22 December 2021

Barr's leadership carries Government but 2022 poses fresh questions

| Ian Bushnell
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Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr delivering one of many COVID-19 briefings. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

When musing about what kind of year the ACT Government has had, the inescapable image is of Chief Minister Andrew Barr fronting the cameras for yet another COVID update, especially when announcing the ACT’s first lockdown death.

Mr Barr reinforced his reputation as a steady, measured and empathetic leader who, together with Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman, did his best to protect Canberra from the virus and drive world-beating vaccination rates.

He weathered the daily grilling with patience and humour, giving lengthy answers, even if he often had to repeat himself as new reporters rotated through.

He was provoked to anger when the likes of Sky News dropped in to toss a few hand grenades at him, but the real chill would come when his answers shrank to an icy yes/no.

Across his brief and articulate, Mr Barr was able to hold his own at National Cabinet, advocate for Canberra and maintain the public health line amid the Commonwealth-Labor state warfare that would regularly break out.

He delivered two budgets designed to keep the Canberra economy ticking over and, importantly for his government, often maligned for not being able to deliver on big projects, signed off on the start of construction on the Canberra Hospital Expansion, the new Woden interchange and works to enable light rail Stage 2 to Commonwealth Park.

All three will play a vital role in the government’s re-election chances in 2024 against what is looking like a revitalised Canberra Liberals team, as will the new CIT in Woden, which many in the community believe is sited in the wrong place. Transport and City Services Minister Chris Steel shepherded the interchange and CIT through the community consultation and will now want to deliver.

He will also have a range of other infrastructure works across the city to bed down.

Building development construction site

Housing, planning and infill development will be areas of vulnerability for the government. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Mr Barr’s other COVID partner, Rachel Stephen-Smith, will be the Health Minister who actually delivers the hospital upgrade.

The relentless COVID coverage has steeled her. According to most data, she is now the government’s best performer after Mr Barr, which is a good thing because the ACT’s hospital performance continues to be the worst in the country.

Despite runaway house prices, an insatiable demand for property and a rental market squeeze that is a barrier to new workers and a bane for the ACT’s low-income residents, Mr Barr and his ministers stayed the course with the government’s current policies.

The only concession, apart from COVID-related measures, was to explore ways to encourage build-to-rent options in the ACT.

Housing and planning will continue to be contentious for the government, with probably its weakest link, Mick Gentleman, in charge of fixing Canberra’s broken planning system and rolling out proposed legislative changes.

READ ALSO Big changes on way to fix Canberra’s ‘broken’ planning system

It will have to deal with a deep sense of distrust in the community about what kind of new planning system will emerge, although no one should think that there is a uniform view about the direction of development in Canberra.

The latest NAPLAN results also pose problems for the government, confirming a trend of sliding performance in public schools, something Education Minister Yvette Berry refuses to accept – at least publicly.

The Opposition actually produced a policy document on this that makes a lot of sense for parents wondering why their children are not achieving as they should.

Across these portfolio areas, the government will need to be on guard because the Liberals are lifting their game to offer sober criticism and real policy alternatives and will continue to probe away at housing, planning and development where they sense the government has lost its way and is out of touch with young families.

It can’t be forgotten that the Greens have three ministers in the government, and through the parliamentary agreement, have wielded considerable influence, particularly on climate change and environmental policy.

But they have also had to curb their ambitions and fall into line as part of being inside the tent.

The two new ministers – Rebecca Vassarotti and Emma Davidson – have had an understandably cautious start, but it has to be remembered that the way Mr Barr fashioned the ministry kept much of the real power in Labor hands.

Both of them will feel increased expectations from their constituency as pressures build around touchstone issues such as housing and welfare.

Greens leader Shane Rattenbury is another anchor for the government, although he must have been well pleased to offload the basket-case that is Corrections to Mr Gentleman.

Mr Rattenbury believes the increased Greens cohort has brought a greater collaborative approach to the Assembly, changing the equation for the better. His pragmatic manner is a template for successful socially progressive politicians.

The challenge for the Greens is how to differentiate themselves while in government, especially by year’s end when we move into the second half of the electoral cycle.

The New Year starts as did the old, under the shadow of COVID, only this time the expectation is with a close to fully vaccinated population and boosters, the government can hopefully avoid measures that will hurt a rebounding economy.

It will hope Omicron is indeed a variant with less of a punch and points to a waning virus.

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Just wondering ….Where is CM Barr?

Canberra is now the National Crapital. Everything in this city is tired, neglected or broken. The Government appears to have no money to do anything properly.
My prediction is that maybe this year, possibly next year, but definitely by 2024, the ACT Government with ‘do a Detroit’ and declare that it is bankrupt.
What then? I suggest handing the Territory back to be run by NSW, with extra funding from the Federal Government.
I’m not hanging around to watch the collapse though. I’ve had enough of the shambles here. I’m cashing in on the massively over-inflated property market, making my way out of the long grass, getting over the potholes and moving to Queensland. Good luck Canberra… with the current ACT Government, you’re going to need a lot of it.

Andrew Barr should be in prison. At best the government’s actions this year bought temporary safety by delaying the inevitable, and that’s giving them a huge benefit of the doubt, and all it cost was the right to privacy, freedom of movement, freedom of association, the future of our children, and economic disaster. The single minded focus on one virus to the exclusion of all other aspects of life will be looked back on as one of the biggest crimes of the twenty first century.

We know how this will go. In a few years, there will be a Royal Commission which will find mistakes were made, and the 2019 pandemic plan actually was the mostly right, but what it missed is that poll driven government panicking found the need to be seen to be doing something, even when that action was counter productive, to attractive to consider that the ends do not justify the means. By that time, Barr will be sitting on the board of some company and no one will face consequences for their actions. That’s simply not good enough in this case. A dangerous precedent has been set, and the only way to undo it now is for someone in government to see real real consequences. Rights are innate and inalienable and we cannot allow them to become privileges bestowed by government. The future if this precedent is allowed to stand is bleak.

Well, Mr Barr won’t be lonely in jail. Every State and Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer and pretty much every other State, Territory and Commonwealth politicians were on the same page as him.

Now that you have jailed pretty much every politician, I guess Craig Kelly has a slim chance of becoming PM.

You couldn’t get him to the prison. You can’t get through the long grass.

Linda Seaniger2:55 pm 31 Dec 21

Why I won’t be voting labour or greens for that matter. Well greens are really just a murky brown they just Agree with labour on everything. But my reasons are 1. The tram there slow ugly old technology and Ev rapid buses would Cheaper quicker and more affective and we don’t have to put up with traffic jams whilst we extend the Commonwealth Bridge and Etc
2. Planning design & d asighting issues ugly Apartments built on the road edge no green scape what happened to the territory plan and the Griffin plan?
3. Hospital system in chaos and we’ve got the worst hospital system in the country and the food is disgusting.
4. The budget blowout it’s all about spend spend spend what have we got for our money and huge increase in rates and utilities?
5. Our education system poor results.
6. Have We done anything about building quality and workmanship. we had a review about two years ago have any results been implemented?
7. Our roads are neglected and falling to pieces and we no longer mow the grass everything looks so untidy we’ve the nations capital we should be looking after the territory a lot better maintenance in every area is just not happening.
8. Another reason why housing prices are going through the roof in Canberra is that the government deliberately delays land release to maximise their return on investment and they do the same thing with their preference for apartments and not townhouses or single residential homes because they charge the same rates basically for a unit as what they do for a single residence.
So liberals you now I know what needs to change or bring on the independent’s.

Totally agree. Barr and the Greens have been negligent in forming Government on the basis of a $1.5b light rail scheme and leave the hospital and school systems severely under funded. This is clearly evident from the lack of capacity and staffing over the Covid crisis. No-one could consider this “good” governance. Bring back Territory Administration by professional public servants not amateur politicians.

Sadly the Labor/Greens will get returned again even though it’s time for someone else to get a go. The Liberals need to cut the dead wood and bring in some new blood not just keep throwing up the same faces people have rejected time and time again if they want any hope. Elizabeth Lee was a good choice but sadly too many other rejected bodies beside her. Labor get away with it with Gentleman because people will vote for them anyway regardless of a dud or two. Liberals have to be much smarter.

Rents will keep rising with the rates and land tax increases making it harder for people to save and jump on the housing wagon even if they are willing to live in a one bed apartment. The pot holes on our roads are taking longer and longer to repair properly, but they will get returned.

I agree that AB provided a steady and reassuring face, in those Covid press conferences and he’s done better than most. (Part of that of course is due to our largely “small town” friendly media).
That issue aside, there are many in the community who would question where we are going and the price we are paying for it.

Debt fuelled construction is a burden we’ll be paying for, infinitum. I think everyone knows that Light Rail is not about public transport. At 70kph, it’s a slow means of getting from A to B, particularly if you are connecting to LR from a bus route that otherwise could have taken you to your destination.
LR is about construction during the build process and apartment development surrounding the fixed transport line. But is that worth the billions of public debt to prime private sector redevelopment and force upon us another 5 years of traffic gridlock?

This debt binge is at the expense of hospital waiting times, NAPLAN etc and in the meanwhile, rates (and land tax equalling 150% of rates) and rents increasing faster than CPI and pay increases.
There are a lot of people in this town who aren’t in the big paying PS jobs. People who are financially are being squeezed by this big spending, big taxing government.

There seems to be a lot of issues that have been glossed over in this fluffy
assessment of the Government’s performance.

The light rail line to Gungahlin is actually faster than the buses it replaced. In peak hour the buses took close to 45 minutes vs 25 for tram. Off peak the travel times are the same.

Now stage 2 will be slower but that’s not because of a 70km/h max speed of the trams, it is because they will be stopping more and going a different route via the triangle servicing more people/workplaces.

I’ve said it before but the old 333 to Belconnen used to take 15 minutes, it was then rerouted via College Street and Haydon Drive and 4 extra stops added. It along with extra congestion now adds 10 up to 15 minutes to that trip but it services more people. My point not everything is about speed and a slower service between point A and B isn’t such a bad thing if it carries more and services more people between A and B.

But getting back more into you comment about debt binge, again something like lightrail ain’t such a bad thing seeing the way it has been financed and it hasn’t been at the expense of other things like education and health. Whilst there may well be issues with both funding for the most part isn’t the core problem.

To answer your question, no. The cost:benefit analysis doesn’t begin to stack up. 25+ years to pay back the construction of just the Civic-Woden section, which will be slower and more expensive than the buses. And it won’t serve the proposed new suburbs in Gungahlin or Molonglo (we seem to have given up on Tuggeranong). And they’re already trialling the electric buses that make it obsolete. The money could be much better spent elsewhere.

That’s a complete crock because a dedicated bus line on the Stage 1 light rail route would also have been faster than the meandering on road buses they replaced.

And Stage 2 is most defintiely going to be slower than a bus equivalent either as they exist now or in the future due to the top speed of the light rail vehicles.

“But getting back more into you comment about debt binge, again something like lightrail ain’t such a bad thing seeing the way it has been financed and it hasn’t been at the expense of other things like education and health.”

How anyone could write that with a straight face is beyond me. The funding of light rail and the opportunity costs entailed most definitely have come at a cost to other government service areas.

Considering there were far cheaper public transport options available and the funding didn’t involve direct value capture taxes on existing landholders to at least partly fund the light rail from the huge private windfall benefits received from public funds, the wasted expenditure is huge.

Good governance or infrastructure planning is the antithesis of what has happened with light rail.

Light Rail is not going via the Triangle. It’s just going the same route as an R4 bus, just slower.

Chewy and I don’t know how you wrote that diatribe with a straight face either.

Now sure a busway could have achieved the same journey time as light rail on stage 1, but it sure the hell wouldn’t have been capable of carrying as many, and in the Flemmington Road corridor in particular would have required major road works as the median wouldn’t have been wide enough. Likewise the road down Northborne would have had to be at least 2m wider to accomodate buses. I know the landscaping along Northborne is not to everyone’s taste but I am sure most would agree it would be better than a wider tarmac.

As for stage 2 again not denying the journey Woden to city will be slower but yet again the reason for that is not too speed of the tram but the number of stops and the detour through Barton and Parkes. Both of which will enable faster trips for the many who work in in Parkes and Barton just like the 333 detour via UC and past Bruce CIT offers faster journeys compared to when the 333 went down Eastern Valley way.

As for it not taking money away from other things going by all the things people on this board have said it has taken away from one would expect it to have cost over $1b a year rather than $64m. Which is the average cost per year in todays dollars over the lifetime. And that money pays for the capital cost, maintenance and operation and is offset by fare take which all goes to TC. Though of course fare take isn’t a significant amount.

Capital Retro8:55 pm 31 Dec 21

But chewy, light rail was never about public transport, instead it was all about urban renewal.

Incorrect ken, light rail stage 2B stops at inner south, Yarralumla and Deakin. R4 does not stop at inner south stops. The inner south trips to the city will be faster with light rail stage 2B than they currently are with local area bus services.

It isn’t a “diatribe”, it’s fact.

“Now sure a busway could have achieved the same journey time as light rail on stage 1,”

Of course it could and you should have stopped there because we’ve been over the rest of your points multiple times before. You can achieve the same capacity as our stage 1 light rail with buses.

Light Rail has higher future capacity potential, which is exactly why it shouldn’t have been built until the demand existed to require it. In about 15 years time.

And no, you can’t spin stage 2 into anything but a slower service. It’s slower. Because of the choice of light rail. Nothing else.

“As for it not taking money away from other things going by all the things people on this board have said it has taken away from one would expect it to have cost over $1b a year rather than $64m.”

Once again you ignore the opportunity costs and benefits of what else the funding and revenue could have been used for.

Also you’re also ignoring that Stage 1 light rail costs that much for a public transport option that services less than 10% of the ACT population.

Imagine the true cost if they extend the folly further, where costs are significantly higher and benefits far less. You make my argument for me.

That’s a meaningless comparison because the R4 buses could just as easily stop at those locations and still be faster than the proposed light rail.

In fact, due to the flexibility of buses it would be just as easy to run both express buses and ones that stop at Yarralumla and Deakin, providing a more efficient service. Because of the limitations of light rail, its far more difficult to achieve the same with them.

With all Barr’s failures, (refer other comments), arrogance, budgets blowouts, excessive exorbitant year by year rates increases etc etc the only explanation for his longativity is that there is no viable opposition. The Liberals in Canberra are hopeless and unelectable. Perhaps they prefer to remain in cushy opposition. However, democracy depends on the party in opposition holding the party in government to account. Governments and nappies need to be changed regularly for the same reason. A community based party headed by some well known trusted name, might get up. We need an alternative to Labour/Greens/Liberals, even if led by the drover’s dog.

Measured and empathetic?! How about arrogant and dismissive.

Barr broke the deal he had with the community to endure lockdown, by repeatedly changing the thresholds for lockdown to lift.

Since then, I have been watching this government more closely and the word that best describes it to me is decay.

Police don’t come to break-ins, the roads are broken, and we have the worst hospital system in the country. Cheap ugly units are popping up everywhere to produce revenue this govt needs to fund trams that are not needed except to keep them in power with the Greens.

Yeah! I remember endorsing that deal, with the Chief Minister on one side of the table and the community on the other… and we were all “this is the deal! you can’t change it in the face of new information or a shift in case numbers!”, he totally broke that deal.

Did I just read a love story, because, that’s what it reads like to me

Is it any wonder that Mr Barr feels comfortable in government when we get softball puff pieces like this from the local “journalists”.

You do have to laugh at the mention of “Sky journalists” tossing “hand grenades” in the Covid press conferences, when in reality they were the only ones willing to actively take Mr Barr to task to explain his government’s position.

You know, what the local media sycophants should actually be doing if they weren’t woefully incompetent and so reliant on the cosy relationship they have with the government.

Just curious what part of the article do you disagree with?

Pretty much all of it.

If it were any more of a one sided, lightweight puff piece, it would float away.

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