Comment

Editorial

Burch gone, but questions remain

In what ranks as one of the most protracted exits in recent ACT political history, Joy Burch stood down from cabinet on Tuesday – in order, she said, to "focus on putting the people of Tuggeranong first".

This being an era where expressions of political regret are considered tantamount to admissions of guilt, Ms Burch's exit statement contained no hint of contrition over matters ministerial or departmental which, in retrospect, might  have been better handled. There was no mention of questionable appointments, of ill-advised personal representations, or of furtive regulatory changes. No allusion to cack-handed attempts at damage control or blame-shifting, and certainly no reference to resignations and leave-taking occasioned by official police investigations.

Instead, the statement acknowledged  that although some saw Ms Burch as a controversial figure, "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". And to underline the point, her statement included nearly two pages of ministerial achievements notched up over six years.

Except for the still opaque matter which led to her resignation and leave of absence from the Assembly in mid-December, Ms Burch's slips, gaffes, and indiscretions were arguably not of themselves indictable offences. However, their steady and continued accumulation spoke of poor political judgment, an inability to forge good working relationships with departmental personnel, and an unwillingness to separate the personal (or the party) from the professional.

It's conceivable Ms Burch would not have become a frontbencher had Labor a bigger ministerial talent pool – and that this quirk ensured Chief Minister Andrew Barr had little choice but to keep her on, despite her obvious limitations. Only after Ms Burch's chief of staff, Maria Hawthorne, resigned over allegations that she'd briefed a CFMEU official about a discussion involving her minister and ACT Chief Police Officer Rudi Lammers did Ms Burch tender her resignation. Despite deputy leader Simon Corbell describing the incident as "unprecedented" and despite the announcement of a police investigation, Mr Barr inexplicably allowed Ms Burch to keep her non-police portfolios. It had been made clear to him, Mr Barr said, that Ms Burch was not the subject of the police investigation.

The incident in question appears to stems from representations made to Ms Burch by CFMEU ACT secretary Dean Hall about police conduct related either to the monitoring of phone calls or to the interpretation of rights-of-entry laws. That Ms Burch took those concerns to ACT Policing is now more or less accepted fact. What's less certain is how the matter then unfolded. Mr Barr refused to clarify matters in mid-December, despite saying Ms Burch was not the subject of police considerations. That's no longer a tenable position given Ms Burch's full resignation from the ministry. The ACT community deserves some answers on what exactly is being investigated by police. It is time the Chief Minister gave them some of those answers.

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