An interview with Chief Minister Andrew Barr - Part 2
To close off 2015, The Shaker sat down with Andrew Barr to reflect on his first year as ACT Chief Minister, as well as look to the big opportunities that 2016 brings. With Capital Metro a hot topic, and the ACT Election due towards the end of the year, what do the next 12 months look like?
Aside from the future directions and projects for the city, Barr identifies Access Canberra as a key achievement for 2015. “I’m really proud of our public service that has moved quickly into a culture of ‘enabling’.
“It’s something we’re going to keep pushing on, because it becomes visible when we see a more vibrant social scene. More and more visitors to Canberra are really amazed by their experience of the city, and how it differs to their perceptions. The key is to sell this through our external marketing, and to ensure we’re delivering a true message of what and who we are.”
Follow the light
One interesting area of focus for Barr is to examine the network of 75,000 street lights that cover the entire city. “It’s the single biggest power bill that the government has to pay, so it’s always an area of focus. However, there’s so much we can do with street lights.
Clearly we want to make them more energy efficient. However, they may well have a part to play in our Digital City rollout. The success so far with CBR Free Wifi has been great, however imagine what opportunities would present themselves if we could use the street light network – with its strategically located power sources – to push wifi across the entire city.
“All of a sudden you’ve got the government ready for ‘The Internet of Things’. For example, your bin could tell TAMS when it needs to be emptied which, again, leads to greater efficiencies in the network. We haven’t even scratched the surface on what this could mean.
“All of these systems all collect data, so we’re looking at our policies in that space to encourage public-private partnerships that can utilise the data and further innovate to create more ideas and products for export. The potential is huge.”
Ride sharing and idea sharing
The idea that Canberra can innovate and influence is a key theme that Barr continues to return. At The Shaker, we saw the relatively nimble approach to ride sharing service Uber as one of the more high-profile wins of the government in 2015, and the Chief Minister is keen to expand on the thinking behind the policy shift.
“Look, I’ve always known we were going to have to deal with the issue. The shared economy is something that isn’t going to go away, so we had time to do a lot of thinking prior to the company announcing its intent to come to Canberra.
“From an innovation point of view, I saw it as vitally important to move fast on this one – and for a number of reasons. Firstly, I didn’t want to have us stranded by the inevitable. Uber was probably going to start operating whether we liked it or not.
“However, the second reason was the way it was going to position Canberra as a leader in this space. We were very focussed on linking with the company to create a workable operating environment that still kept some exclusivity of services for the established taxi service. By doing this, we became the first Australian state to solve the problem. Now, other states have looked at our model and seen the work we did here – and the success – and have based their policies off our achievement.
2016 and the ACT Election
When we raised the fact that this year marks the 15th year of the ACT Labor Party holding government in the ACT, Barr doesn’t miss a beat. “Well, it’s only the second year of the Barr Government!”
This is true, however the broader politics suggests that it will be a challenge for the party to hold power in order to roll out more of what the Chief Minister considers city-changing ideas and policies. There are a few on his bucket list.
Infrastructure projects include selecting a construction partner for Capital Metro, the public hospital at University of Canberra, and the CIT Tuggeranong Campus development.
From a tourism perspective, the Chief Minister would love to see international flights as well as test cricket at Manuka Oval. Both those would give Canberra a much greater sense of itself on a global scale, and send a strong message to those in bigger cities.
Marriage equality is definitely off the table for 2016. “We’ve pretty much exhausted every legal avenue to make that one happen. While I don’t believe that we need a plebiscite to bring Federal legislation through, it looks like we’re stuck with that option for the time being – despite what the new Prime Minister’s thoughts on the matter might be.
“My understanding is that - based on the current numbers in the lower house and the Senate - the issue could be resolved in an hour. It would save us $70 million as well, which could probably offset some of the ‘efficiency dividend’ that our cultural institutions copped in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.”
One of the final big wins for 2015 was the opening of Ikea. The Swedish giant is expected to bring 300,000 people to Canberra over its first 12 months as people from the South Coast, Southern NSW and the Southern Highlands visit the blue behemoth. Has the Chief Minister been through the checkouts as yet?
“Ha… yes. I certainly have. We’ve bought some outdoor furniture and made a quick raid on the market hall for linen and some bathmats. I’ve got a strong feeling I’ll be back, though.