THE retirement of Simon Corbell and Brendan Smyth from the ACT Legislative Assembly ends a chapter in its history.
With Simon’s departure the Assembly loses the last Labor member to have served in Opposition and with Brendan’s move into the ACT Public Service the Liberals no longer have a member with experience in government.
The career, achievements and legacy of each needs to be considered from the perspective of the 15 straight years that Simon has enjoyed as a minister against the 15 years that Brendan has endured in opposition. To be fair, Brendan did serve as an enthusiastic and energetic minister in the second Carnell government.
They can also be further distinguished by the manner of their departures. With which neither of them would, I think, be particularly pleased.
Simon has been a long-serving, capable, loyal and successful minister. He did not deserve the shabby betrayal he suffered at the hands of the Left faction and its union controllers who dropped him at preselection to an unwinnable position on the ticket. To his credit he has responded to the spite and discourtesy to which he was subjected with dignity and integrity.
There was not much dignity associated with the departure of Brendan Smyth from the Assembly. Brendan allowed himself to be seduced by a very attractive-looking offer from Chief Minister Andrew Barr. “Commissioner for International Engagement” no less. A job that none of us had heard of with a salary of $300,000 a year and no identified duty statement or key performance indicators. Add to this the allure of international travel and of being feted on the world stage and one can understand why Brendan succumbed to the temptation.
Brendan is, of course, not the first to be so seduced and will not be the last member of an opposition to receive an offer too hard to resist. It is a fairly well trodden path taken in the past, for instance, by Vince Gare, Terry Connolly and Bill Stefaniak.
However, neither Brendan and, to a lesser extent, Andrew Barr has emerged from the issue smelling of roses primarily because of the perception that the appointment was not to a real job.
In addition, Brendan has had to combat a sense of betrayal, of both his colleagues and his party, by leaving in these circumstances and so close to an election. Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson emerged with his dignity intact. He maintained an air of grace, which it is hard to believe he felt and I for one will be surprised – if the Liberals win the coming election – if the position of Commissioner for International Engagement survives until Christmas.
Simon Corbell and Brendan Smyth have each given long and dedicated service, through the Legislative Assembly, to the territory and the people of Canberra. They have each worked hard and conscientiously for the community and deserve our thanks and appropriate recognition for the work they have done over almost 20 years.
Politics can be a hard and unforgiving business and takes a toll on those that engage in it, and also on their families. That said, being an elected member of the Assembly is also a great privilege and those lucky enough to be elected and to serve gain significantly from the experience and from the opportunities that being a member, in particular a Minister in a government, bring.
Simon Corbell has, from the time he first became a Minister in 2001, shown a determination to ensure that he did not waste that opportunity. In each of the portfolios for which he has been responsible in the last 15 years, he actively pursued a progressive agenda of legal and policy reform. Simon is very much in the mould of a person who goes into politics with a very clear agenda and a determination to use the time that he would have in government to reform and change things for the better.
Perhaps best recognised for his work in relation to the environment and sustainability – he counts his work in putting Canberra on track for 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020 – as his greatest achievement, he has also a very substantial record in other portfolios. Simon was also responsible, as Minister for Planning, for the widest-ranging reforms to the ACT planning regime since self-government and, as Australia’s currently longest-serving Attorney-General, has marshalled very significant law reform through the Assembly.
Of my ministers, Simon most shared my commitment to the importance, centrality and non-negotiability of human rights.
He will be sorely missed. Not only was he a passionate reforming minister, his input into caucus and cabinet debate and discussion was always intelligent, balanced and relevant. His contributions to difficult and complex issues were invariably the best informed and most intellectual.
Simon Corbell has served Canberra well. He should be proud.
Jon Stanhope was Chief Minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only Chief Minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly.