He’s recently bought a house, is contemplating marriage and is just 32 years old. Chris Steel has sailed into the ACT ministry this week in the grand Labor tradition of youth.
And a recent holiday means he’s feeling as fresh as a daisy as he contemplates a diverse new portfolio of responsibilities that he says reflect his own passions and interests.
But aside from the timing - much sooner than he had expected - Steel’s newfound responsibility has a bittersweet tinge to it. Next week will be the fourth anniversary of the death of his brother, Kurt, who died in a bus crash in Bolivia in 2014.
At the time, Kurt was a media advisor in Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s office, and a strong voice of encouragement for Steel when he was contemplating a career in politics.
“I think he'd be excited - he was a huge proponent for the sort of changes that we've seen in our city over the past seven years,” Steel says.
“Particularly with the growth of our city, and some of the benefits that have come from that. International flights, a much better nightlife, restaurants, better services - he was certainly a big fan of the vision that our government has for Canberra, and I think he'd be excited to know that I'm part of delivering that vision.”
Kurt might also have been amused by the synchronicity of the whole thing, age-wise. At the same age as Andrew Barr was when he came a minister, although a touch younger than the current record-breaker in youth-stakes, former attorney-general Simon Corbell, Steel maintains he’ll be a crucial younger voice in an already diverse ministry.
This is despite the fact that his constituents in the seat of Murrumbidgee are overwhelmingly older.
“I think there’s challenges of growth in our city, particularly for my electorate, and one of the things that I'm keen to do is make sure everyone feels like they're included on that journey,” he says.
“Part of that is making sure that people realise the benefits of higher densification, with great quality public spaces and facilities.”
It’s not surprising that he’s already able to speak fluently about some of the issues that he’ll soon be dealing with on a daily basis. For this newly minted minister for city services, community services and facilities, multicultural affairs and roads, what could otherwise be a tangled series of responsibilities makes perfect sense.
“I'm particularly keen to get into the city services portfolio because I have an interest in creating better public spaces, and that's been part of a lot of work that I've been doing as an MLA, particularly around playgrounds, creating really high-quality spaces for families in our suburbs,” he says.
As the son of a high school principal and a school finance officer, Steel has long been interested in education. He abandoned early plans to become a lawyer after studying at the Australian National University, in favour of the policy side of things.
He worked early on for the territory and federal governments as a policy adviser on education, early childhood, community services and youth policy, and now plans to tackle the need for better community services in town centres, particularly Woden. As a proud southsider, Steel has long considered Woden his turf, but this has now extended to the new town of Molonglo, where roads will be an increasing issue for his constituents.
And when it comes to multicultural affairs, Steel has long been a passionate campaigner for diversity and inclusion. Following in Barr’s footsteps as an openly gay minister, he says he and his partner, Kurt, campaigned together for marriage equality, and may well get married themselves one day.
“While we're pretty busy, I think it's certainly something that I'll be considering in the future,” he says.
“We live together in Kambah with our dog Pickles, we've been together for seven years this November, and we've just come off a run of something like 15 weddings over the last year. We've sort of had to get through everyone else first.
“[But] we're thinking about settling down, we bought our first place in Kambah and we're in a really great community, so we intend to stay here.”
He’s also adamant that Canberra remain at the forefront of diversity.
“One of the reasons I stood for election in the first place was to try and create a more inclusive city, and I think there's a really unfortunate conversation happening nationally at the moment, coming from people like [former federal minister] Peter Dutton, targeting particular elements of our multicultural community,” he says.
“I'm really looking forward to going out and meeting with them immediately, and I'm going to try and meet with some of the members of our Sudanese community next week, as some of the first things that I do as multicultural affairs minister, just to make sure that they feel like they're supported and that we continue to remain a progressive and inclusive city.”
He says that despite internal disagreements in recent times within ACT Labor - Steel joins the ministry as a stabilising member of the right faction - the party should be seen as an example to the rest of the country of how to deal with disharmony.
“I think our party is actually quite stable compared to what's happening up on the hill with the chaos,” he says.
“We have our differences of opinion within our own party, but we're not tearing ourselves apart publicly. Despite the changes that have been canvassed publicly, we've actually remained very stable and I think my election to the ministry with the support of all my colleagues shows that.”
He admits that his elevation to the cabinet happened faster than he expected, but says the time is right.
“I was quite surprised, because I thought this was going to come up closer to the end of term in government, but I think it makes sense, halfway through the term, to make this move, rather than having a minister elected in the election year, when it's quite difficult to achieve anything and get any runs on the board,” he says.
“It's been a bit of a shock, but I just came back from a period of leave, so I'm energised and ready to go.”