Yesterday Andrew Barr was elected unopposed as Leader of the Labor Party, and today he will be elected unopposed as Chief Minister. First Ministers have a choice to make: crash or crash through, or to slide along politely with one cheek aloft of each side of an ever encroaching barbed wire fence. Andrew is not crashing or crashing through.
AB Hello Steven.
SB Hi Andrew! Do you mind if I put you on speaker phone so I can type while you speak?
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AB No, that’s fine.
(2 mins later, and after a little bit of swearing to myself under my breath)
SB Thanks. Andrew, you’re a cat person aren’t you?
AB Yes, I am. I love dogs too and had dogs growing up, but I have a cat now.
SB Andrew, you recently described yourself as a leader more similar to Katy Gallagher
than Jon Stanhope. What do you like more about Gallagher than Stanhope?
AB Having worked with both, they both brought different strengths to the role. They governed in different times. Jon was elected in 2001 based on a platform to effectively fix the health and education systems. Katy’s time in office was of a different era. Jon enjoyed good economic growth with a rapidly expanding federal government; it was a period where the government had a sustained surplus. After the global financial crisis Katy worked closely with the federal government on stimulus measures to keep the economy growing… investing in housing, schools, and infrastructure. I’ll be governing in a time more like Katy’s in terms of economic challenges. There are generational differences too. Jon is older than my dad! Katy and I are a similar age. Katy is adept with social media…
SB Ha! I’m not sure if Jon knows what Facebook is, nor does he want to know! I’m more similar to Jon in that sense. Sorry, I interrupted.
AB Jon is passionate, intense and driven by policy outcomes. Jon is a bit like Whitlam’s ‘crash or crash through’. Katy is consensus driven. I will find a balance between their approaches.
SB Given that you’ve presided over deficit after deficit, how on earth are you going to balance the budget within the foreseeable future?
AB There won’t be a balanced budget for a couple of years. I’m not suggesting that we will have a balanced budget, but we will be working towards that in the future. I’m confident that we can get there because the impact of Mr Fluffy will run off and, once done, will not be ongoing. The impact to the budget in the short-term will be significant, but in the long-term we will be better-off. Revenues need to grow more than expenditure. [We can get there] through a combination of expenditure constraint such as delays of infrastructure projects and ensuring that revenue is robust. That’s why the tax reform I started a number of years ago is so important.
SB Speaking of infrastructure, if light rail becomes too much of an electoral problem, will you ditch it?
AB We are committed to delivering the light rail project. We have changed our approach to procurement and financing. We have a public/private partnership – the key reason for doing this was to ensure that the ACT is not called upon to make payments until the project is operational. This removes risks associated with the delivery of the project.
SB But will you ditch the project if it means electoral failure?
AB I don’t believe we will lose because of the project. Publicly available research shows that more than half of the ACT supports the project, and that number will increase with further explanation and awareness of the project.
SB But will you ditch it…?
AB I accept that some are opposed and will not change their mind. I acknowledge that some who vote Labor or Green…
SB Or the Sex Party!
AB Yes, I’ll give you that. I accept that some people will be opposed to it. But I’m backing myself and my team to convince the Labor and Greens voters that this is the right project at the right time, and I hope to carry more Liberal voters with me who I know support the project too.
SB Just an historical question for you: did you fear that there was a chance that Canberra would have had a Liberal Government during the two weeks after the election in 2012 when Shane Rattenbury was deciding to whom the gong for Government would be given?
AB I felt that the overwhelming majority of Greens voters and members would have preferred the outcome that has occurred: a Labor Government – just as Labor voters and Labor members would preference the Greens ahead of the Liberals. We have many policy similarities and many areas in common. It would be highly unusual for the Greens to support a Liberal Government – especially an Opposition as conservative as the ACT Liberals. Calling themselves Liberals is a fraud. They are the conservatives. Go anywhere else in the world and call that mob liberal to people and they would be stunned considering the positions they hold on issues.
SB Do you fear the presence of smaller parties in the 2016 election?
AB I respect anyone prepared to put their name forward for public office. From time to time we might disagree on certain views. It’s important in a democratic process that people have a wide range of candidates. The Hare-Clark system in the ACT allows the people to determine more fairly which party, or parties, they want elected. Large numbers of voters within our system choose individual candidates. It’s a strength in our system.
SB Do you think our system would be fairer if you provided for seven-seat electorates instead of five (considering the redistribution from three electorates to five electorates)?
AB It was difficult to get to seven-member electorates within a twenty-five member parliament…
SB Mathematics is a poor excuse for not having fairer representation within a democracy.
AB At some point in the future I suspect the Assembly will increase to thirty-five members which would allow for larger electorates. The advantage for 2016 is a number of communities will have a greater sense of ownership over a specific area instead of sharing those areas. I think this will empower people.
SB Last question: if you’re not a ‘crash or crash through’ type of leader, you wouldn’t see yourself as a Gough Whitlam. If you had to choose, to which Prime Minister would you consider yourself to be most similar?
AB IJoined the Labor party in 1992 just after Paul Keating became prime minister. There’s no way that I have the razor sharp wit like Keating and I wouldn’t compare myself to a PM as inspiring as him. But if I had to pick, I would pick Hawke and Keating on economics, and Gillard on education and social reform.
SB Andrew, it’s been an honour and a privilege to speak with you on what I know would have been a very busy day for you. Congratulations.
AB Look forward to speaking with you again soon.