If you ask the chattering classes whether we need a 6th minister, a lot of them will say that we don’t. This is because they don’t know what ministers actually do in the Legislative Assembly and they don’t like politicians anyway.
A lot of people don’t know why the ACT actually needs a parliament at all.
Uniquely, the ACT has a dual jurisdictional responsibility in that we require our Assembly to look after “council” and “state” type functions as well. The “state” functions predominantly are health, education, law and order, planning and transport. Municipal or “council” functions are mostly those delivered by TAMS, what they call roads, rates and rubbish.
The way money comes our way is through our taxes and charges and federal Government payments, either GST or grants. The feds give this money to the states either because they have to (GST) or in exchange for some outcomes in policies of their own, such as health, education etc. Much of this is driven by responsibilities outlined in the Constitution but this doesn’t affect the ACT much (nor the NT) but we get treated the same.
It has been argued that the ACT should just be a “council”. This would put us in the same boat as Queanbeyan which collects municipal rates and depends on the NSW state government for administration of health, education and police among other state type functions like planning. No thanks!
The ministers in the ACT Legislative Assembly have a seat in the negotiations to achieve a fair share of federal funding and compete often with their, often more powerful, counterparts from the states.
If the ACT is to get a fair share, we need to be in the tent and at the table. To be in this game, we need to have policies which are ACT specific and which can be argued on the national stage. The days of entitlement are over, somebody said recently. Well, in terms of financial share, that age disappeared in 1989. For example, we inherited an aging road asset, with no federal funding to go with it.
Of course I have only scratched the surface here and can go on and on. But back to why we need a 6th Beatle. The Legislative Assembly must have ministers at the table to argue our case. In the states there are a large number of ministers, often from two houses of parliament yet the Government in the ACT is gleaned from a slim majority of members in the Chamber. Of course in the current Assembly Labor has 8 and with the single vote from Mr Rattenbury, the government benches are theirs.
There are currently 5 ministers and this has been the case since 1989. The workload is immense. Most ministers here carry 5 to 6 portfolios or more. It is rare in the states that a minister has more than one and often has an assistant minister and/or a parliamentary secretary to assist.
A 6th minister will lighten but not eliminate the huge workload carried by ministers. The sad part is that the public and media expect our ministers to be 100% aware of every facet of each portfolio, to be answer all questions in incredible detail instantly and all the time. It is a deadly demand to put on anyone.
Mick Gentleman will add a dimension to the Cabinet which is gleaned from his experience in the public sector, his experience in the union movement and his experience in the private sector. Unlike the Liberals, where the First Minister appoints whoever he or she feels like, Labor ministers are elected by their colleagues in the Caucus. In other words, they must glean the support of their colleagues to be able to contest such a position. Sure, bargaining goes on but it does in any field of endeavour. The difference is that every caucus member has the right to nominate and be judged. Not so in the Libs.
You choose which method you prefer.
A minister can’t keep everyone happy all the time and must make judgments within a policy framework. It takes hard work, courage and dedication and there is a price to pay socially and in health. Why anyone would want to put themselves through this wringer I don’t know.