Date: May 17 2012
It says a good deal about the seamlessness of the transition in power from Jon Stanhope to Katy Gallagher last year - and about her own understated performance since then - that the first anniversary of her accession to the job of chief minister will have crept up on the electorate. This may be how Ms Gallagher would have wished it.
In her 11-year stint in ACT politics so far (which has included at least a decade of service as a government minister) Ms Gallagher has not demonstrated any great desire to grandstand or to seek the limelight, to espouse support for pet causes or indeed to enunciate grand designs or political narratives. In some respects, she is the antithesis of Mr Stanhope, an effusive politician who wore his support for issues like human rights, and a jail needle and syringe program, on his sleeve, and who was not afraid to lock horns with those he felt stood in the way of such progressive initiatives, regardless of their power or standing. Such beliefs undoubtedly inspired the affection and loyalty of many ACT voters, but those who disagreed with Mr Stanhope tended to be vociferous in their condemnation of his style and ideas.
Ms Gallagher served in all of Mr Stanhope's ministries from 2002 onward, variously in charge of portfolios such as education, youth and family services, community services, and industrial relations. She demonstrated a safe pair of hands before winning promotion to the job of deputy chief minister in 2006 following Ted Quinlan's retirement - as well as taking over the health portfolio. After Labor's win at the 2008 election, Ms Gallagher was elevated to the Treasury portfolio, while retaining health, where again she performed competently, if without any overt flashiness.
It was always to be expected that Ms Gallagher, having being voted chief minister by her colleagues last May, would cleave to the same course as her predecessor, if with a personal style that emphasised prudence and caution. Her government's first budget was, not surprisingly, focused on service delivery - with particular emphasis on increased investment in health care provision.
This was a commendable goal given the less than healthy state of Treasury revenues. Indeed, Ms Gallagher's preparedness to revamp the way hospital and health services are delivered to Canberrans (including the decision to build a sub-acute hospital on the north side) stands as among her most notable achievement thus far as chief minister.
That said, healthcare has also been one of Ms Gallagher's biggest bugbears, with long emergency room waiting times and elective surgery lists proving particularly unresponsive to first-aid efforts. The recent furore over altered emergency department figures has only emphasised the difficulties inherent in alleviating these problems.
If Ms Gallagher has established a managerial style as chief minister, and not been much given to flourishes, some voters would probably wish she showed a bit more steel on occasion. Her government seems, for instance, to have caved in to pressure from the Community and Public Sector Union and shelved the idea of establishing a needle and syringe program in the territory's jail (questionable as that idea may have been). Overdue attempts to reform the ACT's compulsory motor insurance and workers' compensation schemes also appear to have been abandoned as the result of fierce opposition from lawyers.
Such timidity is perhaps understandable given Ms Gallagher does not yet have a full public mandate, and must face the electorate in five months. She cannot afford to alienate voters unduly or to stumble and give the ACT opposition further ammunition with which to try and unseat her government.
Ms Gallagher has, however, shown she has sound political instincts and a sense of pragmatism. Her January decision to scrap the proposed $430 million government office building in Civic indicates she is well aware of the need for her government to rid itself of excess baggage before the election. How next month's budget is received may be crucial to the government's electoral fortunes too.
In her first year as chief minister Ms Gallagher has proven a steady performer, and one whom many in the community will have warmed to. She is a hard worker, who juggles a huge job with a family life. By and large, she seems up front with people and not overly defensive in the face of criticism. If Ms Gallagher wants to maximise her chances of re-election, she might be advised to open up to the electorate more about what she would do with a new mandate. If her first year as chief minister is to be the first of several, Canberrans may need to see more of a visionary Ms Gallagher to go with the competent and able administrator she has thus far proved.
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