ANDREW Barr will become the first openly-gay leader of an Australian jurisdiction after he confirmed he will be elected ACT Chief Minister during a special sitting of the territory’s Legislative Assembly tomorrow.
The news comes after Barr was elected unopposed as the ACT’s Labor leader at a caucus meeting this morning, almost a week after incumbent Chief Minister Katy Gallagher announced she was stepping down.
Speaking to the Star Observer, Barr said he felt a “a great deal of pride” that he was to become the first openly-gay leader of a state or territory in Australian history.
“We’ve finally got there,” the outgoing Deputy Chief Minister said.
“There have been a number of pioneering gay politicians who haven’t quite reached leadership level but obviously paved the way.
“Sexuality is an important part of who we are as individuals, and it shouldn’t preclude people from public office and taking on leadership positions.”
Barr also acknowledged it was slightly concerning that it took until the end of 2014 for this landmark political achievement to happen.
“But I think the overwhelming emotion is one of pride and I’m greatly honoured by the support of all of my colleagues,” he said.
He was also “very proud” that the ACT would be the first Australian jurisdiction with an openly-gay leader. He highlighted its history of LGBTI law reforms from as early as being the first in Australia to decriminalise homosexuality in 1973, the first to recognise same-sex relationships in 1994, right through to being the first to legalise same-sex marriage in 2013 — albeit only for five days after a Federal Government challenge led to the High Court striking it down.
“I think it’s important that the national capital is forging ahead, showing other parts of the country that it’s important to be inclusive,” Barr told the Star Observer.
“The reaction to my leadership has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Barr joined the Labor party in 1992, and credited former Prime Minister Paul Keating for instilling his passion in politics.
When he was first elected to ACT Parliament in April 2006, Barr admitted that becoming Chief Minister was not something he thought would be possible.
“It’s fair to say that at that time I thought of it as an unlikely scenario,” he said.
However, he recalled realising the possibility when he was elected to the deputy leadership in May 2011.
Barr cites NSW upper house Labor MP Penny Sharpe and Victorian Labor candidate for Prahran Neil Pharaoh as good friends. He also recalled feeling “honoured” by the support he received from South Australian Labor Senator Penny Wong when she seconded his motion to change Labor’s platform on marriage equality to one of a conscience vote at the party’s 2011 national conference.
“In more recent times it’s been fantastic to see the emergence of so many from the Rainbow Labor movement into prominent positions,” he added.
Barr said he was “fairly confident” he would be elected Chief Minister tomorrow, with the vote expected to go 9-8 his way.
Simon Corbell will become deputy leader, after also being elected unopposed at the ACT Labor caucus meeting this morning.
Barr has indicated to ABC News that there would be no major shake-up of ministry portfolios once he was sworn in.
He also indicated that he would remain as Treasurer.