The ACT Chief Minister has welcomed the weekend’s federal election results, saying it will lead to an entirely new “collaborative” relationship between the local and national governments that will ultimately mean better outcomes for Canberrans.
Throughout the election campaign, Andrew Barr’s colleagues in Federal Labor pledged to build an urgent care clinic on Canberra’s Southside and committed to revitalising the AIS Arena and precinct.
This was along with promising assistance to the Territory government on local infrastructure projects such as CIT Woden, light rail, upgrades to Gorman House and Weston Creek tennis club, and the construction of the inner north Garden City Cycle route.
These projects were ones the Territory government had already indicated an interest in pursuing, which the Chief Minister welcomed.
“What is clear now is that we will be able to engage with this federal government ahead of their budget round and our budget round and there will no longer be any left, or should I say right, of field surprises like we used to get from [Zed] Seselja,” Mr Barr said.
“His ideas and his list were often wildly different from what we were proposing, and he would just dream up these projects.”
But Mr Barr also described the change in government as one which would “remove the roadblocks” for the local government, including the ban on the Territory legislating on voluntary assisted dying, which he said he hoped to see lifted sooner rather than later.
“I look forward to that being moved in the Federal Parliament this term. Having two ACT Senators who would vote for Territory rights is going to be a significant shift in the dynamic in that chamber,” he explained.
Another ‘roadblock’ is the fact the Federal Government has, until now, refused to wipe the ACT’s historic housing debt, despite it having made similar concessions for other states.
Earlier in the election campaign, the ACT’s now-likely second senator David Pocock said it was time for the Federal Government to waive the more than $100 million owed by the Territory Government the latter inherited upon self-government.
Mr Barr said he was now hopeful a Labor government would be more willing to listen to the ACT’s case, after having “raised it at least a dozen times with the previous government”.
“We will have those discussions with the Commonwealth once things have settled down a little. Our commitment would be to reinvest the money we’re currently paying the Federal Government into social and affordable housing in the ACT,” the Chief Minister said. Similar deals were previously struck with Tasmania and South Australia.
He also called for collaboration between the two levels of government on the possibility of releasing land on the current CSIRO site for housing, but described Liberal Zed Seselja’s campaign trail promise that it would be released without engaging with the Territory government as “crazy”.
“We’ve got to supply the water, the electricity, the social infrastructure. We would have to collect the garbage,” Mr Barr said. “If well-planned and delivered effectively, that land is viable for housing. What I’ve been opposed to is rush jobs … so it’s on the agenda but not as a crazy fire sale.”
Mr Barr also welcomed the likely election of high-profile independent Mr Pocock as the Territory’s second senator alongside comfortably elected Labor incumbent Katy Gallagher.
The Chief Minister said the former Wallabies captain had similar policies to both ACT Labor and Federal Labor and he looked forward to working with him.
Overall, Mr Barr described the weekend’s result as having signalled a “dramatic shift” in Australian politics, “in terms of sweeping away a tired, old conservative government and bringing in a new era”.
“There are clearly lessons for all political parties and political players … but what is clear is that Australian politics has changed,” he said.
Mr Barr added that one clear lesson to be drawn from the election was that people wanted action on climate change, but he wouldn’t, however, be drawn on making a comment on the future of, nor giving political advice to, the Canberra Liberals.