30 November 2019

The agony of the ACT election long-distance runner ... and Liberal leader

| Ian Bushnell
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Andrew Wall, Guilia Jones and Jeremy Hanson

The Liberals’ Andrew Wall, Guilia Jones and Jeremy Hanson at Woden on Thursday. No sign of their leader. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

If the final sitting week of the year is anything to go by it’s going to be a long election campaign for ACT voters.

While the Liberals contended with some unwelcome leadership speculation, the Barr Government rolled out the announcables, including the centrepiece, the new CIT Woden, and kept the legislation coming in the Assembly.

And there is also the chance of a corruption inquiry as the new Integrity Commission opens for business.

Media events got a little crowded as ‘minister for things that really matter to voters’ Chris Steel arrived with a clutch of local members in train. “You wouldn’t know an election was less than a year away,” was the common refrain.

For the Woden announcement, he was accompanied by Chief Minister Andrew Barr and local member Bec Cody.

Then the Liberal MLAs also decided to turn up, and not just to photobomb their opponents. In what seemed a new tactic of ‘if the media won’t come to us we’ll go to them’, they teed off afterwards about issues of the day. Just don’t mention Alistair Coe, who wasn’t seen or heard much at all, even around the Assembly.

Twice I asked a trio of Liberal MLAs where Mr Coe was and if the team was firmly united behind him, only to have them turn a deaf ear.

Despite the protestations that all is rosy, the Liberals seemed distracted in the Assembly, spending a fair bit of time in meetings, and Mr Coe keeping his head down.

While party godfather Zed Seselja dismissed the chat out of hand and stood firmly behind his boy, somebody in the Liberal Party is definitely not happy and decided to lob a grenade in time for the Assembly’s last hurrah of the year.

We’ve got a plan: Andrew Barr flanked by Chris Steel at the Woden CIT announcement.

It may seem like sowing division would benefit the government, but the word is Mr Barr and his team are quite happy to go to the polls with Mr Coe as Opposition Leader, deeming ”the most conservative right-wing leader in the country” as an easy mark.

So-called moderate Elizabeth Lee quickly quashed talk that she was up for a challenge. Another member talked about as a potential leader, Mark Parton, doesn’t want the job.

Does the man rolled by Mr Coe, former leader Jeremy Hanson still harbour ambitions and have the baton (he is a military man) firmly in the saddlebag?

In a week where the pollies were definitely out and about, it was Mr Hanson who fronted up at Woden with Guilia Jones and Andrew Wall to mirror Mr Barr, Mr Steel and Ms Cody.

On Saturday, the Liberals unveiled their candidates for October after completing preselections last week.

Obviously keen to counter Labor’s claim that they are out of touch and don’t reflect the Canberra community, the Liberals touted the team as ‘modern, diverse and representative’. And that it is, but with possibly a few too many failed candidates from previous outings.

Whomever Mr Barr faces, the template for the campaign has been set, with Labor exploiting the power of incumbency to grind down the Liberals with constant policy and spending initiatives as part of the Plan for Canberra that their opponents have so far failed to offer to the electorate.

The only joy for the Libs last week was the Public Accounts Committee recommending that the new Integrity Commission take a look at the LDA land deals, an issue that just won’t go away.

With Mr Barr the responsible Minister at the time of the then Land Development Agency’s 2015 acquisitions as part of the City to the Lake project, a potential corruption probe and the associated media feeding frenzy is not a scenario the Government would welcome.

But it would give the Liberals an opportunity, no matter what the outcome, to upset the Government’s narrative of a competent administration with the people’s interests at heart.

Integrity Commission CEO John Hoitink hung up the shingle on Sunday and is now taking submissions. It will be interesting to see what else may come across his desk.

It can be a risky business for government setting up anti-corruption bodies.

As we head into Christmas, there will probably be a little political breather, if not peace and goodwill, but come the New Year the election cavalcade will get under way and roll through to October.

Hang on. We’re in for a long election.

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