My speech to the 2015 ACT ALP Conference

Canberra is my home, and your home is always worth fighting for. 

My passion for this great city is reflected in my desire to make it even better and to make sure all of our residents are welcomed and included in our successes.

I first acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are meeting, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.

I want to begin by thanking delegates and members for being here today; for your hard work, your commitment to progressive values, and your determination to make Canberra even better.

ACT Labor Party President Louise Crossman and Secretary Matt Byrne – thank you.

I thank our union affiliates: for advocating for the working people of Canberra; for keeping our workplaces safe; and for delivering the pay and conditions workers deserve.

I thank my Assembly colleagues – Simon, Joy, Mick, Yvette, Mary, Chris and Meegan – without you, my job would be impossible.

And I thank our Federal representatives, Andrew, Gai and Katy, for ensuring Canberra is never forgotten in the corridors of Parliament House; and for showing once again that ACT Labor always sends the most talented delegation to the Federal Parliament!

Delegates, this is my 25th ACT Labor Conference and it is an honour to address you today as Chief Minister.

For nearly 40 years I have lived and breathed this city – I’ve even successfully negotiated a move from north of the lake, to the South, and back again – several times!

The Barrs arrived in Canberra in 1977. We started out in West Belconnen and my first experience in the ACT education system was at Holt Preschool.  Then we moved south to Tuggeranong, Weston Creek and Woden where I attended the AME School; before moving to the Inner North and Turner Primary.

From there I studied at Lyneham High, Lake Ginninderra College and, – when there was time amongst my Young Labor duties – at the ANU.

I am tremendously grateful for the opportunities the ACT education system has offered me. From pre-school to university, Canberra’s education system is world class and one of our cities great strengths. 

After finishing uni, the decision to stay in Canberra was easy.  My family and friends are here.

I’ve seen this city grow up as a unique community with an enviable way of life. I am proud of what this city has become.

We are the happiest, healthiest, best-educated and longest-living Australians.

Frankly, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.  Anthony and I bought our first home together in 2007 in Dickson.

Canberra is my home, and your home is always worth fighting for.

My passion for this great city is reflected in my desire to make it even better, and to make sure all of our residents are welcomed and included in our successes.

That’s why I first ran for office in 2004, and why I sought the leadership of the ACT Labor Party last year. I want to build on Katy’s great work, and I have benefited so much from her guidance and encouragement.

What a Barr Government means for Canberra

Canberra is a city that is inclusive and supportive; it is a place that gives our kids the best start in life and allows them to make their mark on the world.

We are not Sydney and Melbourne’s little brother, and we don’t want to be. People there are stuck in traffic; they spend too long away from their families; they pay a fortune in stamp duty if they manage to get on the property ladder at all.

As far as I can tell, they’re pretty unhappy.

In contrast, we stand in our own right as the most liveable city in the world.

We are working together to shape our future.

And in this task we are standing on the shoulders of community leaders like Rosemary, Jon and Katy.

And while I’m talking about leadership, I’d like to say a few words about Deputy Chief Minister, Simon Corbell, who has decided not to contest the next election after devoting 19 years to the ALP Parliamentary team. He has achieved so much in that time. I thank him for his leadership on renewables and the environment, marriage equality, law reform, and public transport. He will leave an enduring legacy. I also thank him for being a good friend.

But Simon still has plenty of work to do between now and next October! 

I don’t believe in Government for the sake of it – for holding office as an end in itself.

We’re here to do something, to improve people’s lives. That’s what this proudly progressive, proudly Labor Government is all about.

Challenges facing Canberra

There are big policy challenges facing us.

We must never again be at the mercy of a hostile and aggressively incompetent Federal Government.

We need to stand on our own two feet, cast off our dependency on the Commonwealth, and re-double our efforts to create jobs here that will benefit future generations.

I lived through 1996 in Canberra, and the recession that followed the election of the Howard Government. Good people left our city because there were no jobs for them; the property market crashed; our unemployment rate skyrocketed.

It was a lesson for me on why we need to broaden our economic base, and foster new industries that properly reward the skills and efforts of their employees.

Today, despite facing an uncertain national economic picture and a Federal Government determined to cut jobs and services, we are in a much better place than two decades ago because of the work of successive ACT Labor governments

But we can never be complacent: good jobs, backed by a strong collective spirit, are the key to the future prosperity and cohesion of this city.

And we need a clear work/life balance to protect precious time with our families and friends, and to recognise the cost to workers of working outside regular hours.

This is why we will oppose any unfair changes to the weekend penalty rates system; and why the government will move to make Easter Sunday a classified public holiday in the ACT, as it should be!

We face a significant challenge of maintaining and building on one of this nation’s best health services. This is a challenge we accept.

The Labor Party is the only party that can deliver and protect universal health care for all Canberrans. We know that access to health services is a basic human right, unlike our opposition.

We have prioritised health in every Budget we have been in Government, because healthy kids, healthy families, and healthy older people make our community stronger as a whole.

Our vision for Canberra’s future is perhaps best reflected in the University of Canberra Public Hospital.

We are the party that builds and upgrades hospitals. This state of the art facility will mean Canberrans get better care when and where they need it.

Building it creates jobs. And the people who work on building this hospital – just like the people who will build the first stage of light rail – will spend their salaries at businesses in Tuggeranong, Woden, Civic and Belconnen.

Locating it on a university campus supports a local employer, attracts students and researchers, and trains our next generation of health professionals.

Education is our city’s largest non-government export. Our two main universities contribute $1.7 billion and 11,500 jobs to our economy. We have to play to our strengths in higher education and become Australia’s undisputed university capital.

This hospital gives our city’s own university a serious competitive edge. An on-campus hospital will create new knowledge – and that, in turn, means even better care.

This one project supports health, jobs and education.

We must continue to focus on education, because our kids face the challenge of being prepared to thrive in a competitive global economy.

All ACT students should engage in a high quality and accessible education system, no matter where they live, their parents’ economic circumstances, or the school they attend. Minister Joy Burch and I share a passion that all of our kids should leave school confident, skilled and ready to take on the world.

I was the Education Minister for seven years, so I know first-hand that our teachers are among the best in the nation. They are dedicated to giving the students in their care the absolute best start in life.

I want to thank them today for their commitment to a truly honourable calling.

We know that completing school to go to university isn’t for everyone. Skilled trades are the lifeblood of a strong economy and community. Our vocational training must keep pace with rapidly changing technology, and properly prepare young people to take on the jobs of a new economy.

That’s why we’re opening a new CIT training centre in the heart of Tuggeranong. It will give more Canberrans the skills they need for the job they want – and it will breathe new life into Tuggeranong town centre.

Political Challenges ahead

We are defined by what we stand for and fight for:

  • a world class, sustainable health care system;

  • a public transport network to serve our city for generations;

  • a truly inclusive society;

  • and providing all of our kids with the education they deserve.

In contrast, all we have from our opposition is relentless negativity.

The Canberra Liberals are defined by the economic lunacy of threats to tear up a light rail network, destroying thousands of jobs; blocking growth and jobs at the University of Canberra; saying yes to Tony Abbott’s health cuts; and offering quality education only to those who can afford to pay.

By now we know what to expect from Liberal Governments: we saw it with Campbell Newman in Queensland, and we have front-row seats for Tony Abbott.

Their preferred Canberra is from an era before many of us were even born. Labor’s vision is one of the brilliant possibilities for Canberra today, and over the next 10, 20, and 30 years.

We are delivering a truly digital, connected, wi-fi city. They’re looking for a video store that will take a cheque.

We are proud to be defined by what we will do, and are doing. They are defined by what they won’t do, and what they will undo.

Is there any starker contrast between our Labor Government and the opposition than our commitment to renewable energy?

Led by Simon Corbell, we are on track to deliver 90% of our energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. We are leading the nation and among the best in the world.

But it’s time to take the next step. That is why I am announcing today that under a Labor Government, Canberra will be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2025.

We can do this. We’ve shown it’s possible – now we have one step left. 100% renewable energy will drive jobs growth in our research and corporate sectors. We’ve already seen a 400% increase in green jobs in the past five years, and there will be more to come.

This city can and should be a beacon for everyone who realises the world must act decisively now to stave off catastrophic climate change.

And in stark contrast with Mr Abbott, who insists coal is good for humanity, I can confirm today that my Government is taking ongoing action to further divest the ACT investment portfolio of high-carbon emitting companies and sectors – all without costing the Canberra community a single cent.

Policy platform for Canberra

I’ve spoken of the challenges we face. But these challenges will be met by our policy focus on good jobs, health, education and true social inclusion.

At the heart of Canberra’s continuing success must be jobs that are rewarding in every sense.

We have overseen a surge in highly-skilled service export businesses, higher-education and affiliated research positions, exciting tourism ventures and new events.

It’s a fact that over the past five years the ACT Labor Government has helped to add more than 5,000 total jobs to the local economy.

This is despite the Abbott Government slashing over 5,500 jobs – over 350 a week – over the past 15 months.

It is because of ACT Labor policies that we have turned the economic corner. In the past eight months alone the ACT economy has created 2,700 jobs. That’s 10 new jobs every day.

We are proudly Canberra job creators.

I look at local success stories like Aspen Medical to show that Canberra businesses can grow, reach into new markets and succeed anywhere.

Major international companies like IKEA, Costco and Qantas are choosing Canberra.

We are slashing red tape and reforming our tax system to encourage the best new and established companies to call Canberra home.

If our 20,000 small businesses can employ just one extra person each, we are setting ourselves up for a bright economic future.

We are working closely with the University of Canberra to turn its campus into a model of 21st century advanced learning – because it can and will become one of the country’s premier higher education institutions. This is where the next wave of Canberra jobs will come from.

Through the Council of Australian Governments, I am working on how best to support teachers in the ACT and across the country to provide students with a world-class education.

We are delivering a world class public transport network.

The first stage of the light rail system is a city-defining project that will create 3,500 jobs and grow our city; it is designed for Canberra, and will benefit all Canberrans. It will lock into a stronger bus network to make our city easier to get around, for everybody.

Minister Yvette Berry and I are working to ensure Canberra remains a truly welcoming, inclusive and supportive city.

Over the next four years, almost 1300 of our oldest, least efficient homes will make way for modern, well-insulated, well-located homes so that our public housing tenants can more fully participate in Canberra life.

We have built the Common Ground housing project in Gungahlin, which now provides 20 homeless people secure ongoing accommodation, along with another 20 affordable rental units. Following its success, we will deliver another iconic social housing project in the next term of Government.

We have signed a Whole of Government Agreement with the Indigenous elected body to make sure our Indigenous community is at the centre of everything we do as a Government.

My first budget as Chief Minister makes it clear this government will not tolerate domestic violence. But more needs to be done, and we do not shy away from the confronting truth: domestic violence can occur in any suburb, any family, any relationship. We must all remain vigilant.

And we must continue our journey to be the most welcoming city in Australia for our LGBTIQ community.

Conclusion

Delegates.

If we want to keep a progressive government in the ACT, we need to work for it. And we need to work together.

We have a strong and unified Labor Assembly team that shares pride in what Canberra is, and a vision for what Canberra can be.

Soon we will have a democratically selected, community-minded, energetic, enthusiastic new team of candidates – all committed to Labor values.

But victory is never guaranteed. That is why we need your help – keep talking to your friends, neighbours and family about what the community stands to gain under a Labor Government over the next term, and what we will lose under our opponents.

We are a Government of passion, progressive values and new ideas for Canberra. Re-election will ensure our vision is achieved. That is my goal. I know it is your goal.

Together, we will make it happen.