The ACT Elections — a first bite

By August 2, 2012Politics

In less than three months we will be voting again. I know where I’ll be voting, but at this stage, not for whom. So this little essay is a ground-clearing exercise.

First, I have considerable respect for the Members of the Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory (the long new sign on London Circuit in our city spells the name right out — no ‘ACT’ shorthand here). I know virtually all of them, and have known some for years. They are well above average for lower house members of parliament, though I am really comparing them to a miscellany of MPs I have known over the years.

Indeed, I should say that I am not one of those who denigrates MPs. They have a difficult job to do, and most of them do it well. I have studied parliamentarians and observed them closely since 1959. Most people don’t recognise that their job is essentially one of compromise, of finding the lowest common denominator. That involves them in deals, and in doing things that they once said they wouldn’t do. Sometimes they might wish they hadn’t done so, but at the time it had seemed like  good idea. Very few are corrupt in the sense that would get them time in prison.

There is a constant complaint about them, their behaviour on the floor of the house and on television, their sledging one another and so on. Andrew Leigh, MP for Fraser, gave an excellent lecture at the University of Canberra yesterday about all that, and you can read the lecture on his website. But in many respects this is simply the culture of the game they are in. If you or I were there, we would find it difficult not to adopt that style. Of course, there are those who relish it, and Paul Keating was the prime example in recent years. But I can also remember Eddie Ward in the 1950s and 1960s.

But back to the ACT. I think we have an exemplary set of MLAs, and I don’t think at all that what we have is a tinpot parliament that should just be a city council. (Even if it were, it would have a high grade of city councillors.). We also have a government that has been in for a long time, and there is no doubt that some voters simply get tired of a long-serving government, and would like a change.

The Liberal Party has been well led and appears united under Zed Seselja. I feel confident that it will do better in the coming elections than was the case four years ago. It has six seats, and needs nine if it is to govern in its own right. That is a big ask, but it is not out of the question.

I was surprised that the Greens did so well in gaining four seats, and I have been impressed by the demeanour and actions of Meredith Hunter and Carolyn Le Couteur. The Government gave the Speakership to Shane Rattenbury, and he has done well in that post, too. The Greens as a group have made their first term in parliament a solid learning experience, and by and large they have stayed away from the quasi-religious Green ideology, concentrating on local issues where they have something to add that is different.

Katy Gallagher has moved easily and professionally into the top job, but the departure of Jon Stanhope and the arrival of new Ministers make the Government rather less cohesive, I think, than it was under his leadership.

With 17 seats at stake, the most likely outcomes are Labor: 6 or 7, Liberals: 7 or 8, and Greens 4 or 3. I cannot see the Labor Party improving on its present strength, though I do not think it is in for the sort of shellacking the party received in NSW and Queensland. But if it were reduced to 5, with the Greens 4 and the Liberals 8, it would be hard for the Greens to support Labor other than in what amounted to a coalition. That would not be unprecedented, as Kate Carnell brought Independent Michael Moore into  her government, and  a similar deal was struck in South Australia not long ago.

Finally, though parties themselves like to be in real control, my general feeling is that the ACT has got used to, and rather approves of, minority government, which does lead to lowest common denominator solutions to issues.

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