20 March 2023

Barr is a long-term thinker with a plan. How Canberra is that?

| Ian Bushnell
Join the conversation

Chief Minister Andrew Barr among friends at the CEDA State of the Territory address. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Andrew Barr is a rare politician in a unique jurisdiction.

While other state leaders are more geared to contestable electoral cycles and, as a consequence, make decisions attuned to that, Mr Barr is a long-term thinker relatively safe in an electorate that hasn’t returned a Liberal government since 1998.

While it’s true WA, Victoria and Queensland have become Labor strongholds, electoral fortunes can turn quickly.

Not so much in the ACT.

READ ALSO Morrison appointed one of his MP mates to administer Home Affairs, without telling the minister

That is a function of the national capital’s demography and a general decline in the Canberra Liberals’ attractiveness over the years, a problem well recognised by some party members still struggling for internal reform.

One could argue that political environment gives Mr Barr the security to embark on long-term projects such as tax reform, the ACT’s superannuation liability and light rail.

But it may be that this self-confessed obsessive list maker could not be true to himself without having big plans that will leave a legacy of what he believes will be sustainable government and infrastructure.

A few years ago there was evidence that he was over politics and looking to move on, possibly frustrated by his perceived poor treatment at the hands of the media and the triteness of the news cycle.

That is long behind him now, especially with the election of the Albanese Government and the opportunities he sees for federal-territory cooperation, particularly in infrastructure.

Mr Barr seems so self-assured (his detractors call it arrogance) these days and held in such high esteem – one only had to observe the admiration for him when he addressed the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) last week – that he barely wastes a moment on countering what will be the main theme of the Opposition’s election strategy.

The Canberra Liberal’s risky decision to dump light rail if it wins government, hanging most of the Labor-Greens Government’s sins on its cost, fails to rate a mention unless he is specifically asked.

Light rail in the city: More than one way to finance infrastructure, says the Chief Minister. Photo: Region.

Then you will receive a long detailed answer explaining the importance of a public transport system that includes both light rail and electric buses, the range of financing options the government has for infrastructure, including asset sales, borrowing and Commonwealth funding, and the virtues of borrowing for infrastructure that future generations will have use of.

“If we’re building an asset for 50 or 100 years, I don’t expect this generation of taxpayers in this parliamentary term to pay for that upfront in cash,” he says.

He will take you on a journey of fully funding superannuation liabilities and tax reform so that in a decade, the ACT will be set up so it has cash reserves, investment income and a tax revenue stream that means it isn’t so reliant on land and asset sales.

A serious answer for a serious question and the sort of intellectual depth beyond three-word slogans that he expects Canberra voters will be able to accept.

Some will no doubt call it intellectual sleight of hand, but that is a dangerous game to play in a place full of experts like Canberra.

READ ALSO Bonus payment offered to ACT public servants

Asked whether he believes the Liberals are economically illiterate then for singling out light rail, Mr Barr refrains from the free kick he is offered.

“I don’t think they have a view beyond the next few years and we are still seemingly dealing with this tired old debt and deficit debate which is really a throwback to the Tony Abbott era,” he says.

“I really would have thought after what Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison did in debt and how much they debt they incurred during the pandemic, getting lectures from the Liberal Party on managing debt and deficit is just a little bit rich.”

The 2024 election looks like it will be a contest between a government offering to continue to get things done and press on with a broad reformist agenda and an Opposition distilling all that is wrong with the Territory into the tram and promising a fresh direction.

Mr Barr will be hoping that the election will just be one more thing to cross off so the government can move on to the next things on his list.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

An article aimed at the IQ of the left wingers?

GrumpyGrandpa9:44 pm 20 Mar 23

The author should spend 8 hours in The Canberra Hospital waiting to see a Doctor, before writing a glowing endorsement of the forward thinking Andrew Barr!
I hate to think what would happen if Mr Barr was to retire, because, frankly, the other ALP politicians don’t have much going for them.
Being continually re-elected actually has nothing to do with superior forward planning or being a good Government, it’s simply that we are are left-leaning city. Even if the ALP we’re seriously on the nose, with support of the Greens, they’d retain power.
It makes no difference whether you vote Left or Right, where any party has no fear of being defeated, none of us get a good outcome.

HiddenDragon7:23 pm 20 Mar 23

Andrew Barr and his government are very Canberra, but not in the way that this puff piece would suggest.

Barr leads a dilettante, neophiliac government which rarely – in public at least – lets inconvenient details and the messy bits of reality intrude into its world, or get in the way of the obsessions which it too often seems to pursue with monomaniacal zeal.

In essence, Andrew Barr appears to be a type which is often found in the federal bureaucracy in Canberra – preoccupied with the latest policy fads and big picture fantasies, relatively clueless about identifying any truly worthwhile bits of those ideas and turning them into a workable reality, and thus often ensconced in an area with words such as policy, strategy, evaluation or coordination etc. in the title which, of course, means safely distant from responsibility for delivering real services and outcomes in the real world.

A follow-up to this article, which goes into some detail about how “in a decade, the ACT will be set up so it has cash reserves, investment income and a tax revenue stream that means it isn’t so reliant on land and asset sales” would be of great interest to those of us who see the ACT budget as a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off.

Hope he stays for years, streets ahead of everyone else – as proven in the last election.

From what I can see Barr is asleep at the wheel. He’s introduced a light rail hardly any of us will ever use, the health system is a disgrace and the town looks a mess. No stadium plan and no energy or rejuvenation for the capital beyond the silly tram.

And to top it off Liberals will never win. Woopee!

I’m assuming his long term plan for the southern parts of the city must be close schools, remove bus services, tear down playgrounds and sporting facilities, reduce government jobs and let what’s left of infrastructure age gracefully.

What an embarrassing opinion piece that asks none of the hard long term questions of a Chief Minister who only focuses his attention and funds to one side of the city.

phillipbusinesscommunity1:41 pm 20 Mar 23

I struggled with this article. I struggled with comprehending if this was an election campaign starting advetorial for the ACT Labor Party with Andrew Barr at its head.

Andrew Barr is there only hope for electoral victory, as frankly the rest of the MLAs on that side don’t seem to have his ability to lead. Not yet anyway.

But, there is a massive hole in assertions of this article – Barr does NOT have a plan for ALL of Canberra. He seems to only have a plan for where the Labor and Green parties get their votes from.

There is no plan for what is happening south of Hindmarsh Drive, and regardless of our efforts to provide options and thoughts – nothing has come from that at all. There simply is no vision for south Canberra.

Then we look at Molonglo and it appears to be more of the same: Great ideas for yesterday, but no thought for tomorrow – which means today is broken. Look at the traffic issues on Cotter Road each morning, that’s due to a lack of planning and vision.

It seems that the Riot Act have moved more steadily towards being a major supporter of the ACT Labor Party – I thought that was CT’s job??

‘Getting lectures from the Liberal Party on managing debt and deficit is just a little bit rich’. Except it is not just the Liberals ‘lecturing’ him. He should read some of Stanhope’s comments on the state of our finances.

“A few years ago there was evidence that he was over politics and looking to move on, possibly frustrated by his perceived poor treatment at the hands of the media and the triteness of the news cycle.”

Yes, I really don’t know how he still puts up with the poor media treatment he receives, with constant hard hitting articles like this.

It must be tough to maintain his composure under such fierce and unwarranted attacks.

Oh please. Seriously? This deferential toadying is indicative of a number of our press corps. Where do we start. Hospitals – worst ED and elective surgery waiting times/ most expensive prison/ worsening naplan results and schools that are crumbling , many without air conditioning ( I’d love to see public servants sitting in classrooms with 32 C outside) /urban development that only offers high rise living/ crumbling pools/ highest rates in Australia/ appalling lack of urban maintenance and words fail me in regards to our bus system. Journalists need to leave their air conditioned rooms and drive around Canberra or travel to get a better perspective. I say give the Libs a go.

Krystel Chevallier9:44 am 20 Mar 23

THIS! And let’s not even talk about how he doesn’t seem to mind seeing a number of suburbs being gentrified and pushing people on lower wages outside of the city… If that’s what Labour stands for in Canberra, thanks, but no thanks

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.