Chapter 7, Minister Andrew Barr's Strange Decision

Mr Andrew Barr is Deputy Chief Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development and Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation of the ACT Government.

Within his Economic Development Directorate, Andy Wilson the public servant who had processed this project since its inception in 2003, wrote this ministerial advice dated the 16th of August 2011.  In this paper he outlined the positive evidence in favour of the airfield and recommended a process to forward the project.  Having delivered this paper, Mr Wison went on leave.

However, the ministerial advice actually forwarded to the minister, dated the 24th of August 2011 was an edited version of Mr Wilson's paper with the recommendation changed to suggest that the ACT Government should not forward the project.  This paper was submitted under the name of Dan Stewart and minister, that is Mr Andrew Barr.  


That is correct, Mr Barr co-authored a ministerial submission to himself to reverse the key recommendation mnade by the action officer.  Now, why would he do that?

There is not much difference between the two documents, but Mr Stewart and Mr Barr changed a key option. 

Mr Wilson stated:

Allow the proposal to lapse

There is significant interest from the local aviation community in the potential development.  The CRAA, which was specifically set up to lobby for this development, is aware of the study as it was required to give its development for its 'desk-top' study to be used as the basis for the ACT-commissioned study......

This was changed by Mr Stewart to read:

Allow the proposal to lapse

The business case for Government investment in this project does not appear particularly strong given the substantial investment required, the relatively small number of users and the low projected IRR...."


This contradicts the advise provided by Mr Wilson.

Now, in none of the more than one thousand pages of FOI material on which this web site is based has Mr Stewart's name appeared before.  It appears that he picked up the paper authored by Mr Wilson, and within a week, and with no background on the issue, and no material within the FOI documents to indicate he made any enquiry, he decided in concert with Mr Barr to reverse the advise of the senior action officer who had been responsible for the project for the last eight years.

Naturally, I phoned him to find out what had occurred, but he did not answer, nor return my call.  This is not uncommon in our hunt for information.  I have rung a number of public servants whose names appear on various documents, but have not had any luck with any of them.  The typical response from those who actually answer the call is that they were only peripherally involved, and just can't remember any of the detail.

So, the question is, why did Mr Stewart change this document?  In the absence of any information from him, we simply have to guess.

Perhpas Mr Barr told him that this was the advice he wanted to see.  This seems likley as Mr Barr is listed as co-author.

Canberra is a small town in many respects and so various rumours surround people such as Mr Barr.  In the absence of any other information, and the need for a plausible explanation for his response we have to assume that one or other of the following explanations is true.

The first rumour has it that there was no love lost between Mr Barr and Mr Stanhope.  Mr Barr has a default position of opposing anything that Mr Stanhope held in favour.  Mr Stanhope was in favour of the Williamsdale airfield.

The second rumour relates to Mr Barr’s own politics.  He supposedly holds an old-fashioned class-hatred, despite being reared in a standard Canberra middle-class household.  The explanation is that Mr Barr is opposed to anything that has a whiff of class preferment about it.  In earlier correspondence, the Williamsdale proposal was described as being in the interests of “a relatively small number of private aircraft enthusiasts, and many would be non-ACT residents”  and in  this document “the GA community is a small, select segment of the ACT population.”

If this description of Mr Barr’s politics is correct, and he received a briefing from these officers of his department, perhaps he saw red, and thought he need enquire no further and amended advice to that effect.

Alternatively, Perhaps Mr Stewart, being unfamiliar with the issue, wandered down the corridor and ran into Mr Cox and accepted his advice.  Mr Cox, as shown repeatedly through this web site had no interest in the facts, and didn't like the proposal.

If any case, it is a pity that one group of losers are young Canberrans with an interest in an aviation career, for whom local flight training is the only affordable option.

But, we don’t know, because Mr Barr and Mr Stewart won't discuss the matter.


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