14 October 2019

Liberals' deputy says Barr is creating a "perversion of democracy" in ACT

| Nicole Lawder MLA
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Nicole Lawder and Alistair Coe

Member for Brindabella Nicole Lawder with Liberal leader Alistair Coe. Photo: File.

There might have been a time when Andrew Barr’s warning against “a perversion of Australian democracy” was taken seriously. In truth, the ACT’s Chief Minister increasingly demonstrates open disdain for democratic governance.

Canberrans are increasingly raising concerns about the Barr Government’s refusal to engage in genuine debate, its intolerance of dissenting views and its avoidance of scrutiny. Barr’s discomfort of longstanding democratic principles has not escaped the attention of the local media and prominent Canberrans.

If there’s any perversion of democracy, it’s happening in our own backyard.

An important feature of the Westminster system is having a Government and an Opposition. The key role of an opposition is to make the government accountable to the people. If a government cannot adequately justify decisions involving the use of taxpayers’ hard-earned money, that is a failure of government and, to use the Chief Minister’s words, a perversion of democracy.

Every year, Barr speaks at a Canberra Business Chamber Budget breakfast. This used to be a Budget debate between the Treasurer and the Shadow Treasurer.

One year, Treasurer Barr decided he would not participate if the Shadow Treasurer was also invited. It has been that way ever since. There is no debate, no defence, no explanation, just the Barr Government putting their own spin on the Budget, presenting only the news they want people to hear.

Since the 2016 election, Clubs ACT has been relentlessly targeted by the Barr Government for refusing to back the Labor movement. Barr and his Ministers have repeatedly refused to meet with Clubs ACT and have actively worked to weaken their business operations through government policy.

Labor stalwart and former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has criticised Barr for his “Trump-like” vendetta against Clubs ACT. “Residents and community organisations are entitled to disagree with and to oppose the actions of government. It’s called democracy,” Stanhope said.

Like his refusal to debate the Budget at the Business Chamber event, Barr’s famously uttered contempt for journalists exposes his dislike of public scrutiny of his policies and spending. How very undemocratic. The free press is another essential check on democracy.

The Chief Minister’s preference to bypass traditional media and his implicit push towards controlled messaging and social media comes at precisely the time such avenues have been found wanting as instruments for democracy.

A government that suppresses debate, so that only its own spin is heard – through channels funded by the taxpayer – is one step closer to Donald Trump’s world of “fake news”. Attempts to shut down scrutiny and independent reporting undermines Australian democracy.

Maybe when he was first elected, Andrew Barr took democracy seriously. Now, it seems “democracy” is only a word you say when you want to get your way. Canberrans increasingly distrust the Barr Government’s commitment to transparency, oversight and accountability.

If Barr really cared about the preservation of Australian democracy he would commit to greater public debate, be more open and accountable on spending, promote the rights of others to engage in the democratic process and embrace scrutiny from traditional journalism. Otherwise, it’s all fake news.

Nicole Lawder is the Deputy Leader of the Canberra Liberals

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Capital Retro10:23 am 21 Oct 19

Hey John Hargreaves, speaking of “the past” was that you I saw at the recent Herman’s Hermits concert? It was a ripper I think you will agree.

Any government or local council which continues to raise rates far, far in excess of wage and price growth deserves to be thrown out. Excessive and ever rising rates reduces our standard of living because it means we have less to spend on everything else.

Debate is one of the founding principles of democracy, but many dictators find it to be inconvenient.

HiddenDragon8:17 pm 16 Oct 19

The ACT Liberals came reasonably close in 2012, when federal Labor was seriously on the nose.

By comparison, the 2020 ACT election will be against the background of a federal government which is hated, or at the least seriously resented, by many Canberrans including because it isn’t spending nearly as much money here as they think it should, and so they’re not feeling as prosperous as they’d like to.

As a result, and with characteristic shoot-yourself-in-the-foot irony, Canberrans will probably once again vote for an ACT government which will make most of them yet worse off through its relentless revenue-gouging – but they will feel better at the thought that they have “sent Morrison a message” (or words to that effect) and dodged the bullet of a Handmaid’s Tale (with added magpies) vision of Canberra which they will be sternly warned would happen under an ACT Liberal Government.

petunia petal4:40 pm 16 Oct 19

Of the various issues i have with Barr or his gov’s policies – I can’t think of one where the Liberals would actually be better. Your party is full of right wing climate deniers and religious extremists. Some principled progressive independents who aren’t keen to hand over our city to dodgy builders and developers would do well with the electorate, but unfortunately we don’t seem to get many of those running.

Paul Kindermann11:42 pm 15 Oct 19

Doesn’t the Budget get debated at length in the Chamber and doesn’t/shouldn’t The Opposition go through it with a fine tooth comb at Estimates before voting on it? And don’t the Canberra Liberals simply vote against it every year (which is effectively a vote to not pay the nurses currently treating me at TCH, or the teachers in our schools, the firies, amboes, coppers etc?)

Capital Retro10:34 pm 15 Oct 19

“doesn’t Barr go on ABC radio once a week to front the electorate”

It’s about time he was interviewed by Alan Jones on a commercial radio station instead.

The reason Barr goes onto the Devil’s Radio is because he knows he will get an easy ride and not be asked the hard questions. When was the last time you saw an interview on the ABC get coverage in the mainstream media? The ABC is too busy promoting “climate change” and jihadi brides and terrorism to be taken seriously and it should be sold to Foxtel.

Care for some proof John about the ABC promoting ‘Jihadi brides’ and ‘terrorism’………. you have said many a time before you don’t listen to 666 or watch the ABC, so how would you know what they are actually covering?

You do listen to the dribble that comes out of the mouth of some of the RWNJ of the world however. Just a word of wisdom – its not all true…

Capital Retro10:43 am 19 Oct 19

“RWNJ of the world……”

What is that?

“RWNJ of the world”….Right Wing Nut Jobs – assuming you haven’t heard the acronym before.

Part of the problem is that the Greens and Labor form government, so it has been a minority government for the last few elections. When these two team up they are hard to get rid of. The voting system may need to looked at if the true one party majority vote is to ever succeed, hmmmmmm can’t see that happening. Haven’t voted for this lot for the last 2 elections because any government in for this length of time loses touch with reality, as we have been witnessing.

Capital Retro10:23 pm 15 Oct 19

Funny how the media never concede in reporting that it is a “minority Labor government”.

If I was the ACT Liberal’s I would promise to focus on Council level issues such as Education, Health, Public Transport, Businesses, Properties etc.

If they can convince me they will use the budget to deliver improved services right across the city (not just in Barr’s and Rattenbury’s electorate) then they will have a better chance of winning my vote.

I still think the average Canberran is concerned the ACT Liberal candidates don’t ideologically align with your average Canberrans attitudes and beliefs. But Barr has certainly stuffed things up for many parts of Canberra and has to be replaced (hopefully by someone better in Labor or elsewhere).

I find it amazing how many ‘low hanging’ fruit are out there that could be chosen, as you say bj, but the opposition choose to ignore then to go running down rabbit holes or onto minority interest issues (What I mean by that is issues that only a few people care about)……

I’m sure there are clever people somewhere in the Canberra Liberals. If they want to win government, create a credible plan to fix up the local issues, reset the narrative around ‘rates’ with some reasonable moderation, and don’t run off making silly unaffordable promises (Such as removing payroll tax) that will blow an even bigger hole (And leave the voter on the fence wondering ‘what services are going to be sent to the knackery as a result). It doesn’t look hard to me.

Mike of Canberra1:24 pm 15 Oct 19

All true but good old Canberra will probably re-elect him again next year. When you refuse to vote for change and are prepared to put up with tired, hubristic old governments, then an increasing level of autocracy becomes almost inevitable.

Well, Nicole, the answer is very simple. Your party needs to make itself electable by getting rid of your ultra-right wing policies and attitudes. As long as the Libs are Abbott-lite, you will never govern again in this territory.

If you became more acceptable, then I will be very glad to vote you in to get rid of the Barr autocracy.

Please name a single “ultra right wing policy” from the ACT Liberals.

Barr is who he is – arrogant, dismissive, vindictive and detatched from the public. We all know that. However, he is still voted in election after election despite these flaws. So the real perversion of democracy is coming from robotic, unthinking Canberra voters who could and should be throwing him out of office if they cared about electing a representative, responsive and effective government. The problem for the Liberals and for all of us in Canberra is that the local Liberal party has such a weak, uninspiring leader who offers no alternative government. Get rid of Coe and then we might get rid of Barr.

Well, “we all know that” do “we”? Seems the majority of voters don’t think so. And you’re not helping your cause by the hyperbole. Even with a lack of effective opposition, if people really didn’t like Andrew Barr they could have voted for an independent. However they didn’t, which suggests that the epithets you have hurled are not much more than empty air.

There may well be validity to the argument.

But surely you have better examples than a Budget breakfast that about 0.01% of the community give two hoots about (much like the Budget itself), and a lobby group that actively sought to undermine their campaign last time round.

That is well within their prerogative at the end of the day – that is like criticising the current Commonwealth Government because they don’t actively engage with a group that doesn’t align with their view of the world – say GetUp.

JS9 you also may have a point – at least with regard to ACT Labor’s right to engage or not. Lets be clear though that said lobby group campaigned without having alignment to a political party nor has it been funded by a political party’s aligned entities.

GetUp however received seed funding from both the Australian Workers’ Union when AWU Secretary Bill Shorten served as a GetUp board member, in addition to over $1 million from CFMEU in 2012. GetUps board at various times is comprised of active ALP members and this week’s Press Club Address Paul Oosting National Director of GetUp was evasive in response to questions from Press Club president and ABC radio host Sabra Lane, on whether they would campaign against Labor.

The same is not true of ClubsACT, its executive and current board members are not party members to my knowledge. It has also campaigned on issues at various times in its history against all three parties in the ACT – admittedly none as publicly as the last.

So there is some distinction between ACT Labor deciding not to engage with a group, who opposed their actions in Government and the Federal Liberal Party not engaging with a group with a clear alignment, to their political rivals.

At the bottom line however, the simple fact remains. Both entities actively campaigned hard against the party in power. The parties in power maintained power, and funnily enough chose to engage elsewhere.

I acknowledge the difference in the two entities – but at the end of the day they both act as lobby groups in the eyes of the government of the day, and I would argue as seen by the broader community.

I.e. you make your bed, you will end up lying in it. Not a criticism of what ClubsACT or indeed Getup has done – they are well entitled to do that. But I hardly see that as evidence of a ‘perversion of democracy’ – at least in both cases, the lobbying in question is public, and the ultimate response of the relative governments too (i.e. to ignore) is public.

The real perversion of democracy is all the dodgy dealings, of all parties, that happen behind doors between lobbyists and politicians. We aren’t in the US stages of perversion yet, but well on the way.

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