Former Labor chief Minister Jon Stanhope has defended his acceptance of a Liberal job offer to head up its proposed Poverty Task Group, and he blamed the Labor-Greens Government for what he sees as a deterioration of the ACT’s health and housing services.
Mr Stanhope also told ABC radio that Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s claim that raising Newstart and other welfare payments will do more than anything to lift people out of poverty was nonsense.
He said he wasn’t naive about the offer and knew there was an election coming, but he saw it as an opportunity in an area he believed in.
”Why would I not accept it?” he asked.
”It’s an initiative I have long supported … on what basis would I write back to Mr Coe and say stick it, have your poverty inquiry but I’m not having a bar of it because I don’t share your politics?”
Mr Barr has already labelled the job offer a stunt and called Mr Stanhope’s standing in the Labor Party into question.
But Mr Stanhope said Mr Barr himself had already set a precedent for offering roles to political enemies by making former Liberal leader Brendan Smyth Commissioner for International Engagement for the ACT in 2016.
Mr Stanhope, who works three days a week at the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services, said he saw poverty every week.
”I rub shoulders with people who live in poverty; I talk to people who live in poverty,” he said.
”It’s a major issue for us, for Canberra to be the city and community and society we all think it is or aspire for it to be. We simply have to deal with some of those issues around poverty and disadvantage.”
Despite what he saw as an unlikely Liberal win, he believed the Task Group was a great idea.
Ironically, the last poverty inquiry in the ACT was launched by the Carnell Liberal Government, the findings of which Mr Stanhope inherited when he took office in 2001.
Mr Stanhope defended his time in government saying his record on social issues was stunning but that Mr Barr had dismantled his housing affordability plan and abandoned Katy Gallagher’s 10-year health plan.
Initiatives on Indigenous disadvantage had also not been followed through, such as a specific drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility which had been funded.
Mr Stanhope took apart Mr Barr’s claim the raising welfare payments such as Newstart was enough, although he agreed they needed to be increased.
”Raising Newstart is not going to address the underlying issues that lead to poverty. It’s just simply a nonsense to believe for one minute that it will,” he said.
”It might ameliorate some of the impacts but they’re not going to actually stop people coming into poverty, not going to help people out of poverty in a permanent or meaningful way.”
Mr Stanhope said payment for the role had not been discussed nor any terms of reference.
”It’s a clean sheet of paper,” he said. ”The question of remuneration has not entered my head or been considered.”