LAMBASTING Katy Gallagher is akin to kicking a koala. Reflecting on the political career of the ex-Chief Minister brings mixed reactions from the people of the ACT.The challenge in making an unbiased assessment is that the media image of the friendly, warm, engaging Katy is the same as the person you meet on the street, in her office or in the shops.
However, this is not enough in political life. Political leadership requires a balance between leadership and decisive action. Listening is important. Alternatively, hard decisions carry higher political risk but they deliver results.
Katy Gallagher explained her move towards the sinecure in the Senate being vacated by Kate Lundy. “After much consideration I have decided that I can use the skills I have gained in my time as Chief Minister to step into the federal arena to stand up for Canberra, defend our city and be a strong local voice for our nation’s capital. This job has never been more important than now.”
Announcing the move she ran through her proudest achievements. Amongst them she cited: health, open government, “Digital Canberra” and her work on obesity. Compared to the corruption of NSW, the failure of a one-term government in Victoria and the slash and burn that has devastated the health and social service sectors in Queensland creating more inequity, she is doing pretty well. That is, if Canberra can afford it. The Territory still retains its AAA+ credit rating, which is surely the envy of the Liberal governments in WA and the NT.
So how do we sit after 13 years of Labor government? The critics argue there is a record debt, the health system is not without its problems and the prison is overcrowded with the warders unhappy. Some Mr Fluffy homeowners seem pretty unhappy despite her commitments to assist them. The bus system seems as inefficient as ever and the light rail is causing major conflict in the community.
Time to hand over to the pretender to the throne. Andrew Barr may well be capable of turning this around. However, in doing so he is at high risk of losing the next election. For Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson there will be no accusations of attacking a koala. Barr will be fair political game and can expect a much more aggressive, vociferous opposition. And he will have to deal with the Katy legacy and its critics.
It is correct to say the new prison is already overcrowded. But this was always going to be the case and there are plans to extend. Build a gaol and the judiciary will fill it. Across the developed world a higher percentage of the people are incarcerated even though statistics illustrate a decline in criminality.
The Mr Fluffy debacle has been an emotional roller coaster ride for Katy Gallagher. She has been caught in the middle in attempting to balance financial reality with community need. The Federal government under Eric Abetz has short-changed Canberra in refusing to wear its part of the responsibility for the original debacle.
Katy has protected jobs. It should be considered the most important achievement. When the Federal government attacked ACT funding, slashed the out years of the budget and hacked into the partnership agreements on health, it also chopped more than 10,000 jobs from Canberra. There was no Geelong parachute. The Gallagher government rebuilt its budget extending the time it would need to come back into surplus. The decision was about jobs, health and the community. With the AAA+ rating held by the ACT she could afford it. She stood up to the criticism.
Public transport is an issue for every government. However, if light rail is to be the backbone to the public transport system, why not ensure all Canberrans understand their turn will come. Get the message out: “Stage One” Gungahlin to Civic. “Stage Two” to Tuggeranong. “Stage Three” Belconnen! And so on. Better still – forget 19th century technology and build pride in the innovative city with a 21st century magnetic levitation system. Be visionary. Then ensure the bus network reaches out from the backbone.
A steady hand on the tiller is the mark of Katy Gallagher in the ACT Assembly. She has stood up for Canberra as an MLA, now she will need to use her influence in the party and the Senate to protect and build a better Canberra.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.