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Joy Burch's challenges as an ACT minister

Prince Harry and Joy Burch have one thing in common: Nazi caricatures have got them in to trouble.

In Prince Harry’s case, he was forced to apologise for donning a Nazi costume at a party.

For Burch there has been no such fancy dress, but the ACT Labor Minister is facing a political storm thanks to the less subtle choices of her Fringe at the Multicultural Festival director, Jorian Gardner.

The Arts and Multicultural Minister’s problem is not the artistic worthiness or unworthiness of the Hitler in tassels routine that was part of Friday night’s burlesque show at the Fringe in Civic Square. Burch’s mistake was made last year when she hand-picked Gardner to run the festival, instead of calling for applications.

The Brindabella MLA knew the political risk of appointing controversy-prone Gardner to the role, but failed to insulate herself from damage by having an open selection process for the festival directorship.

It is this lack of political shrewdness that has defined Burch’s tenure in cabinet.


Recent blunders include Burch’s accidental retweeting of an offensive post calling federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne “a c---”.

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The incident led to social media training for the minister, who delivered her apology with an outpouring of empathy for the young, old and technophobic trying to navigate the treacherous world of instant publishing.

Last year, Burch ignored the advice of her education directorate by granting initial approval for an independent school - which has now been found unfit for registration.

The minister closed Canberra’s women’s information and referral centre but could not clarify why this was necessary when called upon to do so in the midst of public criticism.

The opposition has recognised this weakness on Chief Minister Katy Gallagher’s frontbench and will be relentless in their pursuit of Burch.

The minister has had some shining moments and showed courage and determination in standing up to anti-Islamic sentiment when a new mosque was approved for Gungahlin in 2012.

As community services minister, she has been known to demonstrate real compassion for some of the most vulnerable people in the Canberra community.

But as a political operator she continues to be hampered by a frequent inability to articulate her thoughts and anticipate the consequences of some of her decisions.

Gallagher has defiantly stood by her minister.

Even large governments have weak frontbenchers.

Gallagher’s problem is that if Burch continues to face scrutiny – which she will from the Canberra Liberals – there are very few alternatives within the Labor ranks to groom as a replacement.

Already, the Labor Caucus has the task of appointing a sixth minister from a four-person government backbench with few standout performers.


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