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Who will be the next chief minister?

By Genevieve Jacobs 14 January 2019 75
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr with cabinet ministers Shane Rattenbury, Rachel Stephen-Smith, Meegan Fitzharris, Yvette Berry, Mick Gentleman and Gordon Ramsay. Photo: Charlotte Harper

Is Labor’s incumbency wearing thin? File photo.

ACT Labor’s lengthy incumbency may be wearing thin with some Canberrans, but as next year’s local election approaches, it’s much harder to say who the next chief minister of the ACT is likely to be.

Will Andrew Barr leave the job in the short term? Is he waiting on a Federal Labor win in 2019 to make his move? Can Labor win an election with Meegan Fitzharris as leader? Or could the Liberals turn the tide with Alistair Coe?

ANU political analyst Andrew Hughes believes there may be fatal flaws in the ALP succession strategy as a result of long years in power. That could mean Mr Barr is last in the line of Labor chief ministers – although it’s far from certain that the Territory has a taste for his political opponents.

“If Labor is going to change leaders, they need to do it now so that it looks not just like a smooth transition, but also a necessary one,” Hughes says. “It’s time for a rebuild inside ACT Labor, but there’s a lesson here from Scott Morrison and friends. If you don’t make the change at the right time, you look desperate and self-serving.”

Who Andrew Barr’s successor should be is an open question, as dependent on factional jostling as it is on the available talent. Deputy chief minister Yvette Berry is understood to be a factional choice in the role and unlikely to inherit the mantle from Mr Barr.

Hughes points out that like everywhere, ACT Labor ministries are usually aligned to factional interests: treasury and finance to the right, environment and social welfare portfolios to the left, although the ACT has been an anomaly with independent Labor MLAs.

Where leadership is concerned, however, this becomes critical: a potential chief minister should have experience in a senior portfolio where meaningful success is possible, something like transport where there’s a stream of positive news about taxpayer dollars going to infrastructure investment.

But Meegan Fitzharris, widely seen as Mr Barr’s likely successor, is also burdened with Health where the government has struggled to make a meaningful difference for years. And that lengthy incumbency also means there’s nobody to blame for the problems except themselves.

Meegan Fitzharris

Meegan Fitzharris’s reputation as Minister for Health may have tarnished her chances of being a credible successor to Barr. File photo.

“Health a huge issue,” Hughes says. “People expect Labor to be strong there. Federally the ALP is making a case that the Coalition can’t run health effectively. But exactly that is true of Labor here in the ACT. In this jurisdiction, you have to be able to run a strong campaign on local, family issues. That’s what works with the voters.”

But if Labor struggles to create a plausible narrative about who should inherit the leadership and why, their great good fortune has been in having a weak opposition also seemingly ruled by internal factional struggles rather than how representative they are of the community.

Hughes says the Liberals have been unable to generate momentum for change in the electorate and are beset with leadership issues of their own. “If Alistair Coe loses the next election, it’s curtains for the hard right,” he says.

If Alistair Coe loses the next election, it’s curtains for the hard right, Hughes says. Photo: Twitter.

“The Liberals have struggled to find a decent moderate progressive who suits the electorate. Jeremy Hanson never looked comfortable in the role. There’s some speculation around Mark Parton or Elizabeth Lee as more popular, market-based figures.”

Hughes says it’s inexplicable that the Opposition under Coe hasn’t been able to do a better job with the political material at hand, particularly former Auditor General Maxine Cooper’s pointed criticism about the government’s land dealings.

“They are one seat away from being in power and they should be able to get in,” he says. “Gungahlin, for example, should be a moderate Liberal heartland. But I suspect some Liberals are quite comfortable in Opposition. There’s no pressure to make decisions or take responsibility with the electorate. The party has not reformed how they choose their candidates as Labor’s done.”

He says a strong Opposition would directly reveal government mistakes rather than commenting on them after the fact. “In a real sense, the Opposition role has been played by the local media, not the Liberal Party.”

Hughes says that conversely, there are some senior Labor figures who privately believe a purge would do the ALP good. “Out of office, you can make real internal changes. Difficult, in-depth policy discussions can happen, people can be sorted out. It’s time for a change for everyone in the ACT.”

Who do you think the next ACT chief minister will be?


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57 Responses to
Who will be the next chief minister?
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Wayne Ker 6:58 am 22 Jan 19

Not soon enough See ya !

Robert Downie 8:12 pm 21 Jan 19

Good bye

Toshak Akita 7:26 pm 21 Jan 19

See ya !!

Jorge Gatica 6:38 pm 21 Jan 19

Where ever he goes get lost

Frank Koch 4:36 am 19 Jan 19

Rumour has it that he’s going to Melbourne good luck Andrew in what ever you do

HiddenDragon 6:16 pm 18 Jan 19

Whether it’s yet another term of Labor/Green, or a once-in-a-century Liberal majority, Canberra desperately needs a Government which truly understands and governs for the tens of thousands of Canberrans who are not doing so well in our increasingly elitist city.

With the background of a very likely federal Labor government, which will be past its honeymoon period by the time of the next Territory election, ACT Labor would be wise to choose a new leader (should that circumstance arise) who can best speak for and connect with that section of our community. If the Liberals are to have a chance, they likewise need to connect meaningfully with Canberra’s “forgotten people”.

David Brown 3:27 pm 18 Jan 19

He has amassed enough illicit earnings from his dubious deals?

Jordania 12:07 pm 18 Jan 19

Trouble is that Canberra’s population is too small to support self-government as it is currently conceived. That is, the gene pool is too shallow to throw up many (there are, and have been in the past, some) decent candidates especially in the two major parties. So what you get are political flacks, hacks and ideologues with little in the way of policy smarts, deep principles and/or empathy – looking at you, Meegan Fitzharris, Alistair Coe, Vicki Dunne, Yvette Berry and, oh lord, I could probably name most the far from stellar crew currently warming the seats of the Assembly. Note I said most. There are some exceptions: Elizabeth Lee, Caroline Le Couteur, James Milligan and Chris Steele of whom only Steel and Lee would have what it takes to be a decent leader of their party or Chief Minister – that’s bad odds for Canberra. The Libs need to flush out the old guard and start pre-selecting people with intelligence, education, nous, vision and no desire whatever to push a right-wing religious/conservative agenda or to be a perpetual MLA. Labor needs to break free of the factional bind and do the same – the best person, not the entitled faction, for the job. Until they do that they will continue to get Fitzharris-like people – incompetent and unremoveable; or Berry clones – rusted on dynastic Labor, well meaning but ineffectual; or the likes of Bec Cody – enough said. But that’s not going to happen with either party and Canberra will continue to suffer for it.

Shane Bennett 6:43 pm 17 Jan 19

Can he drag all the lefties with him?

Jennifer Jones 10:43 am 17 Jan 19

Can we please have a highly competent manager who is also a good communicator. Not a politician.

Madeline Hollingsworth 5:42 pm 16 Jan 19

I reckon he’ll be on the Geocon board. Meehan Fitzharris couldn’t organise a chook raffle. We’ll be in even worse straits if she’s in charge 😱😱😱😱

justin heywood 3:29 pm 16 Jan 19

Barr’s been applying for jobs in Melbourne? (from comments below).
That would surely be newsworthy if true.

Capital Retro 10:58 am 16 Jan 19

Some one has posted incorrectly that Andrew Barr was an economist.

He studied political science, economics and economic history at the Australian National University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Policy Studies).

Educated yes, but “unlearned” also.

    JC 7:17 am 19 Jan 19

    They probably confused Andrew Barr with Andrew Leigh. Though Leigh is a professor in economics don’t think he ever worked as an economist.

    Capital Retro 9:23 am 20 Jan 19

    Good call, JC.

bigred 8:50 pm 15 Jan 19

I expect Andrew Barr to contest next year’s election and points his track record of achievements, which is probably enough to maintain the status quo. The only impediment I can see is if someone can land some substantive criticism of his stewardship on probity grounds.

From where I sit, the Labor government’s biggest failing has been it’s patchy record on implementation and ongoing failure to bring it’s public service chiefs and local unions onto the same page. Health is an ongoing failure area and contrary to the article so are the buses because the TWU continues to flex it’s muscles – look at the weekend arrangements if you do not believe me.

Oh yes, then there is the special place we should reserve for the way the policing arrangements work. Not only will they escape the integrity scrutiny again, the failure to recognise and deal with emerging crime patterns is disturbing, along with the propensity to not keep the local population informed of what is going on.

Bek Clark 5:07 pm 15 Jan 19

So many lolz in the comments.

Y’all know how democracy and elections work right?

Irene Shaw 5:06 am 15 Jan 19

Thanks for your undoable eyesore legacy left behind of cheap high rise apartments especially in the suburbs

Teresa Baxter 12:19 am 15 Jan 19

Yvette Berry. She actually cares about Canberra and Canberrans. Trust her over the rest of them.

Louis Sotiropoulos 11:10 pm 14 Jan 19

Good. And take Meegan Fitzharris with you.

Capital Retro 10:01 pm 14 Jan 19

Funny how the only comments have been about Labor and the Liberals and of course the current CM Andrew Barr who may be known as the CM but in reality is a puppet of the developers, unions and the alphabet communities.

Has everyone forgotten The Green MLA Shane Rattenbury who has clear power over all major decisions in the ACT? What happens if we have a repeat of the 2012 election when Labor and Liberals had equal seats and Rattenbury sold his vote to Labor for a $2 billion tram and other ideologies?

Rob Sanders 9:41 pm 14 Jan 19

Can we just repeal self government?

    Robbie Robinson 11:56 am 17 Jan 19

    Unfortunately, we can't unscramble the egg.

    Canberrans voted TWICE rejecting self-government and had it imposed on us by outsiders anyway (i.e.the Federal Parliament).

    Just like now with Zed and Kevin Andrews and other religious rightists like Abbott and Dutton representing the Vatican and voting against our wishes.

    Imagine how totally powerless we'd be with a Federal Minister like Zed controlling our lives.

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