WHAT was in the Chief Minister’s mind when he launched a Trumpesque and unfettered attack on the local media?
Or what wasn’t in his mind? The outburst must, at the very least, have his Labor Party colleagues wondering if they should remove him from the leadership of their party and the head of the ACT government. Contrition is a start… but he cannot undo what has been said.
Andrew Barr wishes to communicate directly with his constituency. It is not new for leaders to look for an unfettered way to put their own spin on messages. Barr seems particularly keen to address the younger generation who get most of their news through social media. Getting his own message out without criticism does have a ring of autocracy about it.
In the past I have addressed the complacency of the ACT Labor government. However, Barr’s attack on the media goes much, much further. These are the comments of a government leader who, frustrated by inability to control his own message, has grown so arrogant that he cannot stand criticism.
The Chief Minister has never experienced being in opposition and perhaps this partly assists in fathoming the unfathomable. Andrew Barr has been either a minister or chief minister since entering the Assembly. Perhaps he has forgotten or misunderstood the important role of opposition and media to dig, to examine, to test and to criticise the government. It is difficult being criticised. However, it is even more difficult being in opposition watching governments make decisions that are a political anathema.
The Chief Minister has demonstrated his commitment to delivering a better Canberra. However, it is a better Canberra from his point of view. In a lively democracy, it is a point of view that should be tested.
Planning policies are illustrative with the current government intensifying the city. They are building more townhouses and apartments and releasing less land for stand-alone housing. This is good for the budget and increased revenue as it is likely to increase the rates base. But what about the impact on families, on crime, on housing affordability and on amenity? The concept should be tested in the marketplace of ideas.
Social media plays an important role. In-depth analysis, however, is hardly the norm of social media. The community can be critical, but it is easy to block the trolls on Twitter, attacks on Facebook or use Snapchat as a medium for the easy picture, the simple message.
Dismissing “The Canberra Times” as a newspaper that will not withstand the digital age is simply mischievous. Attacking the ABC as only reaching those of average age in their mid-sixties is hardly a justification for his blistering attack.
In both cases the management, the general staff and journalists commit time, energy and hard work to understand, to analyse and to present as fairly as they see it.
We do expect honesty from our politicians. But we also expect wisdom. Knowing when to keep a mouth closed is one important aspect of wisdom. It has been a poorly kept secret that Andrew Barr is unhappy dealing with mainstream media. However, the difference between such a secret and a blatant attack is that the rumours become reality.
The Opposition must wear some of the blame. The ACT Liberals’ commitment to conservative social ideology leaves the path open for Labor. Perhaps Canberra will eventually grow more conservative and the Liberals will have their turn in government. In the meantime, Labor simply does not feel under threat. The Chief Minister can vent his frustration.
He is not the first to feel unhappy with the media. The (non-conservative) Liberal Chief Minister, Kate Carnell, spent months and months at the turn of the century under sustained attack by “The Canberra Times” and other media over the Bruce Stadium redevelopment. The issues pale into insignificance compared to the Dickson Tradies Development fiasco. However, she never launched such an attack.
Andrew Barr has shown contrition. However, to regain credibility, he will have to demonstrate genuine penitence.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.