Labor backbencher Chris Steel named new ACT minister
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Labor backbencher Chris Steel named new ACT minister

As he announced Chris Steel as the ACT's newest minister on Wednesday, Chief Minister Andrew Barr reflected back to when he was promoted to the ministry by former chief minister Jon Stanhope.

Like Mr Steel, Mr Barr was 32 - although he had a set of blond highlights he acknowledges may not have been fashionable, even back in 2006.

ACT Chief minister Andrew Barr announces Chris Steel  as the new minister in his cabinet.

ACT Chief minister Andrew Barr announces Chris Steel as the new minister in his cabinet. Credit:Karleen Minney

"Reflecting on my own experience ... being appointed into cabinet is an exciting opportunity, but one also that carries immense responsibility," Mr Barr said.

"I think in Chris we have someone who has universal regard throughout the Labor party and the broader Labor movement and I think even his political opponents across the other side of the chamber would acknowledge his significant contribution to the Assembly in the time he’s been a member."

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Andrew Barr and his blond highlights, when he was announced as a minister in 2006.

Andrew Barr and his blond highlights, when he was announced as a minister in 2006. Credit:Graham Tidy

The Labor caucus elected Mr Steel as the ACT's eighth minister uncontested, after other backbenchers chose not to nominate for the new role.

While Tara Cheyne ruled herself out of contention early, sources within the Labor party tipped it to come down to Mr Steel and fellow Murrumbidgee MLA Bec Cody.  Ms Cody is from the party's left faction while Mr Steel is from the right.

ACT Chief minister Andrew Barr and his new minister Chris Steel exit the courtyard of the ACT Legislative Assembly.

ACT Chief minister Andrew Barr and his new minister Chris Steel exit the courtyard of the ACT Legislative Assembly. Credit:Karleen Minney

Mr Barr was expected to name the new minister on Thursday, but the announcement was brought forward after Mr Steel was the only politician to put his hand up for the gig.

The chief minister said the timing of the reshuffle was tied to the start of the next budget cycle, with the 2018 budget to pass this week, as well as the mid-way point for Labor's term in government.

"As we approach the halfway mark it’s important to reflect on what we’ve achieved but also get set for the coming years and for what I hope will be a change to the federal political environment in 2019 that will enable us to get on with a number of key projects including the second stage of light rail, a city deal for Canberra and improve transport connectivity between Canberra and Sydney," Mr Barr said.

"Clearly heading into the 2020 election we want to make sure we have our best available team in the right portfolios and working towards the government's agenda."

However Mr Barr said Friday's ministerial reshuffle will not be "radical", although there will be changes inspired by "new and important" priorities for his government.

Mr Steel was elected in 2016 when the ACT's parliament expanded from 13 to 25 members.

The son of a high school principal and a school finance officer, Mr Steel grew up in Woden and studied at the Australian National University.

He worked as a lobbyist for Early Childhood Australia, and as a policy adviser in the territory and federal governments before entering politics.

In the Assembly, he's pushed for a facelift for Kambah Village, a roundtable on the future of Woden, and against changes that could see a curfew forced on P-plate drivers.

He clashed with Liberal MLA Mark Parton last year, after he compared Mr Parton to Donald Trump. Mr Parton described Mr Steel as  "the human form of a dull headache".

Mr Steel would not be drawn on whether he had his eye on a particular portfolio but said he would be a "very strong voice for the southside".

As Mr Barr reflected on standing in Mr Steel's shoes, Mr Steel was asked whether he saw himself standing in Mr Barr's position one day.

“At the moment I'm just concentrating on making sure I can be the best minister possible in the cabinet," Mr Steel said.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.