30 October 2016
Little attention would’ve been paid to a general election in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this month. Mind you, I suspect that little attention would’ve been paid to most elections in the ACT since it became self-governing in the late 1980s, except perhaps when governments changed.
Some people argue that the ACT Parliament doesn’t need to even exist. In terms of governments, their idea is of the territory being worthy of deemed nothing more than a local council area, albeit a big one, with its population in the hundreds of thousands, which many local councils across Australia actually have. But that’s probably an argument for another day.
Nonetheless, this recent ACT election resulted in a fifth straight term in office for the Labor Party, which has governed continuously since 2001. But just like before, Labor will govern with crossbench support, having failed to win a majority in its own right. This result was considered the most likely, according to both the experts and the pundits like myself, and indeed it turned out that way. In fact only once has an election in the ACT resulted in a majority victory – that one being for Labor in 2004.
When the ACT next goes to the polls, in 2020, more than two decades will have passed since the last win for the Liberal Party, albeit with crossbench support. The Liberals last won an ACT election in 1998.
This year’s election was arguably about light rail, which the Labor Government was looking to build in the ACT and which the Liberal Opposition was vowing to stop. Putting aside the question about whether the ACT really needs a light rail network, the election might’ve been about a mood for change after fifteen straight years under Labor, as well as the fact that the ACT budget is in deficit, which isn’t exactly a sign of a good economy, while health and education would’ve been typical election issues. But despite Labor’s long time in office and the budget deficit, the Liberals didn’t exactly give voters any kind of inspiring or positive case for change, and perhaps their opposition to light rail showed them as merely opposing without offering a better alternative.
This seems to have been a typical story of elections across Australia over many years, where governments have grown older and less competent but their rivals haven’t presented an inspiring case for change. I’ve seen governments survive when they arguably should’ve lost, because voters couldn’t bring themselves to support the alternatives. This is probably why ACT Labor hangs on in office again now.
The ACT election result, in which the number of parliamentary seats rose from seventeen to twenty-five, has seen twelve seats go to the Labor Government, eleven seats to the Liberal Opposition, and two seats to the Greens. This leaves Labor one seat short of a majority and being able to govern in its own right.
This was the same story after the last election, in 2012, with Labor one seat short of a majority. Mind you, the Labor-Liberal score then was actually a tie, of eight seats each, but holding the balance of power was a Green, who backed Labor. Now there are two Greens, and they’re backing Labor – hence the continuation of Labor in office.
With the election seeing an increase of electorates from three to five, with five seats in each electorate, there were mixed results. Two electorates, Kurrajong and Murrumbidgee, each finished with two Labor MPs and two Liberal MPs, plus one of the Greens. Two other electorates, Ginninderra and Yerrabi, each finished with three Labor MPs and two Liberal MPs. The last electorate, Brindabella, finished with three Liberal MPs and two Labor MPs.
There was perhaps one sour note for Labor. Falling short of a majority would’ve been disappointing enough, albeit not unexpected. But two Labor MPs were actually defeated, one of them a minister. This would’ve been a blow to Labor.
The result of this election in the ACT has turned out to be a continuation from after the previous one, as Labor again governs with crossbench support. There’s been a bit of change in the ACT, but things have generally stayed the same.