For locked-down Australians, press conferences with premiers (and chief ministers) have been appointment viewing in the most dramatic days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We tune in to hear the "number", the latest news on tightening or easing restrictions, the speculation on when treasured freedoms might be returned.
They're watched like theatre or sport.
Before all of this, the politically engaged relied on the nightly news or a few quotes in print or digital news to keep abreast of their local leaders' movements.
Now they, together with the previously incurious, are watching those same leaders address the public for 45 minutes a day, raw and unfiltered. There to be judged.
'The pick of the lot'
Andrew Barr has been a member of the ACT Legislative Assembly for more than 15 years - Chief Minister for nearly seven - and has led Labor to two territory election wins. He was ever-present through the Black Summer fire season, when livestreamed daily press conferences become the norm, and then as the pandemic took hold not long after.
But for many Canberrans, these past three weeks under lockdown have been their most intense interaction with the 48-year-old boss of the ACT's Labor-Greens government.
So what have they seen and learnt about this politician, hailed as a highly intelligent, progressive powerhouse by his supporters, and considered by his detractors as stubborn, arrogant and out of touch with average people?
How has he performed compared to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who developed a cult-like following through a 120-day run of press conferences amid his state's second wave, or NSW leader Gladys Berejiklian, the one-time "gold standard" of COVID management now being blamed for unleashing Delta on the nation?
For Andrew Hughes, an expert in marketing and political communication at the Australian National University, Barr has proven the best of the lot when it comes to fronting the cameras.
"He's taken the politics and the fear out of the messaging," Hughes says.
The daily press conference, livestreamed at 11.45am from a small room on the second floor of ACT Health's Woden headquarters, allows Barr and his team to explain to the public how they are handling Canberra's most serious outbreak of the pandemic.
This has been a very ACT government-style response - for good and bad.
This government is, for its flaws, generally competent. Its leaders - in politics and public health - have projected a sense of genuine calm and assuredness, despite the apparent severity of the situation.
More than 300 cases have been reported since the virus re-entered the Canberra community for the first time in more than a year on August 12.
Can you imagine how Mark McGowan, or even Steven Marshall, would react if that number of cases emerged in Western Australia or South Australia?
The ACT government knows its audience, too. It appreciates that Canberrans are as curious and thirsty for explanation as they are for basic information.
The explanation from Barr, chief health officer Kerryn Coleman and Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith about the purpose of the lockdown in those anxious first few days was as clear and understandable as any provided by an Australian government in the past 18 months.
The importance of this, in calming a community which had been virus-free for so long, shouldn't be understated.
Where others, like NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton, have anthropomorphised the Delta strain as a "beast" or a monster, the ACT's leaders have described it as what it is - a highly infectious, in some cases deadly, disease, which mustn't be allowed to spread through a largely unvaccinated population.
Hughes says that where leaders such as McGowan and Berejiklian have relied on muscular "my way or the highway" rhetoric, the ACT's leaders have adopted more "engaged, inclusive" language.
"Barr turns up, yes he's the leader, but at the same time he doesn't overdo it or overcook it," Hughes says.
"There is a danger when you use pressers for political messaging. People then might start to ask questions that you don't want them to ask - like, 'Why are you being so firm, why are you being so cagey?'
"Look at Berejiklian. Look at how confrontational those press conferences have become."
Ironically, Canberra's outbreak has elevated Barr into a position of prominence in the national debate over Australia's road out of the pandemic.
Unlike other Labor premiers, such as McGowan or Queensland's Anastacia Palaszczuk, Barr has used his megaphone to call for a nuanced debate on the national cabinet's highly contentious plan.
He's advocated for the vaccination of adolescents, without overhyping - or outright fearmongering - about the threats of Delta to younger people. He's urged caution about the Doherty Institute modelling, without trying to discredit or undermine it.
His strongest criticisms have been reserved for Berejiklian and her refusal to lock Sydney down harder and earlier, and for the "alpha-male" behaviour of unnamed figures in the federal government.
Oh, and then there was "poo-gate" with John Barilaro.
A fine line to walk
The ACT has at each step prioritised public health over satisfying public curiosity - with mixed results.
Barr provoked both praise and outrage when he dismissed the question of how the virus re-entered the capital as "entirely unimportant" in the first days of lockdown. Having the answer, which remains elusive three weeks on, would not have assisted in the immediate task of containing the outbreak, Barr contended.
When a cluster of cases emerged in Canberra's disability community, key stakeholders were kept in the dark for days. The general public wasn't alerted for even longer.
Facing outrage from sections of the disability sector, Stephen-Smith insisted that there would have been no "public health benefit" in immediately alerting sector stakeholders, because those directly involved had been contacted.
Disclosing such information, even the very basics, might not have helped contain the cluster. But transparency helps build and retain public trust, which will become increasingly crucial for the government and the public health response as the lockdown rolls on.
The ACT government and its agencies have in the past demonstrated a propensity to hide information, too often under the pretence of personal privacy or confidentiality.
This will need to be watched closely.
Outbursts and empathy
More than three years have passed since Barr was secretly recorded describing his hatred of journalists and disdain for mainstream media.
The national media storm which erupted after those comments were leaked and published proved a decisive moment in his political career. In an interview with The Canberra Times ahead of last year's election, Barr admitted to having taken a "good hard look" at himself after those comments.
The Chief Minister has, unquestionably, mellowed and matured. The skin is not nearly as thin as it once was.
But there has been the rare outburst throughout the pandemic, occurring often enough for detractors to believe Barr hasn't changed.
His extraordinary tirade at the Real Estate Institute of ACT after it criticised the rate rebate scheme brought in at the height of the first shutdown springs to mind.
He's also fired a few shots at Liberal senator Zed Seselja, who's assumed a pseudo opposition leader's role during the latest outbreak.
After talking up his "productive working relationship" with federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg earlier this week, Barr snidely remarked: "Senators can sometimes get in the way."
The run of press conferences has also demonstrated that empathy, or at least the capacity to demonstrate it publicly, does not come naturally to Barr. Take, for example, his response to the residential construction sector's desperate pleas last Sunday morning to be allowed to reopen.
The Chief Minister would have known the question was coming at the 11.45am press conference. He could have expressed sincere, heartfelt empathy for the family-run businesses hit hard by the lockdown, before assuring them that it was essential to keeping them and the wider community safe.
Instead, he bluntly declared he wouldn't be swayed by people who sign petitions or "thump the table".
His stance was reasonable - that public health should trump economic interests - but his messaging was insensitive, if not arrogant.
This was Barr at his worst.
The Chief Minister is lucky that this weakness is among the biggest strengths of his offsiders in the pandemic response, Stephen-Smith and Coleman.
It would be wrong, even dangerous, to conclude the ACT's response thus far has been perfect, or that there aren't a series of very serious questions to be asked.
Why, for instance, were education authorities unable to flick the switch to remote learning as soon as the lockdown was announced? Why hadn't it prepared for the predictable pressure on testing sites once the outbreak emerged?
Where was the evidence, the actual evidence, to justify the prolonged closure of the residential construction sector? Why were people left in quarantine longer than they needed to be? Why have our contact tracers been unable to identify the source of so many cases?
All important questions, all in need of answers.
But limited to the spotlight of the daily press conference, Barr and his team have performed exceptionally well.
Perhaps, even, without peer in this pandemic.
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