18 January 2019

Is the Barr too high?

| John Hargreaves
Join the conversation

Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry is from the Left, Meegan Fitzharris a likely candidate from the Right. Who will be the next Labor leader? File photo.

I read with interest the piece featuring Andrew Hughes, one of the ANU political gurus. Andrew has immense insight for someone who has not been an elected member of the Assembly and has a top set of tea leaves, through the prism of which he looks into the ALP Caucus to speak authoritatively about succession of a new Leader, and thus Chief Minister.

I wish I could get a job so well paid, speaking as though I had inside knowledge and speculating with no substantiation or quoted source to show the legitimacy of the argument. Perhaps I’m just a retired old git who used to be inside the tent.

Well, this is how it really is. For probably 95 per cent of the time, since Jon Stanhope became Chief Minister in 2001, the Grand Poohbah was not selected by Caucus through a factional battle. Jon won the first and only contested ballot for Leader of the Assembly ALP and ever after that, either he kept the job or his successor was negotiated on the basis of merit.

In the Assemblies between 2001 and 2008, the factional numbers were split evenly between Right and Left with the independent Stanhope (with help from Wood) holding the balance, but in the 2008 to 2012 period the numbers were Right 4, Left 2, Independents 2.

Thus it was possible for a coup to have occurred if there was an appetite for it. But when Stanhope decided to go, the transition to Gallagher, from the Left, which had half the numbers of the Right, was seamless. The same occurred when Barr took over from Gallagher.

However, history is often ignored. In the dark days of Assembly life, there was factional number crunching which saw the Left have both the Chief and Deputy Chief Minister positions, just because they had the numbers. The ALP grew up in 1998. In fact, the ALP has had two Left Chief Ministers – Rosemary Follett and Katy Gallagher, and the Right has only had one Chief Minister – Andrew Barr.

But the longest-running Chief Minister was the Independent Jon Stanhope who was primarily either a negotiated or compromise Poobah. Thankfully, wiser heads prevail these days.

If, and it is a very big if, the Chief Poohbah does pack his backpack and head for Melbourne or Tasmania, a countback will ensue, just like for Katy and Andrew himself. We know the vagaries of Hare-Clark always return a new member from the party in which they ran. The next one will be no different.

Votes for the resigning member are recounted to apportion the second, third and so on preferences. The probability, therefore, is that his seat will be a race between Josh Ceramidas, Leah Dwyer and Richard Niven.

So here’s the big call.

If the Chief Poohbah takes off, the Left’s Dwyer probably gets his job in Kurrajong and the factional numbers now swing to the Left. When the Assembly first came together in 2016, the Right had 6, the Left had 5 and the Independents had one. A total of 12.

After a countback, the numbers will be Right 4, Left 6 and Independents 2 (Pettersson left the Right to go independent). So the fate of Berry and Fitzharris will either be negotiated or through a ballot in which Ramsay and Pettersson have the whip. The left could do a deal with either and then it is game over. Berry for CM.

My bet is that Fitzharris will get the nod, through negotiation to ensure a seamless transition this side of an election. Should she lose the election, she and Anne Boleyn will have something in common.

Among the arguments will include the fact that Fitzharris has had two difficult portfolios and hasn’t crumbled, whereas Berry has had a couple of dream portfolios.

Both will need to contend with the “It’s Time” scenario but you can bet the Libs will dust off the old Carnell slogan, “Don’t Berry Canberra” to associate, wrongly, Yvette with her dad.

The Libs though, haven’t shown any reason to change, have become either complacent or sloth-like in pursuing the Government. Cardboard cut-outs.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

It’s so annoying that a woman tends to get a go as leader just when a particular government is on the skids. Happens too often to be by chance.

I agree with John Hargreave’s comments about the slothfulness of the Opposition. Alistair Coe would have to be the worst Liberal leader since self government. Rarely seen or heard in the media and when he does pop up it is on trivia like wading pools and dangerous dogs. He is totally missing in action as Shadow Treasurer. Just a dud!

Yes indeed. The ACT Liberals seem intent on winning power via a Bradbury moment. Here in Molonglo there have been several issues that the Liberals could have gained traction from. A door knock campaign six months ago even if it was just to let the locals know that the party is listening and open to suggestions would have showed they care and given them an opportunity to tell people what positive things they could do if elected.

But of course the Liberals will sit back in a stupor in their cosy opposition offices, their pleasant dreams only occasionally troubled by the thought that close to the next ACT election they might actually have to rouse themselves and do some work.

Of course they still believe the delusion that when they do deign to grace us with their presence as the election approaches, we are too stupid to notice they only “care” around election time.

And as we do actually notice, once again they will be left mystified as to why they have lost yet another election.

Mike of Canberra2:40 pm 22 Jan 19

Well I guess an old ideologue like John Hargreaves would say that and it seems you agree with him. If you haven’t heard from Coe, especially, you haven’t been looking or listening over the last couple of years. Early in this term of government, he was right on to the shady practices surrounding a number of land deals in Canberra, going to the point of moving a no confidence motion against the government over the issue. I’ve heard him a number of times in the last 12 months on 2CC commenting on the cost of living in Canberra, our steepling rates bills and the fact that numerous Canberrans are relocating across the border to get away from Canberra’s excessive cost of living. As for dangerous dogs, if you’ve ever had them in your area, and I have, you’d recognise them as a real issue. Take off the blinkers.

Given the long running debarcles in Health and the light rail stage one shaping up to be a billion dollar dud, Fitzharris mightn’t have crumbed but the fact remains these are two areas that firstly should not be in this state given there’s only 400,000 people in Canberra and secondly, a fix is no where in sight. The best thing Labor has going for it are the Liberals. They’re a deadset pack of uninspiring nonstarters that offer nothing in the way of alternate policies. Time to start looking at the independents.

Mike of Canberra2:46 pm 22 Jan 19

See my reply to Buttermaker. As for the alternative policies, why would you be releasing them all now when, in the age of the 24 hour news cycle and this far away from an election, they’d quickly disappear from sight. It seems to me that Coe is operating to a plan and that plan is for his party to peak at the right time in the electoral cycle. I see lots of whinges from Canberrans about the performance of the current government but, like you, few seem willing to vote for change. Well if you wish to continue to see slothful, arrogant and unaccountable government of the sort we’ve seen from Barr, you’ll continue not to vote for change. If that’s your intention, stop whingeing.

Robert of Braddon8:46 pm 21 Jan 19

I’d prefer Andrew Hughes’ analysis to John Hargreaves any day of the week. Hughes is unfailingly balanced; Hargreaves is purely partisan.

John, interesting insight into how the local ALP goes about its business of selecting its leaders (with no real input from the voters), but we are far more interested in what the party is going to do about good government. It’s not too flash at the moment and the only thing that might save Labor from defeat at the next election is the quality of the opposition.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.