Andrew, mate; ScoMo here, how much do you need?

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“How does Barr think Morrison will respond to his attacks? Could it be that he actually believes he can bully or embarrass the Prime Minister into submission?” asks columnist JON STANHOPE.

IT was surprising to see that Chief Minister Andrew Barr has used almost all of his foreword to this year’s Budget Paper No. 2 to attack the Federal Liberal government of Scott Morrison.

Jon Stanhope
Jon Stanhope.

This is the first time, of which I am aware, of a state or territory government using its Budget papers as a platform for a politically partisan attack on the Commonwealth government.

The Chief Minister accuses the Liberal Party of a raft of failings. Not investing in Canberra; failing to invest locally in national infrastructure; undermining our largest employment base and refusing to contribute fairly to funding essential services such as hospitals and schools.

The facts are different. The Commonwealth is by far the biggest contributor to the ACT economy. Indeed, it is the engine room of our economy. It is also the case that the nature and level of Commonwealth payments and grants to the ACT are set independently, by the Commonwealth Grants Commission.

The ACT has done no better or worse under the last six years of Liberal government than it did under the previous six years of Labor rule.

The attack in the Budget papers follows the very partisan commentary offered by the Chief Minister during the Federal election campaign in which he effectively claimed that he would find it impossible to work with Scott Morrison and a Liberal government.

It is clear that the Chief Minister, like many of us, had been conditioned by three years of polling to assume that a Labor victory was a lay down misere and his graceless performance following the “miracle” of Morrison’s win reflected his dismay that we were wrong.

What I was left wondering about Barr’s partisan attacks on Morrison, the Liberal Party and Commonwealth government during and after the election and now in the Budget papers was the nature of the response that he expects his continuing attacks will produce.

How does he think Morrison will respond? Could it be that he actually believes he can bully or embarrass the Prime Minister into submission? Is Andrew waiting patiently by the phone for a call from Scott? How does he imagine, I wonder, the conversation will go? Something like this, perhaps:

“Andrew. Mate. ScoMo here. I understand you need a hand out. Stage two of your tram – how much do you need? – just ask. No, no need for a business case.

“Out of interest: what is the cost benefit? Bill Shorten must have known, surely, before offering you $200 million. Oh, so you haven’t done one, but you think about 42 cents return on every dollar. Wow-that much? Travel times will improve, of course. What, the bus is faster? No worries, you can’t expect everything to be perfect. Happy to offer you whatever you need.”

Unhappily, we all know, as a result of the behaviour of the Chief Minister and his Ministerial colleagues towards ClubsACT and the group of non-Labor Party aligned clubs, led by the Raiders Group, which had the audacity to publicly oppose the Labor and Greens coalition at the last ACT election, how they react to political opposition.

Their response has been to openly ostracise and to attack the clubs continuously and remorselessly. The spiteful treatment by the ACT Labor and Greens Parties of community based clubs is unprecedented and immature.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is not a sentiment one associates with the current ACT government but we can hope and perhaps pray that the Morrison government is a tad more mature and professional towards its political opponents than our government has been towards those that don’t support it.

Having strayed on to the subject of the Labor/Greens war on community clubs, I recently approached the ACT government for a copy of the terms of reference for research which it has commissioned from an ANU academic on the subject of problem gambling. A serious issue, undoubtedly, deserving of serious attention.

Unfortunately, because of the war which Labor and the Greens have declared on community clubs I now regard, until convinced otherwise, every action taken by the ACT government in relation to clubs or gambling as almost certainly the opening of another front in that war.

The fact that my request for the terms of reference for the ANU research was refused on the grounds that they are commercial-in-confidence has fuelled my cynicism. Since when, and why, are the terms of reference for mundane social research commissioned by a government from an Australian university so secret that they cannot be made public?

I will return to the subject of the recent Budget on another occasion. Suffice to say, there is still no need to panic, just yet, but if you are one of those Canberrans who dreams about stage two of the tram or a new convention centre or a sports stadium or a fully functioning health system or an affordable house or a fair and progressive rates regime or justice for Aboriginal people then dream on.


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Jon Stanhope
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.

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