15 October 2016
Most elections in Australia over many decades have been essentially contests between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. Even though the Liberals have often aligned themselves with others during that time, such as with the Nationals in recent decades, they’ve usually been more dominant. This is why elections are thus described as Labor-Liberal battles in general context. But often there have been contests where the Liberals have been, in a sense, on their own in fighting Labor.
And that’s the case with a general election happening in the Australian Capital Territory today. Voters in the ACT will decide whether to elect Labor to a fifth straight term in office, or to turn to the Liberals for the first time in well over a decade.
The Labor Government first went into office with crossbench support after an election in October 2001 – fifteen years ago this month. Labor has since held office at elections in 2004, 2008, and 2012. Only at the 2004 election did Labor win a majority of seats, while every other election win has come through crossbench support.
The Liberal Opposition came close to winning the last election, in October 2012, but fell just short. That election saw the Greens, who’d been holding the balance of power, lose all but one seat held before the election. But the support of that one surviving Green, Shane Rattenbury, was enough for Labor to hold office.
Jon Stanhope led Labor to victory in 2001, and won another two elections before stepping down in 2011, after ten years as ACT Chief Minister. He’s served longer than any other Chief Minister since the ACT became self-governing three decades ago, and his 2004 election win is the only outright election win in the history of the ACT Parliament. After Stanhope left, Katy Gallagher became Labor leader, and came close to losing the 2012 election, with only the support of Rattenbury keeping Labor in power. Gallagher left after three years in the job, moving to Federal Parliament, and Andrew Barr succeeded her.
Zed Seselja, the Liberal leader who only just lost that 2012 election, has also since departed, and is now in Federal Parliament, just like Gallagher. This means that both principal combatants from the last ACT election have gone, and the Liberal leader taking on Barr today is Jeremy Hanson.
But today’s ACT election doesn’t just have different leaders from last time. There will be more new faces elected, with the ACT Parliament being enlarged from seventeen seats across three electorates to twenty-five seats across five electorates. However, despite these changes, my tip is for Parliament to remain in a balance-of-power situation, meaning that the winner will govern only with crossbench support, just like now – it might be a case where the more that something changes, the more that it stays the same!
Of the three current ACT electorates, two have five seats each, namely Brindabella and Ginninderra, while the last electorate, Molonglo, has seven seats. Currently there are eight Labor MPs and eight Liberal MPs, plus one Green in Rattenbury. Two MPs will retire at this election. The Labor Government will lose Deputy Chief Minister Simon Corbell, and the Liberal Opposition will lose Val Jeffery.
Electoral redistributions take place after a certain number of years, to ensure that each electorate has as near as possible to an equal number of voters. A redistribution ahead of this ACT election has seen Molonglo abolished, and three new electorates created, named Kurrajong and Murrumbidgee and Yerrabi. While there were seven seats in Molonglo, there’ll now be five seats in each electorate, hence twenty-five seats.
It’s worth remembering that to work out roughly how many votes you need to win a seat in any electorate, you have to divide the total number of votes in that electorate by a number which is one more than the number up of seats up for grabs. This means that in this ACT election, candidate will be elected if they win just over a sixth of the vote in each five-seat electorate, or 16.7 per cent of vote in proportional terms.
In terms of election issues, the big talking point in the ACT light rail, which the Labor Government intends to build but the Liberal Opposition intends to stop. Both sides are making plenty of promises to spend more on health and education and other things, but the Liberals’ promise is to use funding for light rail in other areas. That aside, the ACT budget is in deficit, and Labor’s long stint of fifteen years in office should arguably help the Liberals. But voters haven’t warmed to them generally, or their leader Hanson particularly, so it’s hard to tip them, especially when voters are so distrustful of established politics now.
My tip is for Labor to hold office, albeit with crossbench support, while the Liberals will fall short again, just like in the last election. The Greens will probably win a few seats, but I see no other crossbenchers being elected as such. It’ll therefore be a case of more of the same, even as the ACT changes in some respects.
There won’t be too much different coming out of the ACT tonight. Despite some change, sameness will prevail.