Could Bill Stefaniak be the Assembly soufflé that rises twice?

Genevieve Jacobs 11 May 2020 24
Bill Stefaniak

Former MLA Bill Stefaniak intends to stand for the Assembly in October. Photo: File.

They say the souffle never rises twice, but Bill Stefaniak is hoping to defy the received wisdom when he stands for the Legislative Assembly this year with the newly formed Belco Party.

Bill had a lengthy run in the Assembly as a Liberal MLA for Ginninderra stretching from 1995 to 2008, including a stint as Opposition leader. In the intervening years, he’s been the appeal president of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal and worked with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in Sydney until recently.

So why the change?

“My wife was getting sick of me and I’m not a gardener. So she suddenly became very supportive of me having another crack at it”, he chuckles.

But why not the Liberals? Why span two decades in the service of the ACT’s perennial opposition and then run with another party?

“It’s a new Assembly and they all have their race to run. The major parties had preselected and the Liberals have changed since I was in the Assembly”, he says.

Bill quit the party in 2008 to go onto the bench. He says the Belco Party will give him the flexibility to serve again while bringing a diverse life experience to bear, ranging from crown prosecutor, country solicitor and army officer to part time TAFE teacher.

His own political stripes haven’t changed and while he’s likely to agree with a fair bit of the Liberals agenda, cooperation is by no means a done deal, although he’s offering a few ministerial training sessions if the Liberals do win in October.

It’s also clear he sees room in the centre that’s underutilised by the Liberal Party.

“Very average people in the suburbs are Liberal voters, Mr and Mrs Isabella Plains and Mr and Mrs Spence. I’ve always thought that right-wing Labor voter attitudes are much more conservative than the ALP represents”, he says.

“My electorate has large numbers of people who are very average tradies, teachers, policemen and women, ordinary people from a traditionally more conservative Labor background. The ALP has abandoned them, it’s a trendy party of environmentalists, academics and public servants”.

Bill thinks most people would know what his views are, although he checks himself, reflecting that it’s been a while.

“I’m a fairly practical person, not a mad ideologue”, he says. “In the ACT it’s about local government – rates, roads and rubbish, schools and hospitals, good courts and policing. It’s not rocket science and there’s not much ideology in that.

“I’ve never been an economic rationalist. I make no bones about being a social conservative but I’m not wedded to privatisation for the sake of it”.

There’s potential for one or more independents to hold the balance of power, something Bill thinks works well for the ACT.

“When you’ve got a Green Labor government voting block, that makes it hard for anyone else. I think there’s a place for competent independents to hold the balance of power, that’s worked very well in the past”.

He’s harking back to his own days working with independent Michael Moore, who held the health portfolio in the Carnell government. He says Moore (who called him NIMBY, while he referred to Moore as Fourby), helped secure the Belconnen Pool and was a strong supporter of the Stefaniak bail law reforms “despite disagreeing fundamentally with a lot of my law and order policies.

“Even in the chaotic first assembly with 17 members and six groups, commonsense often prevailed and you could get some good stuff up and running. I do think the current government has its priorities wrong. The budget has blown out to buggery”, Bill says, citing “vanity projects” like light rail and lack of ministerial access.

The Belco Party has broad outlines for policies, encompassing planning consultation (for example, building inspectors on rotation), a moratorium on stage II of light rail until there is “a proper study of the best way forward and how you justify the expenditure”, a reversal of drug laws that he says were “perfectly good in the past and are now a dog’s breakfast”, and residential tenancy laws.

Bill is also keen on reversing the greyhound ban, “a great pastime for good old working class Australians”, he believes.

“We will get more policies out, we can’t be as detailed as Labor and Liberals because they’ve got greater resources”, he says. “But when you’re criticising something, you need to make helpful suggestions on how to rectify the situation, not just harp and criticise for the sake of it”.


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24 Responses to Could Bill Stefaniak be the Assembly soufflé that rises twice?
michael quirk michael quirk 8:32 am 12 May 20

Bill is right on light rail. Extending light rail is not a good idea as:

(a) The financial debt generated by the pandemic makes it essential funds are used to maximise benefits to the community. Funds devoted to light rail are not available for other purposes including health, education, the road and bus system, housing and “screwdriver” ready projects.
(b) Health in particular is likely to need substantial investment. Jon Stanhope and Khalid Ahmed highlighted the chronic underinvestment in health and the parlous state of ACT finances before the Covid-19 pandemic.
(c) The extension has not been assessed against alternatives including a busway. It could provide an even poorer return than LR1 given the cost of crossing the lake and fewer opportunities for value capture along the route. The ACT Auditor General, Infrastructure Australia, the Productivity Commission and the Grattan Institute found LR1 was a poor use of public funds.
(d) Electric bus technology is rapidly improving e.g. The Brisbane Metro, to commence operation in 2023, will utilise electric buses each with a capacity of 150 people. Professor Peter Newman suggests the trackless tram can replicate the light rail experience for a fraction of the cost. Time will tell.
(e) An ongoing significant shift towards working from the home would reduce travel demand and consequently reduce the justification for light rail. The findings of the 2021 Census should be used to inform decisions on major transport infrastructure.

There is time to undertake a review, as the need for the extension is not urgent with the R4 bus providing a fast and frequent service along the inter-town public transport route.

John Moulis John Moulis 4:54 am 12 May 20

Has anybody else noticed that whenever we have so-called “Independents” in the ACT they are invariably leftist climate change and Greens supporters? I had a fight with one of these people who was standing for the Senate on this site during the last federal election campaign. I appealed to everybody not to vote for him and I was delighted when nobody did.

If we can have a conservative Independent who can represent the views of normal, mainstream people rather than latte sipping hipsters in the inner north it will benefit everybody in the long run. The narrowcast tunnel vision in this city is benefiting only a select few in the community, and the sooner we broaden the spectrum of representation in the Assembly the better.

    JS9 JS9 8:58 am 12 May 20

    What an utter load of tripe John.

    Independents invariably come from across the political spectrum – always have, always will. For every left leaning independent, there are just as many right leaning independent candidates. The fact being, most independent candidates simply can’t muster the votes to get in, whatever their leanings.

    Lazy, shock jock rhetoric like what you’ve posted here is useful to nobody. But you do have an outstanding ability to say everything is the fault of views you don’t agree with. Its tiresome and boring to read.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 2:48 pm 12 May 20

    I think John Moulis is correct because no matter what level of government we are talking about the (rarely elected) “independent” type candidates are left leaning in their policies and using their vote (if they get elected).

    John Moulis is one of the best contributors to this blog – it may be boring to you JS9 because you don’t agree with it.

Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 2:29 am 12 May 20

At least he's not Coe.

Julia Raine Julia Raine 3:49 pm 11 May 20

Have you tried golf, Bill? Birdwatching ....

Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:27 pm 10 May 20

“Lost me on the greyhounds”

Do the Labor Clubs have poker machines?

Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 9:09 pm 10 May 20

Just when Vannessa from West Belco was thinking she might have a chance this time along comes this bloke from the ' bundah!

lamiladd lamiladd 8:51 pm 10 May 20

Bill got my vote years ago with “move on powers” – he seems too be a down to earth nice bloke.

I won’t vote for the cookie cutter me (or women, or gender x).

On that note I have always been a “Peoples front of Judea” supporter over the splitter group – “Judean people front”.

Speak for the people Bill and keep them honest.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:12 pm 10 May 20

I’ve already had leaflets in the letterbox from people who are offering “an independent voice” in October, even though their policies are strikingly similar to Labor and/or Green policies (and there could be no doubt at all about who they would support to form government), so it’s probably just as well that voters who usually end up preferring the Liberals have the same sort of choice (or semblance of it).

Maybe other former MLAs will follow Bill’s lead and we could have a New Tricks party (preferably with the original Travelling Wilburys theme song).

Acton Acton 3:35 pm 10 May 20

Anyone whose name is not Barr, Rattenbury or Coe has an excellent chance at the next election.

Christopher Rumley Christopher Rumley 12:31 pm 10 May 20

Why is this bloke getting so much press? Gets on ABC radio and tells the audience the kids should go back so the teachers can mind them. Doesn't even know what the purpose of a school is.

Maya123 Maya123 11:47 am 10 May 20

Sorry, lost me on ““vanity projects” like light rail” and “Bill is also keen on reversing the greyhound ban, “a great pastime for good old working class Australians”, he believes.”.

I am a person open to voting for other parties and individuals beside the Liberals, Labor and Greens, and have done so on previous occasions. In fact in the Federal elections, done so at the last several elections. After reading that, Bill won’t be one of those, as I like people with forward thinking.

The light rail needs to be put in early, before it is really needed and then more difficult and expensive to build. This was forward thinking, and to call it a “vanity project” shows lack of forward thinking.

    JC JC 7:28 am 12 May 20

    The irony with light rail is he was part of the (Liberal) government that designed Flemmington Road with a wider than usual median strip and as a high density commuting corridor to allow for future installation of light rail. All at the insistence of a land developer mate!

    chewy14 chewy14 12:58 pm 12 May 20

    JC,
    there’s a difference between planning for something and actually building it.

    From a planning perspective, it makes perfect sense to allow mass transit corridors for when the demand for that level of public transport is needed.

    It’s a completely different thing to actually build that transport capacity before it’s required or justified from an economic standpoint.

    Particularly when you justify building it now through benefits realised by urban intensification and property value uplift but fund the entire project from general revenue.

    Gifting property owners along that route, hundreds of thousands of dollars in private benefit paid for with public funds. About as far away as you can get from typical progressive values that the ALP and Greens are meant to stand for

Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:54 am 10 May 20

The light rail was nothing to do with “mass transit”. It was all about “urban renewal”. Transport Canberra freely admit to this so why are some people still fantasizing about Labor “looking to the mass transit future” by imposing on us something that was not needed?

    Maya123 Maya123 10:42 pm 10 May 20

    Do you catch public transport, or is it because as you don’t want to use it, no-one needs it. If you do, how often? Once or twice every couple of years doesn’t really count.

    Having light rail and building it now, before it becomes difficult to build it, is forward thinking. Unfortunately, it is difficult for some people to think beyond the now.

    chewy14 chewy14 1:06 pm 11 May 20

    Maya,
    This is completely wrong. You can plan and make space for mass transit before it’s needed without actually constructing it until it’s viable.

    It’s actually far more “forward thinking” to not spend limited infrastructure funds on unviable vanity projects and instead direct those funds to where they’re needed and where the greatest return on investment can be achieved.

    The benefits light rail has delivered could have been achieved for a fraction of the cost with the alternative options available and with allowances made for upgrades when/If they become necessary. That would have been true forward thinking.

    Maya123 Maya123 12:39 pm 12 May 20

    I saw this future planning happen in Seattle. They put in the light rail routes, but initially ran diesel/electric buses on it. This though gave the route certainty that makes light rail so popular. People know where it goes, and that it lacks the flexibly to be suddenly changed and they won’t suddenly have their bus taken away as happened in Canberra. Then later went to light tail.

    On three visits there I have seen the evolution. First trip I caught a bus that drove on roads into the city. Next trip the rails were in, but they were running diesel/electric buses on the future light rail route. The bus leaving the airport used diesel until it entered the light rail tunnel under the city, where it stopped and changed to electric. Last trip the bus had been replaced with light rail. So I saw this evolution and light rail did not run from the first day, although much of the infrastructure was put in early. I believe their light rail continues to be extended.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:50 pm 11 May 20

    Now, the ACT is broke and thinking ahead about how we will pay for it is difficult.

    When the administrators take over the buses and trams will be sold off and it will be “user pays” for the future. I am happy to pay a realistic fare for a realistic service; how about you?

    JC JC 5:44 pm 12 May 20

    Keep dreaming on all accounts.

    JC JC 7:37 am 12 May 20

    You are mostly correct. There is no secret that light rail was about opening development opportunities and those opportunities is what allows it to be remotely viable.

    What you And other so often do though is look at what would happen if those things didn’t happen.

    Where would people live? More urban sprawl? How would they get to work? What would the cost of congestion be etc.

    And as I said above one big irony is Bill was housing minister in the very government that designed Flemmington Road, you know the road where light rail now runs as a high density commuting corridor and they designed Flemmington Road with a wider than normal median strip to accomodate it. And light rail at that time was being pushed by a land developer who developed a lot of land during the Carnell government days.

    Guess not much changes over the years does it, except the colour of the “team” in power.

Chris Cross Chris Cross 10:22 am 10 May 20

Vanity projects like light rail? Reversing the ban on greyhound racing? Rightio then. I guess that's the type of thinking you get from someone who started politics last century. It's hardly "vanity", its necessity. At least Labor looks to the future and plans for it accordingly, instead of leaving mass transit 'too little too late too expensive' like every other state in the country. Doing it now is the right thing to do. Nay-saying on light rail is the opposition playbook by the numbers. And greyhound racing??? Come on mate, you've got to be joking! But you've got to hang your hat on something I guess? How about some modern alternative policies, and not excusing the lack of policy detail based on your relatively little size compared to the 'big parties'. Don't get me wrong... you're still far better than Coe. But if you want to be better than Barr, you need to sharpen your game and start your run well before a few months from election time. It might have given you more time to work on that 'lack of policy detail' you mentioned... and modernise a little ;).

Juliet Jackman Juliet Jackman 10:08 am 10 May 20

Lost me on the greyhounds

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