gungahlin and seemed to make it clear Gungahlin was your preferred area to represent even though the electorate of Molonglo is quite large and takes in other areas in Canberra. Will this representation continue now that you are elected?

I will continue to represent the whole of the Molonglo electorate (which has 7 MLAs), but I will have a strong focus on Gungahlin – I’d like to bring Gungahlin to the Assembly and the Assembly to Gungahlin. The Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, has already been out here twice this year and I hope to bring him out here as often as I can. Locals can expect to see me often and I will be available as their representative in the Assembly.

Are you the first Gungahlin resident to sit the ACT Assembly?

Simon Corbell lived in Gungahlin in the late 1990s I think, but since then, no, not that I’m aware of. So I’m not the first, but I am probably the first to clearly identify with Gungahlin.

At the next election with the changes of the Assembly to 25 members we will essentially see an opportunity for Gungahlin to have up to 5 members from Gungahlin representing the Gungahlin region. What kind of benefits do you think this will bring to us?

There will be all sorts of benefit to the ACT with an expanded assembly. We are under-represented in the Federal Parliament and in the ACT Legislative Assembly. Whatever you think of politicians, our democratic system is one of the strongest in the world and the envy of many citizens of other countries. The better representation we have – from whichever party or individual – will benefit the whole community. I would like to talk to people about this and about improving the way the community and elected representatives engage with each other.

At the moment the Molonglo electorate is vast and although there are 7 members it can be difficult to get across all the issues in the electorate. Especially because the Legislative Assembly covers all areas that other state and local governments do: roads, rates and rubbish, plus schools, hospitals, police, community services and economic development. It is a big load for government, opposition and cross bench MLAs.

I don’t think it will be quite be big enough to make a whole electorate so we’ll see some Belconnen or possibly some Inner North suburbs join the electorate, so we will still have a diversity of older and newer suburbs. The ACT Electoral Commission will finalise the boundaries sometime this year.

The change will mean two things for Gungahlin and the region. 1. More Gungahlin residents can put their hands up to represent our region so there will be more local voices in the Assembly and 2. that will mean more MLAs on the ground, hearing from people, advocating for them and for the region’s interests in the context of the whole Territory. It will be a real improvement. For example, when you drive out of Gungahlin and back every day at peak hour you know which roads work and which ones don’t. For me, it will be about being a Labor voice in Gungahlin, talking about what I think Labor does best – investing in people to make sure they have every opportunity, investing in infrastructure so our community stays liveable and enjoyable, and investing in the community more broadly through health and education and making sure our economy stays strong so people have jobs.

One matter that I know is important to you is the cinema development in Gungahlin. In 2013 Andrew Barr announced a cinema was to be developed and said construction would commence in mid 2014. The block to be developed is still a temporary car park. Recent advice provided states construction won’t commence now until late this year. As a Gungahlin resident and one of the champions of this cause this must be frustrating. Why has there been such a delay?

It is important to me – I campaigned a lot on the cinema in 2012 because locals told me they wanted to have a night out locally, to take their kids in the holidays etc. Government’s don’t build cinemas, but after our campaign the ACT Government responded by releasing land for sale to developers looking to build a complex that had to include a cinema. I agree it is a little frustrating that the timeframes have drawn out and it was one of the first things I asked the Minister’s office about when I started last week. I understand the main reason is because ultimately this is a private development and large developments take time. Also a cinema doesn’t on its own make a development viable, so the whole package has taken longer to pull together than expected.

When can we expect the cinema to open?

I hope it will be open next year and I will be pushing strongly for that to happen.

Who will be the cinema operator?

It is in the hands of the developer of the site to announce this.

The Gungahlin Community Council recently ran a survey on the Gungahlin Town Centre. I am interested in your thoughts on some of the questions in the survey.

What do you believe the maximum height of buildings in the Gungahlin Town Centre should be and why?

I don’t have a strong view on specific heights, and I don’t yet know how to translate metres into stories.

On this topic, Geocon has presented a proposal for a large scale mixed use development on the corner of Gundaroo Drive and Anthony Rolfe that would be over 20 stories. Do you think this is appropriate for Gungahlin?

Yes, I’m fine with this from what I have seen. If there is going to be a tall building in the Town Centre I think this is about the best place for it (I should add I also live about 5 minutes walk away so consider myself a neighbour of this development if it goes ahead).

The major issue I see with this development is the impact it will have on the intersection of Mirrabei Drive and Gundaroo Drive. That will need an upgrade, especially to make it more pedestrian friendly. More people in the town centre is good for Gungahlin and our local businesses. I particularly like that this proposal is so close to the Town Centre and Yerrabi Pond, I would love to see the already great cafes, restaurants and other small businesses down there have more business.

I understand there is interest in this proposal. I’ve followed debates about similar proposals in other town centres and I’m interested in hearing all sides of the story; existing residents as well as from people that would love to live in these homes – in the end they won’t be built if people don’t want to buy them. I think the views will be spectacular!

What additional commercial outlets and amenities would you like to see in the Town Centre or Gungahlin generally? Other than the cinema of course!

Yes, other than the cinema! Commercial outlets will come if there is a consumer base for them. The ACT Government can facilitate that through planning and land release especially. What will happen this year is the ACT Government will open its office block in the Town Centre, that will bring 550 – 600 staff here for the crucial Monday – Friday trade. This will be great for existing businesses, but also bring new businesses. I’d like to see greater variety of shops so people can shop for a wider range of things, that will generate more economic activity locally and that also means more jobs locally. I think the cinema, light rail and more residents in the Town Centre will bring that with it. I think it’s hard to advocate for more services and facilities but not for more people.

One of the things we don’t have as much of as older parts of Canberra is community space, for example, spaces for playgroups to meet regularly, space for multicultural groups to meet regularly. I hope we see more of these in the coming years. Our local playgrounds are amazing, as are our walkways. The social infrastructure in the Town Centre is exceptional: the library, swimming pool, oval, college and CIT are first rate facilities. The opening of the Casey and Amaroo Group Centres and more businesses along Flemington Road will soon take some of the pressure off the Town Centre.

During the 2012 election you ran a survey on Hibberson street, what changes would you like to see?

I did run a survey and Hibberson St was one of the frequent issues that people raised with me during 2012. I’m not automatically a fan of closing down the road. There is a lot of evidence around Australia and internationally that this takes away from commercial and community feel. But I do want to see less and slower traffic on Hibberson St. In 2012 I was keen to learn more about what how a one way system would work. or perhaps we could think about something like the shareway now on Bunda St in the City. Capital Metro will also change how Hibberson St will work. I’m keen to hear what people know and what they think about how this will work.

Do you see parking as an issue in the Town Centre? If so what changes would you like to see?

Parking has become more of an issue recently. That may change when the Casey and Amaroo Group Centres open and it will also change when the ACT Government Office Block opens. What is special about parking at the moment is that it remains free. I’d like to see it stay that way for as long as possible. The Park and Ride has removed commuters parking in the two large car parks, which is good. Parking for quick pick up and drop off can be hard. But on the flip side, as we grow and get more variety, we will be less able to park right out the front of places and drop in. And I think Gungahlin has the nicest, most community feel of any Town Centre in the city.

Would you like to see the Gungahlin Health Centre changed to include a Nurse Walk-In Centre?

Yes, and I believe it was built with that capacity in mind. I’ll see where that is up to.

Roads are always a major topic in Gungahlin. What do you see as the number one road issue to be rectified in Gungahlin?

Number one for me is the duplication of Gundaroo Drive and especially between Mirrabei and Gungahlin Drive. We have to get our major east-west road duplicated. I will be advocating strongly for this. There are more, but I’ll just stick to this one as the priority to advocate for immediately.

What recreation facilities would you like to see more?

I think we’re incredibly well served with recreational facilities, open spaces, walkways, playgrounds. I’m keen to talk to local sporting groups about how more formal activities are catered for. I would also like to see an improved playground in the Town Centre.

What facilities/services for youth do you think are needed in Gungahlin?

A cinema! And again, I’m keen to talk to young Gungahlin residents about this. What would they like to see?

What facilities/services for seniors are needed in Gungahlin?

A cinema! And, as above, I would be keen to hear form locals about that. I think we are very well served by health facilities now, with a huge growth in the number of GP clinics, as well as the outstanding Gungahlin Health Centre.

What are your thoughts on light rail?

I am a big supporter of light rail. Over the next five – ten years our commute from Gungahlin to the City will increase to nearly an hour on average. Light rail is a proven way of increasing public transport use and it is just such a nice way to travel. It has an X factor which means that people who wouldn’t otherwise catch the bus will catch light rail. I catch the bus semi regularly and I know we have great services, but with light rail it will be a real game changer for people to travel to and from Gungahlin. I know a lot of people are talking about it – that’s great. There are two main questions – Do we need it? And is it affordable? I think the answer to both is ‘yes’. It will be the most scrutinised project in the ACT’s history. That’s a good thing. And I’m confident it will stack up. I’m keen to make sure people are staying up to date on Capital Metro and keen to hear people’s views. Capital Metro do a lot of engagement with the community as well and I would encourage people to check out their website; it’s great.

What are your thoughts on the fuel prices in Gungahlin in comparison to what we are seeing in other parts of Canberra, particularly Majura Park?

What has happened at Majura Park has shown we’ve been ripped off at the pump for too long. It shows that people will vote with their feet. The Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, has written to the ACCC about prices in Canberra, asking for a review into why ACT prices are comparatively high. Though no response has been forthcoming, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims has noted publically that Canberra is an region that could be considered. It’s difficult for the Government to dictate fuel prices and competition in the market, but I will be joining the Chief Minister and the rest of the Government team in voicing our displeasure and encouraging a further look into the issue from the ACCC.

What do you think has been the most exciting development you have seen in Gungahlin?

Socially – the vibrant and diverse community in Gungahlin; it’s multicultural, its demographically mixed and has some distinct features, for example the high number of Defence families.

The ongoing development of the Town Centre, still retaining a village feel, but developing and changing.

From my personal perspective it’s that I can walk to the town centre, Yerrabi pond in 10 minutes and nature reserve in 15 mins. where else can you do that?

Where is your favourite place in Gungahlin for a drink, coffee or bite to eat?

Ok, I have a lot but if I have to go out on a limb! I would say that Guru in the Town Centre has a special place in my heart. It’s where two of our kids had their first social outing (tucked in the capsule under the table at about 5 days old!) while Mum and Dad had a coffee. Siren for a drink and great meal and Da Nunzio at Yerrabi Pond- we’ve had some special occasions there.

Thank you for taking the time out of what I am sure is a busy time to sit down with me for a chat.

Thanks Mark, I look forward to My Gungahlin’s continue success and to keeping up the conversation.

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