ACT News

Labor MLA Joy Burch to resign from ACT ministry

Embattled former police minister Joy Burch will stand down from the ACT Cabinet altogether, but will remain in the Legislative Assembly and seek re-election this year.

Focusing on Tuggeranong: Embattled Labor MLA Joy Burch will stand down from the ACT Cabinet.
Focusing on Tuggeranong: Embattled Labor MLA Joy Burch will stand down from the ACT Cabinet. Photo: Karleen Minney

Announcing she would leave the education, disability, gaming and racing portfolios in a frontbench reshuffle expected later this week, Ms Burch defended her record and sought to play down a police investigation into her office.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the cabinet would be expanded to seven members in the election year reshuffle, meaning his former chief of staff and Molonglo MLA Meegan Fitzharris and former minister Chris Bourke would join the front bench.

Mr Barr said Ms Burch had stood aside "gracefully" after he indicated he wanted to renew the cabinet.

Two new ministers will be elected this week after nominations close on Monday afternoon. Portfolio allocations will be announced in coming days and the ministry could be expanded again to eight members after the election.

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Ms Burch resigned as police minister late last year in the wake of allegations over her chief of staff's contact with the powerful Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union official Dean Hall. She retained her other portfolios and took immediate leave.

On Monday she said the police investigation was not a factor in her decision not to seek a position in the reshuffled cabinet. Ms Burch was a key target for the Liberal opposition in 2015, facing criticism over a string of failures and controversies.

"I'm aware some may see me as a controversial figure as a minister," Ms Burch said. "The fact is when you challenge the status quo - when you go in and find things that need to be fixed - you will attract attention. I've never been afraid of drawing the ire of some, including vested interests, in order to make lasting and positive reforms for the good of our community.

The move will see Ms Burch's salary drop by more than $92,000 to $132,775, the base salary for Assembly members. However, Ms Burch would receive another $13,278 a year if she is appointed chair of a committee.

Ms Burch left open the possibility of seeking another ministry position if Labor wins the election. She did not directly address suggestions she could have become a political liability for the government, amid regular calls for her resignation last year.

"[Andrew Barr] understood that the 2016 election will be tough and he's very keen to have me here working hard ensuring there is a reelected Labor government," Ms Burch.

ACT Policing is considering the conduct of Ms Burch's former chief of staff Maria Hawthorne, but neither police nor Mr Barr have revealed exactly what is being examined.

Ms Hawthorne resigned after allegations were aired through Fairfax Media that she had briefed CFMEU ACT boss Dean Hall about a meeting between Ms Burch and ACT Chief Police Officer Rudi Lammers.

On Tuesday, Mr Barr said the police investigation was ongoing and Assistant Commissioner Lammers would hold a press conference when it is completed.  

"The chief police officer has provided myself and the police minister with an update and that will come to a conclusion in the coming weeks," he said.

Mr Barr said Ms Burch had "made way for a new generation of Labor ministers".

"I'm very grateful for her contribution and the way she's handled herself in what has been a difficult period where there has been a great deal of personal and media scrutiny," he said.

Ms Burch won only eight first preference votes in recent Labor preselections, a mediocre showing interpreted by some in the party as a message to the trouble-prone Education Minister.

Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson said Mr Barr should address the nature of the police investigation into Ms Burch's office.

"Andrew Barr was repeatedly warned of Joy Burch's incompetence and his failure to act earlier and remove her from cabinet sooner has led to today's events," he said.

"This investigation is potentially very serious. It puts the whole government under a cloud."

with Jon Tuxworth

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