3 November 2020

Greens take key roles in Barr's new-look Cabinet but Planning stays with Gentleman

| Ian Bushnell
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ACT Cabinet

Meet your new Cabinet: Tara Cheyne, Chris Steel, Mick Gentleman, Yvette Berry, Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Shane Rattenbury, Rebecca Vassarotti, Emma Davidson and Rachel Stephen-Smith. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has refuted suggestions that his new Green-tinged ministry is one built more on compromise than the Territory’s needs, with some responsibilities seemingly duplicated and others setting the scene for some dust-ups inside the Cabinet room.

Mr Barr said the new-look cabinet with three Green ministers and the first female majority was a balanced and diverse group that reflected the goals of the Parliamentary Agreement announced on Monday.

”It reflects a desire to work collaboratively on a number of projects that are outlined in the agreement,” Mr Barr said.

Greens leader Shane Rattenbury, as expected, will be the new Attorney-General, replacing Gordon Ramsay, moving even closer to the heart of government. His colleagues Rebecca Vassarotti and Emma Davidson will join him in Cabinet.

On the Labor side, popular Ginninderra MLA Tara Cheyne steps up while Yerrabi’s Susanne Orr returns to the backbench.

READ MORE Infill battle looms as Labor awaits negotiations with Greens

In a changing cabinet, Mr Barr has decided to stick with Planning and Land Management Minister Mick Gentleman, despite calls from community councils for a fresh face in the key and contentious role.

Mr Barr said he wanted Mr Gentleman, who will also take on Corrections and Industrial Relations and Workplace Safety, to continue the work he had started with the planning system review.

”It’s important to have continuity and see through that work,” he said.

Mr Barr said Mr Gentleman had done a good job but everyone had a view on planning and getting a consensus was impossible.

“We know we can improve the system, we can make it simpler and that’s an objective of the Parliamentary Agreement, and one that we have two ministers focused on,” he said.

He believed Mr Gentleman and Ms Vassarotti – who will take over Environment, Heritage, Homeless and Housing Services and Sustainable Building and Construction – will be able to work closely together to deliver reforms listed in the Agreement.

“We know we can improve the system, we can make it simpler and that’s an objective of the Parliamentary Agreement, and one that we have two ministers focused on,” he said.

ACT Greens in Cabinet

The Greens in Cabinet: Shane Rattenbury, Rebecca Vassarotti and Emma Davidson.

Ms Vassarotti will have to sell a sustainability agenda to a costs-focussed construction industry worried about the economy but is looking forward to working with it and finding common ground.

“I think everyone wants to develop buildings that are the very best quality, that are climate-ready, and actually meeting the needs of residents,” she said.

She said costs had to be appropriate but the industry had to accept that the climate was changing and buildings need to adapt.

Climate change overlaps several ministers with Mr Barr responsible for Climate Action while Mr Rattenbury will look after Water, Energy and Emissions Reduction.

But Mr Barr said the division of responsibilities was appropriate given Labor’s big-ticket items included the big battery and sustainable household scheme.

The other new Green, Ms Davidson, will be Assistant Minister for Family and Community Services, and will look after Disability, Justice Health and an expanded Mental Health portfolio, reflecting her social sector background.

As promised, there is a Minister for Business and Better Regulation, with Tara Cheyne also assisting the Chief Minister with Economic Development.

She also takes Mr Ramsay’s Arts portfolio, as well as Human Rights and Multicultural Affairs.

READ MORE Gordon Ramsay loses Ginninderra, Greens lock in a record six seats

Ms Cheyne stressed that job protection and creation was the government’s priority and she looked forward to working with the Chief Minister and the business community, as well as the Arts sector that had been one of the worst-hit by COVID-19.

“The door is open; I’m ready to have the conversation,” she said.

Ms Cheyne will also continue to lead the government’s advocacy for the right of our community to determine laws on voluntary assisted dying and will commence a review of the ACT’s Discrimination Act.

Key Ministers Yvette Berry, Rachel Stephen-Smith and Chris Steel will stay in their respective main roles of Education, Health and Transport, but Ms Berry will also deliver the expansion of early childhood education, and Mr Steel as Special Minister of State will help drive improvements in government operations such as expanded digital services, access to information and cybersecurity.

Asked if he would have to be the peacemaker in such a diverse cabinet, Mr Barr said he would chair cabinet, as always, to build consensus.

”If we need to spend some reasonable time to talk through areas of concern we will,” he said.

Mr Barr said it was going to require innovation and compromise ”but that’s a good and healthy tension to have within a government”.

Cabinet will meet for the first time early next week, and the Government’s Expenditure Review Committee – chaired by Mr Barr, with Ms Berry and Mr Rattenbury – will begin work on the 2020-21 ACT Budget that will be delivered in February 2021.

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So with Mr Gentleman in charge is seems extremely unlikely there will be a resolution to the Coombs shops fiasco.

I doubt he could successfully plan a good time in a brothel.

To Ms Vassarotti. Show us how good you are. I know Mr Gentleman is Minister for Planning and you are not, but he obviously has struggled. You presumably will be working closely with him.

Please come up with a solution for the Coombs shops mess and encourage him to adopt it.

This is a great opportunity to get runs on the board at the expense of your poorly performing Labor “colleague”. Come up with a solution, push for it, publicise it. If he adopts it, you win because it was your idea. If he obstructs it, you still win.

Mr Gentleman has had years to resolve the problem. Step up and show Canberra why you and the other Greens are better.

Assuming you are better.

This bloke will do anything to cling to power. Another 4 years of being held over a barrel and enormous financial waste on nonsense.

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