The coronation procession at an end, Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s speech to the Legislative Assembly

andrew barr

Speaker

I am deeply honoured by the result of today’s election – and I am deeply grateful for the Assembly’s support. Thank you.

Eight and half years ago, I was elected to fill the vacancy left by a great Canberran, Ted Quinlan. So I know a little about having big shoes to fill. But nothing could be more humbling than to follow Katy Gallagher as ACT Labor leader and Chief Minister of the ACT. Katy, few people leave this Assembly better liked and more respected than when they arrived. You are one of the few.

You have been a great leader of the government in this place – and you will be a great voice for this city in the Federal arena.

To be the seventh person elected Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory is certainly the highest honour of my professional life. But I know I would not be here without the people of Canberra’s support for the Australian Labor Party in the election of 2012, and without my Labor colleagues’ support for me as their leader.

We should never forget this humble reality: all of us here are representatives.

I acknowledge as well the confidence of my ministerial colleague these past two years, Mr Rattenbury. We’ve come a long way together and he is helping us govern well.

To my supporters and friends, in the Labor Party and beyond: I will never forget your work and words, through my twenty-two years in our movement, my eight years in 2 the Assembly and in the past eight days.

I will be calling on you again!

To my family: now is not the place or the time for everything I have to say about you all. Mum, Dad, Iain, Nat and Zoe: I know how lucky I am.
Anthony: I love you.

I look forward to the day we can legally marry in this country.

Speaker.

My predecessor Jon Stanhope was elected on a platform to repair our city’s health and education services and our planning system.

Katy Gallagher took office nearly four years ago and promised to focus on the things that matter for Canberra families – health, education, community and municipal services.

They both delivered – indeed they delivered in spades. I learned so much from both of them.

Jon Stanhope showed me that Canberra wants and deserves leadership with progressive vision and voice. Our community is not afraid of change and our people’s values should be heard on the national stage. Katy Gallagher taught me above all that leadership is about people.

She reminds me of it, in her words and deeds, every day.

I know I have a new role: I will be out from behind the Treasurer’s desk, in our suburbs, listening and learning from our people and always part of our community.

When I am welcoming the world to our city I will feel a special pride – on tough days for our people, I will feel a special responsibility. Being Chief Minister will be a wonderful opportunity to work alongside Canberrans in all the many phases of this city’s life – the small businesses and the sports people, the charity workers and community organisations, the teachers and nurses, the police and yes, the public servants, in our garden suburbs and in our urban villages.

Bill Hayden once said the life of a community representative was “a school fete worse than death” – I couldn’t disagree more. I can’t wait.

But also I bring my own background and outlook, knowledge and skills – as a student of the economy, as a passionate advocate for economic growth, and as Treasurer of the ACT – to the times in which I govern.

As Chief Ministers, Jon Stanhope and Katy Gallagher knew the importance of the city’s economy as the backdrop to service delivery for our community.

The Stanhope Government was fiscally responsible through a long period of economic growth. The Gallagher Government worked hand in glove with Federal Labor in office to keep this city strong after the GFC.

Today, however, we govern in very different times.

Our community must be able to rely on our health services, our children must be able to learn in our schools, and our suburbs must be liveable and lovable.

But the economy is no longer the backdrop to government in the ACT.

For the Barr Labor Government, the economy is centre stage.

As Chief Minister of the ACT, jobs for Canberra is my leading role.

The old certainty for our economy was its underpinning in a strong national economy or a friendly Federal Government. Throughout our history of self-government, we have had at least one of those things.

We have neither of those things today.

So today, and for the period from now until at least the end of 2016, we have to work with a new certainty.

Our city will confront the most testing external economic environment in twenty years – and in that environment we can only rely on ourselves.

As your Chief Minister, my job is to take on this challenge very directly.

We can’t pretend things haven’t changed and we can’t solve every problem the outside world throws at us. But what we can do, we will.

The Government I lead will take every necessary decision to maintain economic activity, to encourage investment, and above all, to grow jobs.

This is the key to all our work: from education and health, to transport planning and suburban renewal, and even service provision and problem solving on a local scale.
Above all, our job is jobs.

Education is always the key to a humane life for individuals and to mobility within our society.

I know that in my own family’s life. My parents were part of the lucky generation whose horizons were broadened by university because Gough Whitlam cared.

Today education is critical to the future of investment and jobs in our city. Our higher education and trades training institutions are employers, they are exporters, they are investors. They must flourish for our city’s economy to be strong.

Young people who live here need the best training and education to compete for jobs – young people will only come here to study if we offer the highest standards – our adults can only stay here and retrain if they know what we have to offer is the best.

Most of all, no Canberra business can truly compete if our workforce is short of the mark. Nothing less will suffice in a modern economy marked by so much change.

As a city-state combining municipal and provincial functions, we also have a big competitive advantage, and a brilliant opportunity to be a leader in innovation and ideas.

We attract – and we will continue to attract – leading researchers and thinkers from around the world.

Our time in Government has seen fantastic developments including the expansion in tourism and hospitality, the flowering of our IT sector and our emergence as a food and wine leader. We have grown exports in professional services, which have nearly doubled in the past nine years to be worth more than one and a quarter billion dollars annually today.

And above all, we have seen the growth and diversification of innovation industries to drive our economy into the future.

The role of the Territory Government has been both to lead and to enable. The CBR Innovation Network is a very striking example of this combined public and private effort to accelerate innovation and growth and to maximise wealth creation.

Together we are transforming the ACT economy into an innovation ecosystem which supports company growth and job creation. There is much to do.

Health is always the key to the security and comfort of Canberra families.

The baby born with disability, the sick child in the night, the anxious teen; the injured cyclist or motorist, the elderly person who faints or falls, all need to know that they will be cared for. In a good city and a good system this care should never rely on how much is in their wallet when they get hurt or when they arrive.

Today, health must be both generous and wise. This is critical to our fiscal future.

An ageing society combines with modern habits of life to create huge pressures of chronic disease.

If health spending is to be sustainable in the long-term, investment in preventive health must accelerate. We will stay on this path.

These are enduring priorities in social policy and major opportunities for economic growth. We also have big projects to deliver in coming years.

Speaker.

Capital Metro is vital to Canberra’s economic future.

I have been proud to be a member of a government which has invested in our first light rail system – and I will be enormously proud to lead the government that will deliver it. It is the right decision.

Our city needs jobs and Capital Metro supports jobs, our city needs investment and Capital Metro supports investment, our city needs a diverse, balanced economy and Capital Metro supports a diverse, balanced economy, our city needs growing returns on land and Capital Metro supports growing returns on land.

The business case estimates these economic benefits to be worth more than one billion dollars to our city. Alongside these economic dimensions, there are tremendous benefits for our community as a whole.

I don’t want this to be a city where the only work is white-collar and public-service.

This must never become a “no degree, no start” town. We need quality jobs for people with the widest range of modern skills.

I don’t want this to be a city that young people leave to find a modern lifestyle – and I don’t want this to be a city that older people leave to find adaptable housing and a walkable, active place to live. One of my life’s good fortunes is that our extended family – retired parents, younger siblings and my niece – are here in Canberra. This is an aspiration many of our families share.

I don’t want this to be a city where it takes an hour to drive from Gungahlin to Civic; where the city to Russell to the airport corridor is a permanent bottleneck; where heavy traffic spills throughout the city’s south while housing spreads ever further across the border to the east.

I don’t want this city to be fuelled by petrol forever and I don’t want this city forever designed around the motor car.

Canberra is a jewel of twentieth century urban design and Canberra can be a triumph of the twenty first century urban future – a clean energy city where new jobs are renewable jobs.

All this is why Capital Metro is the right decision for Canberra.

That is why the Labor Party campaigned on light rail in 2012, that is why we are delivering Capital Metro now, and that is why we will continue to improve public transport across the city.

Light rail is part of an integrated transport strategy for our city and Capital Metro is part of our vision of renewal for our suburbs.

Speaker, as a long-term Canberran, I’ve lived in almost every part of this city.

When my parents first arrived in 1977, young graduates destined for the public service and teaching, we moved first to Macgregor in West Belconnen, then bought in Flynn, and then moved to a larger home for an expanding family in Kambah.

Canberra was a town of just 200,000 people, and some of those houses felt like they were at the very edge of civilization, on the absolute suburban fringe.

And after living in Weston Creek and Woden and studying in the inner north and in Belconnen, in the end I’ve settled in Dickson – one of the real centres of change in our city.

There is so much I remember fondly about the lifestyle of that Canberra of the late 1970s and early 1980s and so much we have successfully retained. But we haven’t done so by locking everything up or changing nothing. I believe the real genius of Canberra is that we have got the balance right and we will keep the balance right.

Canberra’s garden suburbs and our urban villages are in my blood and in my bones – and we don’t have to choose between. Canberra can retain the best of the idyllic amenity of the past – but only if we also grow to become a modern, dynamic city with a strong urban core.

We can build new urban villages and new affordable housing in Molonglo, Gungahlin and the inner north. And the economic returns on land in these areas and the efficiency of service delivery they achieve are vital to preserving the garden suburban lifestyle of space and security that so many Canberra families treasure about life in this place, between the hilltops and ridges of our home.

For a time in my younger days, we moved through short-term rental in Stirling, Chapman, Torrens and Hawker in just a few years. The pressures of affordable rental and affordable buying in a relatively high-income economy are not new to me.

The city government’s authority over development approval and land supply means our policies and practices have an inevitable impact on the value of existing homes and the price of getting into the housing market.

I am determined to make the best of modern suburban design, innovative policy and reformed taxes, not only to support dynamic and vibrant communities, but to keep the maximum downward pressure on the cost of housing, especially for private sector workers and middle- and low-income earners.

Our policies can’t change everything but they must make things better.

Our Territory Government is in one important respect unique in Australia: we deliver both State and municipal services.

I’ve spent many years in this building as an adviser, Member and Minister working to ensure local services are high quality and affordable for the community. It is right that our big focus is the big picture of jobs, health and education. It’s also right that we never lose sight of quality local services and all the elements that make up a good local life.

So service delivery must never be neglected. Regulations and approvals must also always be modernised and improved.

In coming days, I will have more to say about reform of this area of local administration.

Speaker.

One particular group in our community I am thinking of today are Mr Fluffy homeowners. You have been through so much.

Last Thursday we passed the Appropriation (Loose-fill Asbestos Insulation Eradication) Bill 2014-2015 so that we could act quickly to help those most affected.

I can announce that under the scheme many offers have been made, some have been accepted – the process has now begun.

This was a big bridge to cross but I know some homeowners have a hard road ahead. I will continue the Gallagher Government’s approach of listening to homeowners, being flexible, and recognising the range of individual circumstances.

And I can assure you, you have not lost a Chief Minister who cares, while you have also gained a new Senator who understands.

I urge the Assembly to respect both the human and economic dimensions of this genuinely difficult issue – there is no need to descend to a partisan argument. For 12 my own, as Chief Minister I will remain very conscious of the general good of the whole community as we support the homeowners in the coming time.

Speaker.

Like many here, I remember our centenary 2013 with such pride.

The opening of the Arboretum. The exhibitions of Toulouse-Lautrec and then Turner from the Tate. The longest bubbly bar in the world – from the city to the lake.

That last try against Waratahs, that last scrum against the British and Irish Lions – and the first visit here of the Australian cricket team.

The long weekend weather, which would have been astonishing if it weren’t also absolutely routine. The parties at the shops.

All those smiles.

We know our city’s life can’t always be one long Canberra Day weekend.

Eventually, it comes time to get to work.

But what we can always have with us is the pride in our accomplishment, the unity in our diversity, and the confidence in our future, which overflowed that March
weekend.

If we keep growing.

If we stay strong.

Speaker

In my first speech here, eight years ago, I said:

There is no point being in government if you cannot make people’s lives better. And you cannot do that if you are not paying attention to the economy.

Good governments manage the economy responsibly, and that good management leads to benefits for all the community.

True then. True today.

Canberra is more resilient and more independent at 101 years old than at any time in our past, and it is just as well.

I said we face the most testing external economic environment in twenty years. We do.

I say this as well. We have never been more ready for the test.

We have brilliant possibilities. We are confident, bold and ready.

This city is smart. It is strong. It is united. We are bigger than the job in front of us.

For the Barr Labor Government, it is time to get to work.

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