Andrew Barr: regrets he’s had a few but his Government will do it his way

Ian Bushnell 16 March 2018 11

Chief Minister Andrew Barr expresses his regret to ABC morning radio. Photo: Still taken from ABC Canberra video.

It wasn’t quite a mea culpa but Chief Minister Andrew Barr did his best to mend fences with the Canberra media when he told the ABC that he regretted his comments to communications professionals about hating journalists and being over the mainstream media.

“It wasn’t a very nice thing to say, I shouldn’t have said it and I regret it,” he told ABC radio. “It caused a lot of upset for journalists and people who feel it was an inappropriate thing to say, which it was.”

But, and it was a pretty big but, the Chief Minister did not resile from his comments about the ‘newspaper’ in this town which had taken an openly hostile stance to his Government.

“I think there are some media outlets that follow a particular political view to the point that their editorial policies are not independent or balanced. And I don’t think you can put on your masthead that you are independent if your stated editorial policy is to support the election of a conservative government,” he said.

Mr Barr acknowledged that the comments sprang from a degree of frustration with the editorial policies of a number of media outlets in this city.

He said that the media, in general, did not serve the Australian people well, singling out The Australian and the Murdoch press but said he was hardly the first politician to make that observation.

Mr Barr denied disrespecting the more senior elements of the Canberra community who got their news from traditional media.

“I didn’t, I never have. That’s another part of this whole debate that is just extraordinary. Because I might also want to talk to the other 330,000 Canberrans doesn’t mean I don’t want talk to and engage with that group,” he said.

“My point consistently has been what about those other people who don’t listen to AM radio, who don’t read the newspaper.”

The Chief Minister said the Government could talk to both, saying what he was asking communications professionals was to help the Government talk to those not engaged by traditional media, although he acknowledged he had not done it in a particularly effective way.

“We will communicate with the people of Canberra through traditional media, through new media, independent outlets that operate in this city, the throw-away weeklies that are given away for free; through websites, social media, through street stalls, doorknocking, telephone calls, every day every member of the Government is out talking to hundreds if not thousands of people and we’ll use every possible method of communications,” Mr Barr said.

“We won the last ACT election because we had 250,000 conversations directly with voters. People are smart, people often ask questions that are more relevant to them than journalists ever can to politicians. That’s the great thing about Canberra, its one of the most engaged communities and people often will be subject matter experts more so than some journalist will ever be.”

He said the aim was not to cut journalists out of the process, saying politicians had always endeavoured to talk directly to voters.

“No, it never has been. And reporting to that effect is misleading and unfair,” he said.

“No I shouldn’t have made that statement. I apologise for making that statement. It wasn’t a nice thing to say but it doesn’t detract from my point that we need to communicate with all Canberrans and I can’t just rely on the traditional media to reach all Canberrans.”

Mr Barr said he couldn’t change the news model, which was hooked on controversy and ignored much of what his Government was doing.

When asked what lessons he had learnt from the experience, a bruised Mr Barr said that there was no such things as off the record or Chatham House rules.

“I didn’t know that there would be someone secretly recording. I will now expect that everywhere I go in the context of being asked to give some frank remarks or commentary on anything that it will always be recorded,” he said.

“I won’t be the first or last politician to learn that lesson. Yes, it was a classic gotcha moment and the media love gotcha moments.”

Mr Barr portrayed himself as free of media influence and said he wanted a clear separation between his Government and the media.

“What is very clear from this is that there is no newspaper editor, no broadcast editor, no journalist who can pick up the phone and demand that I change my position on anything. There is no Alan Jones-style operator in the ACT where the premier or the chief minister gets hauled in and told you will change that policy or we will campaign against you,” he said.

“Media plays its role of scrutinising government but it doesn’t have a seat at the cabinet table, it’s not elected, no one will tell me what to do.”

Seeking to put an end to the matter, Mr Barr said these were the last public comments he would make on the media.

“I’ve said my piece. Let’s move on from here,” he said.

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11 Responses to Andrew Barr: regrets he’s had a few but his Government will do it his way
beardedclam beardedclam 1:10 pm 19 Mar 18

Canberra Times and ABC local news are terrible. They try desperately to remain relevant by producing stories that are blatantly one-sided and the most “shocking” or controversial, usually against the ACT Government.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:47 am 18 Mar 18

If there was any doubt about which side of politics the “always independent” Fairfax Media is on then one only has to pick up today’s Canberra Times.

Yesterday was a big day in Australian politics with a South Australian state election on and a less significant by-election in Victoria for a Federal seal formerly held by a disgraced Labor MP.

The reader has to move to page 6 before the results of the elections are published and then 2/3 of the page is devoted to the close win by Ged Kearney, the career union/Labor candidate. The ramifications of the Batman by-election were insignificant compared to the South Australia state election which ended the Labor domination of 4 terms with a whopping win to the Liberals.

But no headline about this with the last 1/3 of the page about the media backed “Mr X” who didn’t even win a seat!

The moral to this story is that as long as Andrew Barr is representing the Labor Party he can bag the Canberra Time journalists with impunity.

michael quirk michael quirk 9:29 am 18 Mar 18

Mr Barr’s mea culpa over his comments on journalists is welcome.
However, he must learn to be humble. At the moment he is acting as if he were an emperor. Unfortunately through his taxing, questionable land dealings and light rail extravagance he is mirroring Nero and Caligula rather than Augustus.
For penance, he and his fellow Labor and Green MLAs, should for eternity be required to travel with wise seniors in the empty light rail carriages traveling to Gungahlin in the morning and from Gungahlin in the afternoon to receive advice and reflect on their transgressions.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 5:03 pm 17 Mar 18

The Canberra Times may not be Le Monde or The Washington Post, but, delusions aside, Canberra is not one of the great capitals of the world, and without a geopolitical cataclysm of unimaginable proportions, never will be. It is a steadily growing provincial/second tier city still (and always likely to be) very heavily reliant directly and indirectly on public spending on bureaucracy, defence and tertiary education and, as such, is by and large, blandly and predictably homogenous and is run by pretty much the sort of people one would expect to climb to the top in such a polity.

In such a city, the best media strategy would understand that most people can find out what they need and want to know about Territory Government activities when it suits them, and without quite so much public money spent on what too often comes across as clod-hopping self-promotion and/or condescension.

Stephen Page-Murray Stephen Page-Murray 3:10 pm 17 Mar 18

When the public find out about the true financial state of the tram he’ll be gone

    Lucy Baker Lucy Baker 6:18 pm 18 Mar 18

    The light rail company are going to cost us a fortune via Andrew Barr in fixups. Such as flattening the huge bumps traffic has to negotiate when crossing Northbourne. Otherwise commuters will be reminded to be annoyed at Andrew Barr ( Bump!) on the way to work and on the way back.

Mac John Mac John 11:42 pm 16 Mar 18

Mr Barr, you need to do a lot better and act for the best interest of Canberra. At this stage you are headed for a failure.

Garfield Garfield 9:21 pm 16 Mar 18

The Canberra Times is dedicated to the election of a Conservative government? Oh please. There have to be at least 50% of opinion pieces in the Canberra Times that back Labor federally. If Barr’s ACT Labor government is getting hammered by that same paper, I suggest he take a look at what his government is actually doing.

His own government’s analysis of the tram vs BRT showed the tram was the inferior choice by a long way. The Times was stymied on FOI requests for more than a year before finally getting their hands on the documents, and guess what, they reported it because a government choosing an inferior infrastructure project because of a political deal or sheer bloody mindedness is news.

Then we have the government pushing through a minor technical amendment to the use of community facility land in 2015, saying nothing to see here, but just a couple of months after the election from out of nowhere came the news that replacement public housing wasn’t going into the corridor as previously announced, but was going on CFZ land. Again that’s big news and the paper rightly reported it.

There’s also the Tradies land swap deal that the auditor general has said gave away at least $2.4m in taxpayer value to the CFMEU controlled club. Former Labor Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has said publicly that the CFMEU is the most powerful factional player in ACT Labor. It stinks to high heaven and guess what, the paper reported it.

If Barr wants the Times to stop giving his government a hard time, I suggest all he’d have to do is stop making these types of decisions.

Lucy Baker Lucy Baker 8:01 pm 16 Mar 18

He’s actually just sorry he got caught.

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