Andrew Barr an ACT chief minister unafraid of reform

Andrew Barr an ACT chief minister unafraid of reform

One year into his tenure, Andrew Barr has shown himself to be a chief minister unafraid of reform but not given to surprises. He lacks the personal warmth of his predecessor, Katy Gallagher, and the passionate zeal of Jon Stanhope, but nevertheless has a clear agenda of his own and is considered by many a steady hand at the wheel.

He points with justified satisfaction to the achievements of the past year: progress on the University of Canberra public hospital; the extraordinarily ambitious drive toward a city powered by renewable energy; taxi industry deregulation; red-tape reduction. He's also unafraid of intervention, sending public servants back to Woden and to moving a section of the Canberra Institute of Technology to Tuggeranong to enliven those town centres. It's unlikely to be enough to avoid a Liberal victory in the south of Canberra, but nevertheless indicates Mr Barr's pragmatism and willingness to use the levers of government to secure economic outcomes.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr.Credit:Jeffrey Chan

He has pushed on, clear-eyed about the direction in which he is heading. But this assuredness brings its own dangers: the messy, human distress that accompanies economic reform. Next year, Mr Barr faces some big decisions: who is to build and operate Canberra's trams; whether poker machines will be allowed in the casino; to what extent the West Basin development and the City to the Lake project will be pursued in the short term; whether there will be a new convention centre or a patch-up of the old one to see the city through another decade, and whether the much-announced city office block will finally get the green light.

Mr Barr is considered in some circles to be thin-skinned when it comes to criticism. And his tendency to dismiss and even scoff at opponents may end up landing him in trouble on several fronts: the significant disruption to Northbourne Avenue as trees come down and tram construction begins, the anger and distress among taxi drivers at Uber; the mass relocation of public housing tenants across the city; the nervousness among neighbourhoods about the coming of public housing to so many suburbs; the bus drivers who will find themselves at the pointy end of a determined modernising of public transport next year; the ongoing distress caused by the buyback and demolition of Mr Fluffy houses – these are all flash points that need compassion and careful handling, not dismissiveness.


There is little question that Mr Barr is a chief minister and treasurer with a determination to drive Canberra's economic revitalisation. Whether he can win hearts remains to be seen. On this score, he would do well to put new minister Yvette Berry front and centre of his new team. But he will miss Simon Corbell's intellect, vision and capacity to deliver. The fact that Mr Barr still heads a party willing to deliver such a ludicrous affront to Mr Corbell, among its best talent, as to dump him to the bottom of the preselection ticket suggests that the Chief Minister could direct a little of his reformist attention to his own party.

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