Liberals “secret deal” allegations a missed opportunity to stake solid policy claims

Ian Bushnell 3 May 2020 39
Alistair Coe

Alistair Coe speaking at the National Press Club in 2019. Photo: File.

Last week, the ACT Liberals made a reasoned case that the ACT’s public schools did not need to close during the COVID-19 crisis, accusing the Government of mixed messaging and saying that parents deserved more certainty.

They argued the now-familiar line taken by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and supported by infectious disease experts such as the ANU’s Professor Peter Collignon, that the medical evidence shows schools could be safe because children were less likely to contract or pass on COVID-19.

With a Labor Government in power for 20 years and a myriad of issues from planning to health to choose from, it is not as if the Liberals couldn’t make a fist of it this election year. Labor’s internal problems should be ripe fruit for the Opposition to pluck.

But just when you thought that the Canberra Liberals had worked out that the route to government in the ACT was the high road of articulating sensible policy alternatives, they made themselves easy pickings for a Chief Minister skilled in the art of political assassination with a misplaced strategic choice.

They decided to go one further and accuse the government of reaching a secret deal with the teachers union for political reasons.

It was the union bosses, not the health and medical experts, who were now dictating policy, Opposition Leader Alistair Coe said darkly at a press conference just before Andrew Barr was due himself to face journalists.

The ”secret plan” talking point points were meant to resonate with parents unhappy with remote learning at home, but only played to his party’s base.

By the time Mr Barr took to the podium, journalists had the ”secret deal” in their in-boxes, an innocuous document from the Education Directorate to the union about how the teachers’ enterprise agreement would operate during remote learning.

Mr Barr was all too ready with pointed quips.

He went on to say the ACT was hardly that different from other eastern states and with the success of the measures to contain the virus, restrictions were likely to ease and that would probably include schools.

But not before getting off a round about ”mad conspiracy theories”.

Education Minister Yvette Berry herself had always said, perhaps not as clearly as she had wished, that the schools’ situation was being monitored during the first four weeks of term to assess whether there could be a return to face-to-face learning.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr: it’s all too easy for him when the Liberals revert to type. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Mr Coe’s stance has been interpreted as the Liberals’ first departure from the bipartisan approach on COVID-19 but they had already done so when he and education spokesperson Elizabeth Lee fronted the media.

Perhaps not satisfied with the results and sensing rightly that many parents were uneasy with home learning, Mr Coe went for the tried, tested and, ultimately failed, strategy of making unsubstantiated claims.

Australian Education Union secretary Glenn Fowler was dismissive, saying he didn’t have time for student politics and that he made no apologies for working with the government to achieve the best health and safety outcomes for his members.

If anyone was playing politics with the complex issue of managing schools and public places during a pandemic it was Mr Coe, perhaps egged on by his federal colleagues and sensing the long shadow of Senator Zed Seselja who deployed his robocalls to discover the obvious – that home learning is tough on parents and not perfect.

Why the PM has invested so much energy into getting schools back, including his cash carrot to the Independent and Catholic sectors, when the public remains rightly nervous about COVID-19, despite the hope offered by the flattening curve, is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps the need for a positive headline and a sign that we could all go back to our normal lives overrode the National Cabinet solidarity that has been the mark of Australia’s response to COVID-19.

Unfortunately for Mr Coe, the misstep only reminds voters that the Canberra Liberals seem ill-equipped for government and all too ready to reach for the social media meme and the spurious assertion and the stunt instead of doing the work needed to win an election.

We have been through the summer from hell, hopefully dodged the coronavirus bullet, although, yes, winter is coming, and God knows what else is in store, but during these times it hasn’t been ideology or tribal politics that has seen us through.

Voters want integrity, empathy and ideas not the grandstanding of last week, and they deserve a real choice in October.


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39 Responses to Liberals “secret deal” allegations a missed opportunity to stake solid policy claims
Mac John Mac John 1:11 pm 05 May 20

The baby boy Mr Coe and the delusional Senator Seselja have done very little to firstly keep the ACT Govt to account and have self indulged and supported untruthfulness in the federal parliament. These liberals not have a person who touched Mr Taylor’s forged documents as an employees in a key role in the Canberra liberals. These liberals are unfit for Government.

Kim Fischer Kim Fischer 7:29 am 05 May 20

Only some media outlets saw the letter. Was it released to the general public? Does The RiotACT want to print it in full?

    Kitty Tsui Kitty Tsui 9:22 am 05 May 20

    Exactly. Until the public can see it, it is still a 'secret' as the only people who know what is in it are the people who have seen it... which is not the public.

Rainer Busacker Rainer Busacker 8:26 pm 04 May 20

Unfortunately, there are no real leaders in the opposition. Fortunately from a political perspective, the CM can thank the pandemic for fending off criticisms re his governments performance, the train set homelessness, awaiting lists, on and on.

Paul Leins Paul Leins 8:22 pm 04 May 20

Libs need to stop seeing the ACT assembly as a stepping stone to national office. None of them are invested nor show any loyalty to the electorate. They showed their true colours when they let Zed knife Gary Humphries.

Mike of Canberra Mike of Canberra 7:15 pm 04 May 20

So here we are just over 5 months out from the ACT Election and the usual “get the Liberals” crowd are out again. First, let me remind readers why Barr and company richly deserve ignominious defeat in October. For one thing, they continue to drive businesses and individual householders to near penury with their rapacious rates, taxes and charges. One result of this is a steady stream of Canberra households and businesses across the border to more affordable NSW. Another is that the poor keep getting poorer while the middle class is increasingly stretched and thus limited in its capacity to contribute to business and economic growth through consumer spending. And what do we get from Barr when the current pandemic threatens to stifle business and households? A desultory $150 rebate, ie not enough to cover next financial year’s increase for most households.

What else do we see from Barr and company? We see “public” ie welfare housing poorly managed and a continuation of the pattern whereby the irresponsible few not only get away with a flogging from a feather, so as to protect their “human rights”, but also give the responsible majority a bad name. Is that what we are supposed to expect from the ACT Government’s human rights obsession?

And just to show how shallow Barr and company believe most of us are, our public areas look shabby and run down most of the time – until the months leading up an election that is, when our urban areas become a hive of activity.

And what’s Coe done exactly? I seem to recall a promise to freeze rates for 4 years for one thing. I don’t see any proposals to slash health or education. But keep re-electing Barr – you deserve him.

    Sol Sol 7:26 am 06 May 20

    Actually quite the opposite. A lot of people want Labor out, but with someone from kindergarten?

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:28 pm 04 May 20

“Labor’s internal problems…”

Does that include former Labor Chief Minister Jon Stanhope providing numerous detailed, fact-based public critiques of the policies and administration (health, justice, housing, First Australians, budget management etc. etc.) of the current ACT Government, or is that now regarded as an external problem?

    chewy14 chewy14 10:50 pm 04 May 20

    I’d hardly call Stanhopes diatribes “fact based”.

    At best the adjective “cherry picked” might apply. And I’m hardly a booster for this government.

    Stanhope clearly suffers from relevance deprivation syndrome.

    privatepublic privatepublic 5:45 am 05 May 20

    Problem with Stanhope is during his reign his one big consideration was refugee policy, I recall his total focus for some time. Not his job. Union Faction Labor (Barr) and the other side of Labor (Stanhope/Gallagher) did not mix well. One of the reasons we have major budget issues in the post and why real services are not being delivered. Recall Gallagher stating that there would be “no tram if it cost more than 650Mill”. They lost, the act residents lost.

    JC JC 7:04 am 05 May 20

    Is Malcom Turnbull an internal or external problem?

    Oh blast I just realise I have become a Lib. Changing the topic of conversation to the other “mob”.

    In all honesty though I think Stanhope is an internal problem if he is still a Labor party member. As for his fact based critiques whilst they may suit your political view and as such you see them as facts, I wouldn’t accept everything as 100% factual. It is clear as day he has an axe to grind.

    And I think in years to come Turnbull will offer some similar “facts” about the Federal government that could be anywhere from fact to fiction, likewise be has an axe to grind.

Kim Morley Kim Morley 5:37 pm 04 May 20

The Canberra Liberals have been in opposition for 20 years and still have no policies 5 months out from an election. Canberra is the most educated and progressive population in the country and this is what we have. An opposition of conservatives and religious diehards they should all stand down and bring in people who actually stand for Canberrans.

Mark Chapman Mark Chapman 5:32 pm 04 May 20

"Unfortunately for Mr Coe, the misstep only reminds voters that the Canberra Liberals seem ill-equipped for government..."

Most of the Tony Abbott wannabes that make up the Canberra "Liberals" (sic), Coe being one of the worst, seem ill-equipped to go out in public without a minder. Why their powers-that-be think that Rabid Right is a good fit for an educated electorate like the ACT continues to baffle me.

Ian Carter Ian Carter 5:16 pm 04 May 20

Prior to the last federal election they were right up there with the LNP slinging mud and publishing lies. Cheating is all they know. Perhaps it doesn't work so well in Canberra where the public are politically well educated and wary of lying politicians.

Stephen Matthews Stephen Matthews 2:55 pm 04 May 20

The thought of Chief Minister Coe Dosent excite too many people

    Mark Chapman Mark Chapman 5:29 pm 04 May 20

    It excites me. Terror is a form of excitement, isn't it?

Sol Sol 2:42 pm 04 May 20

20 years to develop a vision and this is the best they can muster… Throwing the odd tanty.

John Moulis John Moulis 2:23 pm 04 May 20

Coe was the only government or opposition leader anywhere in Australia who campaigned for a No vote in the Same Sex Marriage referendum. Canberra people have long memories and he sank any chance of the Libs winning government by doing that.

    Sol Sol 7:24 am 06 May 20

    And determined to to build on that success, Coe’s strategy has been to “reach out” to the apparently vast community that voted “no”. No joke.

    This is what the Canberra Liberals have become. An insular self-isolated echo chamber. That’s why they never come up with anything because lime village idiots they chased out everyone with ideas (a threat to world views) motivation (a threat to internal control).

    So they have given up on Canberra and its all about Zeds senate seat.

    The Canberra Liberals are a joke. Just give up now.

Lynn Stape Lynn Stape 2:07 pm 04 May 20

I think after a good run at this and proving he hasnt got what it takes to actually win an election, Coe should step down or he should be removed to give the Liberal party a fair go at the election.... I mean how many years has he been trying and failing every time he opens his mouth?

Gregg Heldon Gregg Heldon 2:07 pm 04 May 20

The Libs need a decent leader with a personality. Coe is a bit anonymous, unfortunately. He needs a bit of mongrel. A bit of fight in him.

And just a few proper policies would be good.

Gerry Satrapa Gerry Satrapa 1:32 pm 04 May 20

Teachers have put in an amazing amount of work to upskill for distance learning and rewriting curriculum to suit online delivery.

No amount of unsubstantiated rumour, gossip and accusation from the ACT Liberals can erase that. They have no shame in politicising education. As far as I’m concerned; this makes them unable to be considered a worthy option.

helena helena 11:55 am 04 May 20

To the poster who claimed the minister never said that learning would be online for the whole of term please read the direct quote from her press release dated 8th April

‘At the end of term 2, this new approach will be reviewed to assist planning for term 3.’

https://www.cmtedd.act.gov.au/open_government/inform/act_government_media_releases/yvette-berry-mla-media-releases/2020/act-public-students-to-learn-from-home-in-term-2

Geoffrey John Randal Geoffrey John Randal 10:21 am 04 May 20

Schools are more than covid-safe kids. Teachers and ancillary staff deserve consideration too. As do school authorities (including the government). It's plain that matching all these interests is more complicated than the ACT Liberals pretend.

Anne Gallagher Anne Gallagher 9:12 am 04 May 20

While I think Labor has lost its way, the Liberals have not shown they can provide an acceptable alternative. Get their policies right and forget about trivia they might have a chance

helena helena 8:46 am 04 May 20

To the author, it was only last week, after the push back received by parents, that the Minister moved from her all of term 2 online approach to a review in 4 weeks. There has been no confusion, the media release in the last week of term 1 said a full term of online learning, 2 weeks later, the minister said there will be a review.

The directorate has spent the last three weeks organising the logistics for hub sites, the only state to close its school doors and offer this approach, an approach that is unnecessary and many parents with young children find an unacceptable alternative.

This time could have been spent coming up with a transition plan. We are now looking at four weeks of waiting with no cases whilst the Minister and Directorate re-evaluate their set and forget policy of whole of term 2 being on line.

A petition has been started calling for a review of the whole Term 2 online remote learning model in the ACT that is based on evidence and parent, carer and student consultation.

Petition Link
http://chng.it/zfpXj4yZmW

The petition calls for:
1. Regular review – online remote learning to be reviewed regularly (fortnightly) supported by evidence that is communicated clearly and promptly to families (I.e., with set dates allowing for everybody to plan and prepare).

2. Appropriate process of consultation with families

3. Consideration of diversity of family needs when developing remote learning models whilst they are in place (I.e., one example, hub sites are not an appropriate option for many working families with young children

    JC JC 11:41 am 04 May 20

    The minister never ever said the whole of term 2 would be online.

    Whilst no end date was ever stated the mantra has always been to review and adjust as this thing rolls along.

    I much needed prefer that approach as opposed to the confusing way in which NSW has gone about it where they were making and announcing new decisions on a daily basis.

    And that is the key this thing is changing fast, better to take time in making decisions rather than doing and annoying them to quench the thirst of the media and the lynch mob.

    helena helena 12:08 pm 04 May 20

    To confirm, what you are stating is your preferred option is exactly what the petition is asking for, a review date, which has not been forthcoming till this past week, setting a date of 4 weeks into term, means that they have requested 9 weeks to come up with a plan since schools went pupil free.

    If you think 9 weeks is a fair request for a review, when states larger and with more cases and complex settings, are able to give clearer review dates (QLD) and processes, before term started, than that is fine for you.

    Others feel that the Minister who represents them has a responsibility to be clear and demonstrate their decisions are being made on evidence and consultation with all stakeholders. This is also a fair ask.

Jim Hosie Jim Hosie 8:33 am 04 May 20

Mr Coe needs to focus on cost of living in the ACT and the direction Canberra is heading - our rates are ridiculous. The levels of homelessness and drug use and associated violent crime are spiralling. Anyone who lives around Dickson shops experiences this on a daily basis. Dickson post office was broken into two days apart (smashing the front windows first, then in through the roof the second), an old lady was mugged, young girl robbed etc etc.

    Jesse Mahoney Jesse Mahoney 8:39 am 04 May 20

    Jim Hosie with nsw about to hop on the stamp duty removal idea and other states sure to follow, everyone else will follow the same path on rates within no time at all.

    James Dof James Dof 12:37 am 05 May 20

    I agree with the cost of living and taxes, though the liberals have never pushed that in Canberra, last election it was how they could push Canberra in to a surplus which no one in Canberra really cared about

    James Dof James Dof 12:43 am 05 May 20

    The surplus was imaginary and proves pointless at the moment, they would of been better focusing on the cost of living, rates and taxes

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