ACT News


ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr announces new front bench

Chief Minister Andrew Barr's pre-election reshuffle will see the traditional Labor portfolio of education go to Green Shane Rattenbury and a mid-year handover of responsibility for the light rail project take place.

Sparked by the resignation of embattled former minister Joy Burch, the reshuffle brings to seven the number of cabinet members, as newcomer Meegan Fitzharris takes over municipal services from Mr Rattenbury and gains the newly-established transport portfolio. Minister Mick Gentleman will take responsibility for the Mr Fluffy asbestos buyback program. 

Deputy Chief Minister Simon Corbell will retain his existing responsibilities, of Attorney-General, environment, police and health until his retirement at the October election, but he will hand the Capital Metro project over to Ms Fitzharris on June 30 when a new single transport agency becomes operational. A single environmental conservation agency will also be created. 

In addition to the key election issue of the tram line, Ms Fitzharris also takes on higher education, training and research and the new assistant health minister's role.

Along with education, Mr Rattenbury takes on road safety and consumer affairs but loses the sport portfolio to Labor's Yvette Berry. He retains responsibility for justice and corrections.


Ms Berry will lose the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island affairs, but keeps housing, community services, multicultural affairs and women and takes on the new youth affairs portfolio. Seen as a likely future deputy to Mr Barr if Labor retains government, Ms Berry also adds social inclusion to her responsibilities.

Mick Gentleman keeps planning and land management, workplace safety and industrial relations and picks up the controversial racing and gaming portfolio from Ms Burch. He will be Labor's manager of government business in the Assembly. The recently-established roads and parking portfolio has been split.

Dr Bourke takes on the portfolios of children and young people, disability, small business, arts, veterans and seniors while Mr Barr retains his treasury, economic development, tourism and urban renewal roles.

Mr Barr said the new ministry reflected his government's priorities and renewal within Labor. His own portfolios would be more evenly spread across cabinet and a further new ministry could be created in the new Assembly term.

The new line-up comes as police investigate Ms Burch's office but the government and Mr Barr refuse to outline the full nature of the allegations.

"I am pleased to be able to provide stability in those key portfolios, clear transition points," Mr Barr said. "We clearly have in each of Mr Corbell's portfolios a succession plan in place."

He praised Mr Rattenbury's "reformist zeal" and said handing education to the Greens would see co-operation between him, the Chief Minister's Office and Ms Fitzharris.

Mr Rattenbury acknowledged serious issues remaining after Ms Burch's sometimes troubled tenure in education. He said school performance, national education funding and students with special needs were key issues, including after a student with autism was placed in a cage in 2015.

"Parents across Canberra are looking to the minister to provide strong leadership and they are looking for clear direction on where we are going," he said.

Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson described the reshuffle announcement as "incoherent".

"When you have a ministry where the delineation is not clear, where responsibilities aren't clear, that leads to trouble," he said.

He said Mr Barr had erred in giving the education portfolio to the Greens, with the news likely to shock traditional Labor voters. The Liberal team will stay in place until the poll, but Mr Hanson acknowledged some of his shadow ministers had limited name recognition with voters.

Mr Barr paid tribute to retiring backbencher Mary Porter and said her likely replacement in the Assembly, lawyer Jayson Hinder, would benefit politically from an early start in politics.

Elections ACT will conduct a countback after Ms Porter formally resigns on February 19, with a result expected in early March. Candidates in the seat of Ginninderra at the 2012 election will have 10 days to withdraw their names before the countback takes place.

The computer countback process will take less than a minute to be complete with Ms Porter's voters effectively determining her replacement.

The Canberra Liberals are expected to complete their preselection for this year's election by April.