Only a day after the shock resignation of Giulia Jones as deputy leader of the ACT Opposition, the Canberra Liberals have announced Jeremy Hanson will fill her role.
Mr Hanson was elected ‘unopposed’ in a party room vote this morning (1 February).
Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee announced the change while at the same time outlining a major reshuffle of her party’s shadow portfolios.
Ms Lee also hit back at comments made by the Chief Minister yesterday when he suggested a “significant relationship breakdown” between the Opposition’s first all-female leadership team had been behind Mrs Jones’ departure.
“It is extremely disappointing that the Chief Minister has seen fit to make very un-ministerial type comments,” Ms Lee said today.
Mrs Jones said she stepped down as deputy leader to spend more time with her family. Mrs Jones and her husband Bernard have six children.
“Like so many Canberrans, I have felt very keenly the ongoing pressures of the coronavirus, a situation that will remain volatile and uncertain for some time to come,” Mrs Jones’ statement read yesterday.
Ms Lee said Mrs Jones had “been through a hugely challenging time through the pandemic” and suggested Mr Barr’s comments showed he was out of touch and unable to understand the toll the pandemic had taken on Canberra families.
She again applauded Mrs Jones for taking the “difficult decision” to step down from her role.
Under the reshuffle, Mrs Jones will lose Health, retain Multicultural Affairs, and pick up Early Childhood Education.
“There’s no doubt that Health is a massive portfolio, and especially in the last two years, I don’t think there’s any doubt as to the heavy toll that being the health spokesperson has been,” Ms Lee explained.
“With Giulia’s desire to spend more time with her family, I didn’t think it fair to leave Health with her.”
Health, Mental Health, and Wellbeing will be given to Leanne Castley, who will also retain Business.
“Leanne is looking forward to the challenges of that portfolio, and I have no doubt she will bring new energy to the space.”
Ms Lee thought it “terribly unfair” to make comparisons between Ms Castley – who is also a mother – and the recent decision of Mrs Jones to step down from her role to spend more time with family.
“To be honest, the thought didn’t even enter my radar. I take what Mrs Jones has said solely as [her position], and I think that would be terribly unfair to put to Leanne – just because she is a woman – that her family life might get in the way. I would never do that,” Ms Lee argued.
“I think the comments of the Chief Minister do not help working mothers to actually make that really difficult decision to step down and decide [to spend time with family]. We know there is the stigma attached to that.”
As Deputy Leader, Mr Hanson will retain the Education, Police, and Veterans Affairs portfolios.
Ms Lee will no longer serve as Shadow Attorney-General. Peter Cain, the Assistant Shadow Attorney-General, will assume the role.
Ms Lee will pick up Energy and Emissions Reduction while retaining Treasury and Climate Action, as well as Economic Development, Tourism and Major Projects.
Lastly, Nicole Lawder will pick up the position of Opposition Whip from Mr Hanson, as well as Environment and Heritage and Water from Ms Castley.
Both Ms Lee and Mr Hanson are moderates, although neither would be drawn into commenting on whether factional differences had played into the events of recent days.
“I think people play into those sorts of games, but at the end of the day, with any team of nine people, you’re going to get differences of opinions,” Mr Hanson said. “There’s more that unites us than divides us.”
Ms Lee said she was looking forward to working with Mr Hanson, whom she described as having a wealth of experience.
Mr Hanson has been an MLA since 2008, and held the top job from 2013 to 2016.
Today, Mr Hanson dismissed questions about whether he would be likely to make a tilt for the leadership again, although he didn’t explicitly rule it out.
“I think we’ve got a good team, and we’ve got a good leader, and I’m just happy to contribute in any role,” he said.