The ACT split

by | Oct 30, 2023 | Ability News, Canberra, Government

The ACT’s had a ‘Greens/Labor’ government for so long it’s almost tempting to think of the parties as two halves of a whole. Not necessarily . . .

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A story in yesterday’s Australian newspaper blew open details of an increasing rift between (Labor’s) Andrew Barr – Chief Minister since 2014 – and (Green’s) Disability Minister Emma Davidson, who was first elected in 2020.  

It’s no secret the relationship between the two has become increasingly tense and, with an election due on the 19th October next year, has now exploded and become an open rift. What prompted the break is much more than just a clash of personalities, although insiders say this may have exacerbated the problem. 

Barr came to the top almost a decade ago and now appears to hold an almost unshakable grip over Territory politics. He’s used to getting his way. 

The Greens, however, were almost wiped out in the 2012 election, with only current leader Shane Rattenbury managing to sling onto his seat in the Assembly. Since that date the party has successively entered into power-sharing arrangements with Labor in return for Ministerial appointments. This has led to the current tensions. 

Emma giving a slight smile at the camera

Emma Davidson: navigating a difficult path ahead (photo credit: LinkedIn) 

What’s behind the rift

A close observer says there are two ways to analyse the current dispute and both might be equally correct. The Machaevalian interpretation is simple. Labor’s targeting Davidson for simple political reasons, seeing her as a weak link that can be attacked to weaken the Greens in the lead-up to the next Territory election. But there’s another reason, equally correct, that the dispute has now erupted into the open. 

Federal Disability Minister Bill Shorten has his own plan to shave costs from the NDIS. In every other state – apart from Tasmania, which isn’t likely to cause problems – Labor is in charge. Although it’s likely that many of these (and particularly Queensland) will scream as Canberra attempts to shift some of the burden of the scheme onto their balance sheets, the reality is that all the Minister’s have a need to work together. None of them want to be responsible for ripping another Labor government apart. 

That’s not the case in the ACT where Davidson has proudly wrapped herself in Green. 

The Minister spent a great deal of time and effort working on an ACT Disability Strategy last year. She wanted to get a solid framework in place that would ensure a real transformation in the lives of People with Disability and their carers. The problem with this was it would require ushering in change. And change always costs money and threatens the established way of doing things. 

Where to now? 

As everyone in the ACT now knows, the early roll-out of the strategy was delayed as it was scaled back and many of the decisive words were replaced with other, more wishy-washy ones. Solid commitments to ensure the needs of People with Disability were met were replaced with promises to ‘consult’. 

These could all be understood within the context of an administration that wasn’t attempting to push the boundaries. That agreement is now coming under pressure. 

The Minister has always made it quite clear she sees herself as part of this government, working with it to achieve the best possible results for people with disability. With an election due within a year, both Labor and the Greens will be well aware of how any split is likely to play out and neither will want a public breach over such a critical policy issue. 

This doesn’t mean that there won’t be considerable jockeying behind the scenes. How this plays out is likely to become a significant issue in the coming election.