Slings and Arrows: The 2017 Adelaide Audacity Awards

Adelaide’s politicians and bureaucrats have outdone themselves this year, as Ash Whitefly steps up to the podium to hand out 2017’s Audacity Awards, including prizes for Best New Jargon and the Smoke-and-Mirrors Query of the Year.

Best New Jargon Trophy

Adelaide’s city council win this year for the term “curate a program of activation”, a vibrantly audacious confection of language, which should see increasing use as the state government expands our park lands’ repertoire of recreational offers across its verdant landscape.

This term arose on July 25 in discussions over what to do with a large, rectangular steel raft wallowing in Torrens Lake, owned by the Adelaide Festival Corporation (AFC). This is the rusty base of the apparently popular 2017 nightspot Adelaide Festival Floating Palais. AFC had decided to leave this base, a pontoon, in place, instead of taking it away between annual Adelaide Festival programs, as promised in 2016.

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The true ownership of this marvellously suggestive jargon is not 100 per cent certain. It’s possible that the Adelaide Riverbank Authority people thought it up in an emergency huddle, as desperate attempts were made to think up something — anything — to stall a city council order that the ugly hulk be taken away, pronto. Weeks later, the bid succeeded when council relented, seduced by a grand AFC plan to clad it in wood panels and open it all year round.

Best Technical Term Plate

And the winner is: The author of a June 2017 report on the North South Bikeway (Frome Street/Road, city), in which potential last-minute changes to bikeway construction plans were described as ‘scope creep’.

This slippery notion also was evident elsewhere when then health minister, Jack Snelling, was responding to a July parliamentary committee question about why moves to transfer cardiology from Queen Elizabeth Hospital to the new Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) had been very suddenly slammed into full reverse, only months from the big hospital’s opening.

Was it simply a political decision that the scope crept backwards? Jack confessed: ‘Yes’. There was no mention that it had been discovered that several safe western suburbs Labor electorates were in revolt, and the political futures of a then transport, an education and a police minister could be at risk in the March 2018 poll.

Who would have guessed?

Adelaide ‘Piece Of String’ Ribbon

We all know how long is a piece of string. But can the unfathomable mystery of this conundrum be transferred into useful bureaucratese and applied more universally?

This Ribbon is awarded annually to note successful attempts. It relates to a question asked in winter 2017 of a city council administrator. The question was ‘What is the average cost to ratepayers to plant a tree in the City of Adelaide?’ Answer: “…dependent on a range of factors including the civil works required to ensure that a tree has adequate soil volume (or root space) to establish, grow and thrive, whilst minimising impacts to existing road and footpath infrastructure…”

It went on, but boiled down to between $2000 and $5000, but “in more complex projects such as Rundle Mall”, cost ranges from $10,000 to $15,000 per tree.” It then qualified that by noting that costs linked to “design, consultation, traffic control and other project costs” had not been added.

That administrator could climb right to the top.

The Power-Of-The-Pen Medal

This one goes to the government scribe who crafted the July 2017 leaflet that waxed lyrical about the (then) looming opening of the new RAH.

In 2016 Ash noted a document that revealed a significant car park shortfall compared to the old RAH site, as revealed in a 2015 study that (then) health minister Jack Snelling’s people hoped wouldn’t get circulated. In that, it was concluded that 2600 on-site spaces would be provided, which was significantly fewer than at the old RAH.

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But the government’s July 2017 leaflet about the new site went one step further and deleted another 300 spaces, claiming that there’s now only 2300 parks “and a number of motorcycle parks”. At least the latter would be good news for pregnant mothers and their multiple toddlers.

Timely Reminder Award

Goes to the city councillor who got up an October 24 motion that the state government reinstate council’s planning assessment role about city development, by increasing to $40m the government’s $10m development threshold trigger (diverting assessment elsewhere).

This would reinstate assessment referral to the council — additional scrutiny — of most of the big-dollar development applications that since 2013 had been restricted from council by Planning Minister, John Rau.

It was a timely, pre-election reminder about a political decision that blocked — and continues to block — transparent city co-assessment during a period of unprecedented high-rise tower applications in a speculative building spree about which there remain more questions than answers in a city whose residential population growth is almost static.

Smoke-And-Mirrors Query Of The Year

This goes to another City of Adelaide councillor for challenging administrators about the number of city buildings reported with potentially combustible cladding.

Their September answer was 77, but a later FOI probe elsewhere identified a total of 195, with 118 not mentioned in September because they had been “culled from the list by the [council] Administration after applying State Government Building Audit Criteria”.

Turns out that, while the government’s criteria included schools and hospitals, it left out other types of buildings, omitting those occupied by folks who are likely to be familiar with means of escape.

Could these include buildings occupied by government departments and other recently constructed government research hubs? The smog thickens…

Ash Whitefly is Executive Director of the Adelaide Whitefly Institute of Diplomatic Studies.