Chief Minister Andrew Barr has hit back at former Labor chief minister Jon Stanhope who today agreed to chair the Canberra Liberals’ proposed Poverty Task Group.
Speaking prior to the ACT Election Leaders Debate, Mr Barr said Mr Stanhope had lost standing in the ALP after agreeing to work with the Canberra Liberals if they win government at the 17 October poll.
The task group, which would inquire into the causes and symptoms of poverty in Canberra and devise a strategy to deal with them, stakes out important ground in the social services sector for a party striving to shake off its ultra-conservative tag as the 17 October election nears.
Opposition Leader Alistair Coe said he was delighted that Mr Stanhope had accepted his request to chair a much-needed inquiry into poverty in the ACT.
“As the ACT’s longest-serving chief minister, Mr Stanhope is in a unique position to lead a team to investigate the extent of poverty in Canberra and to provide recommendations about how to address this growing and significant issue,” he said.
Mr Stanhope, a constant critic of the Barr Government, said in his response to Mr Coe that he would be honoured to accept and congratulated the Liberals on their initiative.
”As you have noted I have a long and continuing interest in and concern about social justice. The existence of poverty remains perhaps the greatest challenge we face in Canberra in achieving a fair and just society and I would be pleased to be involved, in any way I can, to assist in addressing that challenge,” he said.
Mr Stanhope’s decision has angered some in the Labor Party who see it as aiding the Liberals’ election bid, while Mr Barr agreed with the proposition that the decision was “a stunt”.
When asked whether Mr Stanhope would make a good leader for the task group, Mr Barr said the most important issue was that the Territory did not need another inquiry into poverty.
“The substantive issue here is not another commission or inquiry, the substantive issue is to do things now,” he said.
“What we know is that if you want to lift people out of poverty you need to lift their incomes. Households that have a job are much less likely to be living in poverty and households that receive adequate social security payments are much less likely to fall into poverty.”
Mr Coe said that if elected a Canberra Liberals Government would establish the task group later this year and he urged other parties to make the same commitment.
But both Labor and the Greens believe the move was unnecessary and that what was needed was action, not another inquiry.
ACT Greens Leader Shane Rattenbury said the gaps were already known to government and the social sector, such as the need for housing, and drug and alcohol services.
He said the sector was very clear to government about what was needed.
”Perhaps it’s because the Liberals have been in opposition for a long time they don’t see this,” Mr Rattenbury said.
He was surprised to learn of Mr Stanhope’s acceptance but said it would be great to see Mr Stanhope putting a positive agenda to try to help put the city back on track after the pandemic.
”If this does come off, given Jon’s experience, I hope he is able to play a role where he can listen effectively to the many community organisations that already have a lot of expertise in this space.”
Mr Rattenbury backed Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s call for a permanent lift to the Newstart rate, saying the pre-pandemic level was degrading.
”First and foremost would be to ensure we have a decent standard of living for those who are unemployed or need that support,” he said.