Former Labor chief minister and prominent Barr government critic Jon Stanhope has agreed to lead the Liberals' proposed poverty taskforce, delivering Alistair Coe a major confidence boost as he prepares to face Andrew Barr in the first leader's debate of the ACT election campaign.
Mr Stanhope responded to Mr Coe's offer on Tuesday, saying he would be honoured to chair the expert group which the Liberals plan to establish if they defeat Labor at October's election.
"As you have noted I have a long and continuing interest in and concern about social justice," Mr Stanhope wrote in an email to Mr Coe seen by The Canberra Times.
"The existence of poverty remains perhaps the greatest challenge we face in Canberra in achieving a fair and just society and I would be pleased to be involved, in any way I can, to assist in addressing that challenge."
Mr Coe was pleased Mr Stanhope had accepted the offer.
"As the ACT's longest serving chief minister, Mr Stanhope is in a unique position to lead a team to investigate the extent of poverty in Canberra and to provide recommendations about how to address this growing and significant issue," Mr Coe said.
Mr Stanhope's endorsement of the Liberals' proposal is a shot in the arm for Mr Coe, who will on Wednesday face off against Mr Barr and Greens leader Shane Rattenbury in the first election debate of 2020 campaign.
The debate will be hosted by the ACT Council of Social Service, which earlier this week supported Mr Coe's calls to set up an inquiry into the causes and prevalence of poverty in the nation's capital.
A passionate advocate for social justice throughout his political career, Mr Stanhope has become increasingly critical of the Barr government in recent years for what believes is their failure to support Canberra's underprivileged.
His attacks, delivered through a weekly media column, have focused on worsening housing affordability, health spending, the state of the ACT budget, indigenous affairs and justice issues.
Fronting the media on Tuesday, Mr Coe didn't respond directly when asked if Mr Stanhope's standing as an ardent critic of the Labor government had been a factor in him being hand picked for the potential role.
"Mr Stanhope is very well placed [to fill the position], given he was chief minister for 10 years, has a very good understanding of the ACT government and has really extraordinary links to the community sector in Canberra," he said.
"I think he would be able to open doors and delve deep into the issues of poverty in the ACT."
Mr Barr wouldn't be drawn into commenting on Mr Stanhope on Tuesday, choosing instead to again dismiss the value of Mr Coe's proposed poverty taskforce.
"That would be the single biggest thing you could do to reduce poverty. It's already been proved, researched and confirmed," Mr Barr said.
"What we need is action not navel-gazing for many years."