Labor has missed an opportunity this election to reinvigorate its presence in the ACT’s south, the team overall and the Assembly by sticking with two of its worst performers.
This should have been the poll when Mick Gentleman and Joy Burch bowed out after not-so-distinguished political careers and, without being ageist about it, allowed younger candidates with fresh ideas and energy to make their contribution.
When the Liberals’ Vicki Dunne and the Greens’ Caroline Le Couteur announced that they would not be contesting the 2020 election, it only seemed a matter of time until Labor tapped their Brindabella MLAs on the shoulder and said it’s time.
But no, they have lined up again, prompting the question whether Labor is serious about challenging the Liberal majority in the deep south?
Is the Labor talent pool so shallow that it could not find new candidates capable of winning over Tuggeranong voters and bringing some new expertise to the Assembly?
Or is it a case of favours still owed?
In any case, Ms Burch, Speaker in the last Assembly, has been an MLA since 2008 and, if returned, will have been a member for 16 years if she gets through a fourth term.
She joined cabinet in 2009 and has held 11 portfolios over seven years, including Arts, Education and Police – all of which experienced controversies on her watch.
In 2014, she came under fire for her decision to award a Fringe Festival contract without tender, and ignoring warnings about contentious adult content.
The next year as Education Minister, she presided over the Telopea Park School land row and the ‘boy in the cage’ controversy. She was then forced to resign as Police Minister over claims her chief-of-staff was too close to the powerful Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.
By January 2016, she had quit all her portfolios.
It was a ministerial career that could be described as a train wreck. But she managed to take out the consolation prize of Speaker in 2016.
Mr Gentleman has never been one to court controversy and the fact is his career is just plain dull.
Elected in 2004, he was booted out in 2008 only to be sent back to the Assembly in 2012, becoming a minister in 2012.
He has held a swag of portfolios but it’s as Planning and Land Management Minister that he has come closest to making waves, particularly during the Tradies land swap controversy and when he used his call-in powers to approve contentious developments.
Most recently, in 2019 he called in the Coles’ Dickson shops development, which is still to see the light of day, and the Common Ground social housing proposal again in Dickson.
Despite Planning and Environment being key portfolios, Mr Gentleman is considered generally to be a lacklustre minister, a journeyman without any ideas of his own.
Perhaps that suits Chief Minister and Treasurer Andrew Barr in a jurisdiction where land is the currency of government.
But it is also a place where planning and development are top of mind, and deserves a minister who is pro-active and immersed in the issues that matter to Canberrans.
Mr Gentleman is neither, and his media conferences are sketchy affairs at best, slim on detail delivered in fractured, tortuous speech.
He is also 65 years old, which will put him just shy of 70 come the 2024 election.
Experience can be an asset but with Mr Gentleman and Ms Burch it should have been “thanks for your efforts but your time is up”.
Brindabella voters can take matters into their own hands, thanks to Hare-Clark, so it will be interesting to see come Saturday night just how far name recognition and Labor loyalty will take them.