Yerrabi MLA Suzanne Orr will fill the gap left by Meegan Fitzharris’s departure in the Labor Ministry, with Chief Minister Andrew Barr to allocate portfolios in a Cabinet reshuffle on Monday.
Mr Barr announced Ms Orr’s elevation to the eight-strong Ministry on Friday in the heart of Gungahlin, after being the only nomination to caucus.
Mr Barr redistributed portfolios after Ms Fitzharris’s shock announcement in June to leave politics to spend more time with her family, with Health going to Rachel Stephen-Smith and Transport to Chris Steel, but foreshadowed another Minister being appointed after caucus deliberations.
Ms Orr, 37, lives in Franklin and was elected at the last ACT poll in October 2016 and is the Caucus Secretary and Assistant Speaker.
Previously an urban planner, she holds a Master of Urban and Regional Planning (University of Canberra, 2015), Graduate Certificate in Public Administration (University of Canberra, 2013), and Bachelor of Arts (Australian National University, 2007).
She chairs the Environment and Transport and City Services standing committee and is Deputy Chair of the Economic Development and Tourism, and Environment and Transport and City Services committees.
Ms Stephen-Smith and Mr Steel are expected to retain their high-profile portfolios, but with her strong planning credentials Ms Orr could end up with that portfolio, currently held by Mick Gentleman.
“As someone who is passionate about planning and good urban design I want to improve the way we build our city and how we engage the community in decision making,” she says on her website.
But she played down suggestions she could replace Planning Minister Mick Gentleman, who is not well regarded in the community in that role.
“I look forward to serving in any role that the Chief Minister feels I can best contribute,” she said. “I am an urban planner but it’s fair to say that ministers do not necessarily go into the field they came from in their profession. The current Planning Minister is doing quite a good job.”
Calling herself a Yerrabi girl who has always lived in the electorate, Ms Orr said she was excited and humbled to be caucus’s sole pick for the vacant Cabinet position, saying she looked forward to being a voice for Yerrabi in the Cabinet room.
“Politics has always been about working with your community to make a difference,” she said.
Part of that had been working with the Giralang community on its park, ensuring its say in the redevelopment of the local shops, the reusable coffee cup trial in the Town Centre, and securing a commitment for a feasibility study into a community and arts centre.
This week she teamed up with new Yerrabi member Deepak Gupta to secure a feasibility study for a new large-scale venue for multicultural community events at Exhibition Park.
Light rail had caused major disruptions for businesses in the Town Centre and along the route and she said he would continue to talk with them and take their concerns to Government.
But she also said that only that morning a light rail passenger had thanked for the new public transport mode, saying it had transformed how that person travelled to the City and around the ACT.
She said that overwhelmingly people in fast-growing Yerrabi, where there has been massive investment, were happy with what the Government was doing, but said the Government had a unified approach to the ACT’s needs.
“As a Government we all work together and identify the needs of our community and everyone of us is out there actively talking to people and listening to what they have to say and that’s what we will continue to do,” she said.
Mr Barr said the Government tried to balance those needs and flagged that areas that may feel neglected compared with Gungahlin would soon see more investment.
“Gungahalin is one of the fastest growing communities in Australia, certainly the fastest growing area of the city at this time, but that won’t always be the case,” he said.
“It’s important as we look towards the 2020s and as we prepare the release of the forward infrastructure plan, you will see that balance of new infrastructure in growing areas together with renewal in infrastructure across the city.”
Mr Barr said there would be minimal changes to Cabinet, and next year Green Minister Shane Rattenbury’s responsibilities would be allocated to Labor spokespeople for the election in October.