20 March 2023

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

| Ian Bushnell
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tom McLuckie6:30 am 25 Mar 23

Let’s talk about these “virtues” of borrowing for infrastructure being built for future generations and “this generation of taxpayers in this parliamentary term “NOT PAYING” for that upfront in cash” The excessive debt Mr Barr has built up is the equivalent of $2000 or more per household in the ACT, or as forecast for this 2022-23, more than $300M for interest only. Ian Bushnell – how does that equate to the current generation not paying? Then the emissions due to the mass use of concrete and steel and heavy machinery for light rail and high density residencies along it’s route. We are paying that cost too with the mass urbanisation unlikely to be carbon neutral before the end of this century. Concrete contribute more emissions than the entire airline and shipping industries (8%). Ignoring alternative autonomous mass transport using mainly existing infrastructure is an ecological crime. We need climate action now, not in 40 years after the project. I think you are mistaking long term thinker with narcissist.

Tom McLuckie6:13 am 25 Mar 23

Thanks for the ACT Labor Party marketing campaign Ian Bushnell.
Long term thinker indeed. So that’s why our Correction Service is under resourcesd, stretched to the seams (and it’s why our Judiciary are loathed so send anyone for remand or sentence to the AMC), we haven’t invested in front line policing and other Frontline services at pace with our growing population, have the worst housing rental affordability in the country, worst waiting lists for ED, and the highest recidivism and re-offending rates. must be all that forward thinking and diversion of funding into the pet project aka the tram. and Andrew’s out is it’s all the former Fed government fault. What a con artist.

Tom McLuckie8:52 pm 24 Mar 23

Ian Bushnell – you haven’t even tried to be impartial as a journo here – have you been promised a candidacy at the next elections for Labor? A few bits of feedback. The tram – not paying for it now as per Andrew’s statement. Well that is the most incorrect statement I’ve heard in a long time! Each household in Canberra contribute $2000 per year to the interest only of the debt this great forward planner has delivered to the Territory, and that is growing year on year. And the emissions from the great tram and high density housing projects are staggering and contributing to global warming right now. So much for emergency action to reduce emissions. Do your research, understand how the concrete required (8% of global emissions from concrete production) for the light rail project, the steel and iron production, the concrete and steel frames and reinforcement for high density housing and the emissions from the carbon driven heavy good vehicles – maybe sometime by 2050-2070 this narcissistic infrastructure obsession will be carbon neutral – if we get the volume of road traffic users moving to public transport, and THAT is a big given. There are greener, less costly, and more contemporary solutions to be considered such as autonomous mass transport options using hydrogen, instead of pushing ahead with a flawed plan as our narcissistic leadership don’t have to capacity to be seen to accept they can at times be wrong. Shame on you Riot ACT.

He has done nothing for me. I always vote labor, but not next election. However Canberrans soil there pants at the thought of liberal getting in and reducing the ACTPS so unfortunately labor’s here forever

Simon Cobcroft1:19 am 23 Mar 23

Riotact – how is this journalism and not propaganda? Ian Bushnell has seriously drunk the Kool-Aid. Good journalists don’t pick sides.

The headline was enough for me to jump straight to comments and say “bullocks, what a crock “

What is this sycophantic, propagandist drivel? Is Barr doing cash for comment now?

Very disappointed in the Riot Act for this advertorial. Perhaps the Riot Act should critically review what is happening in the ACT with declining educational standards; increasing hospital and public housing waiting lists and ever degrading road infrastructure.
The Riot Act should also take off its rose-coloured glasses and look at what Mr Barr and co have done to the Tuggeranong and Woden areas of the ACT and how Mr Barr’s policies are stopping services being delivered in the Molonglo Valley.
It’s time for Mr Barr to go. If the electorate can’t stomach a Liberal administration, fine – let’s give some decent independents a go. People who actually live in the community and who will actually deliver for the ACT community.
As a challenge to the Riot ACT how about scoring Mr Barr on the delivery of his policies for the ACT and for the different ACT regions. Here in the Molonglo Valley nothing promised has been delivered, the promises just keep rolling election after election. A traffic light report on ACT Labor’s promises would show lots of red lights; some amber and no green. Time’s up Mr Barr.

Gregg Heldon8:42 am 21 Mar 23

He may have ideas and a plan but he can’t make any of them happen without Shane’s say so.
And both of them are arrogant enough to not bother with community consultation.
And they know that they can do what they want because Canberra is such a left leaning town.
Maybe the best we can hope for, next election, is that a few of the weaker coalition members are gone. Replaced by Indies, minor parties or the Libs. Clay, Burch and Gentlemen are my top three to go.
That might wake them up a bit.

Reading the comments – some people can’t, and will never, accept how good it is to live in the ACT. Imagine what the place would look like if Barr (and Gallagher) hadn’t been at the helm.

Capital Retro8:09 am 21 Mar 23

I have been in Canberra before and after self-government and of course for the last 20+ years under the Gallagher / Barr “leadership”.

I don’t subscribe to imagining things – that’s like being a “visionary” but I can define being in Canberra pre-Gallagher as living and since then, just existing.

The place has been ruined forever.

“Imagine what the place would look like if Barr (and Gallagher) hadn’t been at the helm.”

So you suggest that we should just accept woefully incompetent government because it might possibly have been worse in your opinion?

Perhaps if people didn’t think that way, all parties would be forced to regenerate and renew their ranks with better and more competent people because they need to if they want to succeed.

But instead we get arrogance and complacency from our government because too many people refuse to countenance voting any other way than they always have no matter the outcomes to the ACT.

Gregg Heldon8:44 am 21 Mar 23

Been here since 1975 and agree completely

Capital Retro10:22 am 21 Mar 23

Agree which way?

Yes I can imagine. Prior to Self Government the city was managed by the Federal Government. Research Canberra’s past and you will find many of the large infrastructure (government buildings, Lake Burley Griffin, good roads, bridges, Universities etc were built under the Menzies Federal Government

Gregg Heldon2:55 pm 21 Mar 23

With You, Capital Retro

Capital Retro3:44 pm 21 Mar 23

Thanks Gregg. I had to check because few people on this blog agree with me.

And thanks!

I agree with you both, totally! When I came here in the 90s it was for 6 months and I loved it so much that I stayed even though there’s no beach. Wonderful town, but sadly it’s deteriorated in so very many ways that I wonder why I still stay. The trouble is that once you’ve put down roots, grown family and friends here it’s hard to leave despite the drops in the standards of health, education, public transport, care of trees, reduction of green space, parks, ovals and trees, broken pavements, increased congestion on roads etc. And Mr Fluffy being hidden from people who bought here and then were forced to sell their homes below value for demolition.

Much better!!!!!!!!!!

An article aimed at the IQ of the left wingers?

More likely the right wing of the ALP

“An article aimed at the IQ of the left wingers?”
Perhaps you could find someone to do the political equivalent of “mansplaining” and dumb it down for the right 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.

Capital Retro11:33 am 21 Mar 23

A lot of potholes in those streets, AnimalLover.

GrumpyGrandpa1:02 pm 21 Mar 23

Animal Lover,
While I agree that Mr Barr is probably the best of a bad lot, it should be remembered that the ALP only scored one more seat than the Liberals.
So maybe Mr Barr is streets ahead of everyone else, but his party isn’t.

In some areas perhaps, but so terribly neglectful and behind the times in others. He is elitist and focused on what interests him, disregarding the rest of the community. Selfish narrow minded ignorant pratt on so many things.

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.

Thanks for the laugh!!!

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