Former ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope gave a room full of would-be ACT politicians a big scare this afternoon, confessing he occasionally considers a return to politics.
Mr Stanhope was discussing public disillusionment with the major political parties at a forum he had organised with the University of Canberra at the Theo Notaros Multicultural Centre.
“I work every day now with people on the fringe of this society,” Mr Stanhope said in closing the event, referring to his advisory role with the Winnunga Nimmityjah indigenous health service in Narrabundah.
“[I have an ]understanding now around poverty and disadvantage in this community that I regret deeply I didn’t have when I was Chief Minister, because I would’ve responded differently to some issues.
“I sometimes think I might come back.”
The audience of around 60 politically engaged Canberrans, including several candidates running in the October ACT Legislative Assembly election, variously gasped, cheered and laughed at this apparent revelation, though Mr Stanhope was swift to dismiss it afterwards as an off the cuff joke rather than a true reflection of any intention to make a return to public life.
Kim Fischer, a Labor candidate in Mr Stanhope’s former electorate of Ginninderra, confirmed later that Mr Stanhope had reassured he had no intention to run in the seat or at all, come October.
Mr Stanhope said community interest in small parties and independents ahead of the ACT election was a reflection of the fact that many Australians had lost faith and trust in politicians, particularly those representing the two major parties.
“There are a growing number of people who feel disenfranchised,” he said.
He cited housing affordability as a key issue affecting Canberrans.
“We have a serious crisis,” Mr Stanhope said.
“We’ve trusted [the two major parties] to ensure the great Australian dream is available to all of us.
“I don’t know if any of you have children or grandchildren trying to buy a house today, but there’s a very significant proportion of young Canberrans who will never own a detached house.”
The former longtime Labor MLA said that if governments were deliberately engineering this state of affairs, then they should be up front about it, acknowledging that Canberrans living in households earning less than $100,000 a year would never own a detached house.
“I do not see any particular passion within the government or the opposition around housing and housing affordability,” Mr Stanhope said.