Having already cast my vote I can look at tomorrow’s elections with calm, indeed Olympian, disinterest. As I saw it, as I settled down to vote (and to make a hash of my first try at electronic voting, to the delight of my wife, who waltzed through it), unless ACT politics returned to a two-party battle there was little likelihood of the Liberals’ forming a government. It appears to me that the Greens are here to stay for at least another four years, and that means that Labor can continue to govern with their support. That would have remained true had the Greens lost one or even two members, providing Labor’s numbers remained the same. The only difference then would have been the appearance of a Labor coalition government with the Greens, since Labor had already indicated that Meredith Hunter would be invited to join the Ministry.
Zed Seselja is right to say that there are a lot of ‘undecideds’ out there, and they may all decide that they don’t want fifteen and a half years of Labor government, so I make no predictions about the number of seats or the shares of the vote — both are foolish given the Hare-Clark system under which the ACT elections operate. It is easy to say, however, that we will see another Assembly remarkably like the present one, with most of the familiar faces back again.
A great deal will depend for the new government on the national and local economies. Canberra needs growth for any government to be able to deliver services and provide employment, and the outlook is not rosy. The Federal Government is reining back expenditure to avoid looking silly when the mid-year budget review occurs soon, though the fancied Swan surplus has long since disappeared. We the people are still not heeding the cries for us to go out and spend, while each week another long-lived Australian company dies and staff lose their jobs — Allan’s music has now followed Darrell Lea, a company whose shares an old friend of mine once bought because there were always customers in the shop.
And this election has generated a good deal of expectation: a new hospital, the beginnings of light rail, much more in health and education, and bits and pieces here, there and everywhere. Is there a significant group that has not been promised something? By and large, too, the major parties have matched each other. The Greens won’t be forming a government, so their whole pitch has been to make us take them seriously as the party of the future — and they haven’t done a bad job. But the first job of the new treasurer will have to be to damp down those expectations.
I think a comment or two about the Liberals is in order. It is hard going when you are an Opposition that looks to be in a somewhat permanent state: the Government has all the policies, all the ideas, and the public service feeding it all the data it needs. It is easy for any Opposition then to lose heart, and to become internally quarrelsome and factional. What tends to happen then is a languid succession of leaders, each enjoying a brief honeymoon, and then enduring a longer period of disillusion leading to divorce. That makes the government even stronger and more confident, and further weakens the resolve of its opponents.
It was like that during the long reign of the Coalition from 1949 to 1972, and for the ALP in New South Wales from 1941 to 1965. I do not think that parliamentary government is plainly the best of all possible ways to run a country, or to run a part of it, but it is the systemt I know, and it works best when there is a strong and confident Opposition facing a determined Government.
If Katy Gallagher and her team get back, which is expected, then I would want to say that Zed Seselja and his team did a pretty good job of providing an alternative, and I hope that they maintain their unity and their sense of purpose in the new assembly. Their day will come.