26 September 2023

Archives opens gate on old fence policy

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ArchivesACT has chosen records related to the National Capital Development Commission’s (NCDC) decision to survey the number of front fences on Canberra housing blocks as its Find of the Month for July, seeking to understand why such a survey was deemed necessary.

Archives said that following the publication of its April Find of the Month, which explored the NCDC survey results, Agency staff felt the need to investigate further as it was a curious project for the Commission to undertake.

“We thought it might be worth investigating why it was felt there was a need to complete the survey and whether it resulted in any changes to Canberra’s ‘no front fences’ policy,” Archives said.

“A recently revealed Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly (HoA) file dating from the period gives us a good summary of the reasons why the front fences survey was done, as well as some of the information it collected and how it was used,” it said.

“In August 1982, Independent Member for the House of Assembly, John Clements, issued a press release to say that he was making arrangements for the ‘Fence Defence Committee’ to meet with the Minister for the Capital Territory, Michael Hodgman, to present him with a petition in favour of a change to the front fence policy.”

Archives said Mr Clements’ press release claimed the petition contained over 8,000 signatures.

It said Mr Hodgman issued his own press release one week later, stating his belief that the front fence policy served an important purpose and should be maintained, but that he accepted there may be circumstances under which front fences might, on humanitarian grounds, be permitted.

“It is not clear what humanitarian principles were of concern, but there is correspondence on the file that suggests that some residents felt that the policy was discriminatory and a denial of basic human rights related to safety and security of families and their property,” Archives said.

The Canberra Times reported in November that the number of signatures on a petition had by then grown to ‘about 9,000’.”

It said the story prompted NCDC to commit to the front fence survey and to reporting on the situation by early 1983.

Archives said that in the end, there was a need for compromise and policy changes were made in 1984 which introduced arrangements very similar to the present-day requirements.

ArchivesACT’s Find of the Month for July can be accessed at this PS News link and its Find for April at this link.

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