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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

‘We’ve got to listen’: Liberal MLA James Milligan returns to the Assembly

Canberra Liberals MLA James Milligan has only been back in the ACT Legislative Assembly for a fortnight, but he believes his party can win the 2024 election – and the key is listening to constituents, to organisations, and to community groups. Something he claims the ACT Government often fails to do.

“If we’re serious about representing the community, we’ve got to listen. We’ve got a job to do; that is to make the ACT the best place that it can possibly be – to allow individuals to reach their full potential – to allow individuals to really discover themselves.”

Mr Milligan, Member for Yerrabi, lost his seat in the October election, but returned last month in a ballot countback following Alistair Coe’s resignation.

“I was there for the Ninth Assembly, enjoyed my time there, and achieved a lot of things during that term,” Mr Milligan said. “To be given that opportunity again is a real honour.”

A small businessman – a publisher – originally from country Victoria, Mr Milligan was attracted to the Liberal Party by their support for business, individualism, personal responsibility, and common sense. Mr Milligan believes those traditional Liberal values align closely with Canberrans’ values.

“We’ve always been a party of representing the individual and a party of support. We ensure that people have the services they need. We have a responsibility in that space.

“But we also have a responsibility to allow individuals to live the way they want, to make decisions for themselves, and not necessarily have the government tell them what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. We support free enterprise, the free marketplace, and diversity. We support the growth of the economy and business. We are a broad church.”

The reaction from Mr Milligan’s Yerrabi constituents to his return has been “overwhelmingly positive”, he said.

“During the Ninth Assembly, we did as much work as possible out in the electorate, to meet as many people as we could – to discuss the issues and concerns that were relevant for them, and represent them in the parliament to the best of our ability.”

In the Canberra Liberals cabinet reshuffle on Thursday, Mr Milligan resumed his shadow portfolio of Sport and Recreation, but also took on Emergency Services, Vocational Training and Skills, and Disability. Some of these portfolios overlap with the needs of his electorate.

For instance, Yerrabi lacks sporting facilities, Mr Milligan said; there is no indoor sporting facility, while ovals have inadequate parking and no changerooms or storage facilities.

“The government’s common answer to that is shipping containers, yet they’re not necessarily the most practical.”

Police and emergency services also need better facilities, Mr Milligan believes; they share a building, the Gungahlin Joint Emergency Services Centre, and are “packed to the rafters”.

Mr Milligan said he got on well with most members of the Assembly, including Yerrabi Labor MLAs Michael Pettersson and Suzanne Orr.

“Michael and I have been away on several trips together; we have different views, but we respect each other, and we can have mature conversations.”

Canberra Liberals leader Elizabeth Lee has set out a policy of collaborating with the ACT Government on some issues, if they believe the outcome benefits Canberra, but to challenge bills with which they disagree.

“It’s all about outcomes,” Mr Milligan said. “We’re in this place to deliver the best outcomes we can for issues that are presented. How we go about it and what we do to get there may be different to Labor and the Greens, but at the end of the day, it’s the outcome that we want to achieve, right?”

However, Mr Milligan also believes his biggest challenge this term is holding the ACT Government to account.

“I want to ensure that this Labor-Greens government doesn’t use the ACT as an experimental state in terms of policies and initiatives that go beyond what’s reasonable.”

For instance, he is concerned that Labor and the Greens are too ideologically driven, resulting in policies such as introducing safe injecting rooms, or phasing out natural gas (which he believes could harm restaurants and clubs, which use gas as their main cooking source).

“This government is about control; they want to control everything, and they want to hold groups by the strings.”

For instance, he claimed, the government failed to consult constituents and stakeholders on policy, unlike the Liberals. As shadow minister for Indigenous Affairs and Sport and Recreation in the Ninth Assembly, Mr Milligan said he sought feedback on policy drafts – and the community and sectors supported them.

“Indigenous Affairs was one of those key areas where the government simply weren’t listening, and they weren’t putting faith and support in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-run organisations. Now if we really want to make some inroads, the government’s got to listen, and then give faith and trust in people in the community that these organisations can do the right thing, and support the people they are there to support.”

Mr Milligan believes the government needs to provide an economic plan to help businesses recover after COVID, and should also address difficulties that service providers faced in helping people with disabilities, and the spike in domestic violence last year.

“There’s a lot the government could be doing and needs to address. We’ll certainly be highlighting that during this term.”

However, pushing Liberal policy through the Assembly is hard; the 10 Labor and six Green MLAs form a voting block of 16, outnumbering the nine Liberals.

“It’s very difficult for us to win down in the Assembly, because the numbers naturally fall towards Labor and the Greens.”

But Mr Milligan believes the Canberra Liberals can win the 2024 election.

“The Members we have are highly talented and highly capable. I have complete faith that they’ll present the best policies and initiatives for their portfolios, and they’re all passionate about their electorates.

“We’re available to anyone in the electorate to talk to us about any matter they’re concerned about, and we will represent it the best we can in the parliament.”

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