The ACT Government has struck a significant blow to the Canberra Liberals just weeks before the ACT election by appointing Deputy Opposition Leader Brendan Smyth to a plum public service job that could’ve been designed just for him, he is so well qualified for it: he will be the Canberra’s first commissioner for international engagement from Monday, August 1.
Given Mr Smyth’s high profile and standing in his electorate of Brindabella and across the city more broadly, and his significant experience in the public sphere, he will be a major loss for the party as it ramps up its campaign to oust the Barr Government in October.
The loss will be felt all the more because it has come so suddenly. The Government only announced that it would appoint someone to the newly conceived international engagement role on Monday, so it is likely that Mr Smyth’s decision has caught everyone, including his colleagues, by surprise. Indeed when we contacted ACT Electoral Commissioner Phil Green about the news this morning, he had yet to hear of Mr Smyth’s decision, and was therefore unable to provide any official comment.
If Chief Minister Andrew Barr and his team did create this role specifically to lure Mr Smyth out of politics and into the public service deliberately, they will be very pleased with themselves today. They will have in one fell swoop removed on of their most popular and talented competitors from game, while also appointing a highly skilled, qualified and regarded operator into a role that fits in with a key component of their own re-election platform: positioning Canberra as a world city.
The Canberra Business Chamber’s Robyn Hendry has already issued a statement endorsing the appointment, saying,”We believe that in his new role as Commissioner, Brendan will be a tireless advocate for business. Over the life of his political career, Brendan has distinguished himself as an ambassador for our region, with a long term outlook and understanding that goes beyond the policies of any one term of Parliament – in Government or Opposition.”
Mr Smyth has represented Canberrans locally and Federally. He has a track record of representing the capital overseas, including being part of establishing Canberra’s sister city relationship with Beijing. He has been in the Assembly for 18 years. He was a minister in the Carnell Government and Deputy Chief Minister in the Humphries Government. In the current Jeremy Hanson-led Opposition, Mr Smyth has responsibility for the high profile treasury and business and economic development portfolios in addition to arts, tourism, higher education, industrial relations, emergency services and gaming and racing.
His is a legacy the Canberra Liberals can rightly be proud of, and the citizens of Canberra will recognise Mr Smyth’s contribution to political life as a committed and valued one.
But today, the Canberra Liberals are left with two holes to fill. They need to find a replacement on the Liberal ticket for Brindabella for the upcoming election, and ensure that their candidate to replace Mr Smyth in the Assembly between now and the election, Val Jeffery, is prepared to be part of the count back and join the Assembly for its remaining sitting weeks next month.
The phones at Canberra Liberals HQ in Geils Court, Deakin and in the Mr Hanson’s office in the Assembly will be running hot today.