ACT News

Katy Gallagher resigns as Chief Minister, declares for Senate

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher has declared she will contest the upcoming Labor Senate vacancy, and will quit as Chief Minister from Wednesday next week.

Katy Gallagher to quit as chief minister in bid to move to the Senate

Katy Gallagher announces her decision to move to federal politics, and will stand down from the Legislative Assembly by Christmas.

Ms Gallagher  will become a candidate for the upcoming Senate vacancy created by Senator Kate Lundy.

Senator Lundy announced she would not be contesting the next federal election last week. She will resign from the Senate on March 31, 2015. 

Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr is expected to take the reins, confirming he will stand after being endorsed by Ms Gallagher. If successful he will become Australia's first openly gay state or territory leader.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell is set to take over as deputy chief minister, also confirming he will nominate for the position. 

Ms Gallagher will move out of the Assembly before Christmas.

"Because of my decision and out of respect for the office of chief minister I have informed my colleagues that I will be resigning as chief minister on Wednesday next week," she said.

Ms Gallagher said she had been endorsed for the role and since Senator Lundy's announcement, Federal Labor Leader Bill Shorten and Senate leader Penny Wong had contacted her to request her to join the federal Labor team.

"After much consideration I have decided that I can use the skills I have gained in my time as Chief Minister to step into the federal arena to stand up for Canberra, defend our city and be a strong local voice for our nation's capital. This job has never been more important than now," she said.

"I was contacted by a number of federal politicians over the past five days to ask me take this opportunity up and join them in their fight against the Abbott government. They put some very strong and persuasive arguments to me. I think I have the skills and capacity to add to their team."

Andrew Barr's Chief-of-Staff, Meegan Fitzharris, is the woman most likely to take Ms Gallagher's spot in the ACT Legislative Assembly.

Ms Fitzharris was the best of the rest of Labor's candidates in the sprawling central electorate of Molonglo in the 2012 campaign, giving an almighty scare to Mr Corbell who eventually got over the line with preferences from Ms Gallagher's massive vote.

Gallagher in the Senate

Ms Gallagher said she would be a better advocate for Canberra in parliament but would not put on an aggressive or mongrel persona just to appear tough.

"I've never been fake. This is what the federal team has asked me to bring to the Senate so, I think they see me, they know me and what I'm like - that's it," she said.

"I'm pretty tough though. You don't have to be impolite and rude to actually be effective and that's something I've always felt pretty strongly.

"I've been in politics long enough to know that you have to, at times, negotiate your way through things and compromise. Again, I'm not pretending there is not going to be times where it's difficult for me."

But former ACT Senator and former ACT chief minister Gary Humphries has warned Ms Gallagher will have to be prepared to rock the boat more than in the past if she wanted to be effective.

However, he believed Ms Gallagher could find herself being groomed for ministerial roles in a relatively short time.

Mr Humphries, who was deposed from his Senate seat in 2013 following a bitter preselection battle with Senator Zed Seselja, said she had performed well in the Legislative Assembly and could do well in federal Parliament.

"When Katy joins that team she will be I think the only member of the Labor caucus with head-of-government experience, where previously you had Bob Carr, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. Those things are taken very seriously on the hill and while not initially, I don't see her sitting on the back benches for too long," Mr Humphries said.

"Getting things done though is much harder, and Katy has never spent a single day in opposition. It is a culture shock and she will struggle at times," he said.

ANU politics Professor John Warhurst said he "would think Katy would be an irresistible candidate" for the Senate.

He also told the ABC he would think the Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr would be "the obvious candidate" for the ACT Chief Minister spot.

"We should not underestimate the impact anyone from the ACT could make in federal politics," Dr Warhurst said.

Opposition

Senator Seselja has used the announcement to criticise Ms Gallagher for leaving the ACT's significant economic and financial issues behind.

Referring to the proposed light rail he said, "she won't be there to face the voters on that one and on rising rates".

"Rates are being jacked up ... the health system is going backwards at a rate of knots. Those are significant legacy issues."

Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson's response Friday morning was more complimentary.

"I would like to thank Katy Gallagher for her service as an MLA and as Chief Minister and wish her well in her future life outside the Assembly," Mr Hanson said.

"There is no doubt that she has been a successful politician and the Labor Party will find her very difficult to replace."

Support

Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr has described Ms Gallagher as "a proud and effective leader for Canberra".

"I know she will continue to stand up for Canberra if she is selected to represent the ACT in the Senate," he said.

"I know that every member of ACT Labor is as proud as I am of what this Government has achieved under Katy's leadership."

Cabinet colleague Simon Corbell has served alongside Ms Gallagher since she entered the ministry in 2001 and said she has been "a trusted colleague and an outstanding Chief Minister".

"I am confident she will be a strong voice for Canberra in the Australian Senate," he said. 

 Planning Minister Mick Gentleman said he supported her move.

"It is not disappointing at all, I think Katy has a bright future for the Federal Parliament," he said.

Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury said Ms Gallagher had made a  "significant contribution" to the city.

"Ms Gallagher has shown great energy and passion in her role as the chief minister, and has worked hard for the people of Canberra," Mr Rattenbury said.

"Most importantly for me, her willingness to work collaboratively has been one of her key strengths, and has enabled us to form a very effective working relationship."

History

Ms Gallagher, 44, was elected to the ACT Legislative Assembly in November 2001.

She was appointed Chief Minister in May 2011 after a five-year stint as deputy, and also holds the health, higher education and regional development portfolios.

She is the longest-serving health minister in Australia.

Her government was recently drawn into controversy over the ACT's Mr Fluffy asbestos crisis, attracting criticism about its $1 billion proposal to buy back and demolish 1021 contaminated homes in a scheme announced last month.

She has an ANU Bachelor of Arts and was a CPSU union organiser before entering politics. She has two daughters and one son.

Speaking of her achievements, Ms Gallagher said she was proud of what she had accomplished in the health portfolio, including a boost to the transparency of information a and data "even though they mainly cause me more pain than anything".

She said she was also proud to have been a part of the only Australian government to make reducing obesity an election policy.

Other highlights included modernising the capital and shaping it up to be a university town.

The numbers

At the 2012 ACT election, Ms Gallagher far outweighed her contenders, drawing 23,996 first preferences.

By comparison, her deputy - and likely successor - Mr Barr, got 3880 votes.

Ms Gallagher more than doubled the quota in Molonglo, dragging in a second Labor candidate all on her own.

The next best overall in 2012 was Zed Seselja in Brindabella at 18,566 votes.

with Elizabeth Bellamy

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