If there is a prize for passion and optimism among the leaders of Canberra’s major parties represented in the Assembly, then it probably goes to Alistair Coe.
The Canberra Liberals leader is bullish, confident and believes his party has a good chance of winning. Asked about his own prospects if they lose and the party goes into its third decade in opposition, he refuses to countenance the prospect.
“Obviously that is not something anyone contemplates or plans for”, he says. “We are running to win with 13 seats, we are flat out on the campaign trail, doing lots of door-knocking and phones and letterboxing.
“The vast majority of Canberrans would have been approached at their local shops by a Liberal candidate. We are throwing everything at it and we want to win 13 seats”.
If you're wondering who to vote for in the ACT election, Region Media can help. We've interviewed the leaders of the Assembly's three key parties. Genevieve Jacobs spoke with Liberal leader Alistair Coe on experience, growing the economy and his vision for Canberra.
Posted by The RiotACT on Tuesday, 22 September 2020
The strong Liberal focus is on what Mr Coe calls “practical tangible initiatives” – promises about dealing with the cost of living, making ordinary Canberrans’ lives easier and recognising the toll exacted on the vulnerable by a high cost of living.
That was behind one of the more striking moments of the campaign so far, the announcement that former Labor chief minister Jon Stanhope would head a poverty taskforce, characterised by Labor as little more than a stunt.
Mr Coe thinks anyone who knows Jon Stanhope also knows that he’s not one for stunts.
“We have 30,000 people in the ACT living in poverty. We have kids turning up at school without breakfast in Canberra. We can pretend it doesn’t exist – we don’t have whole suburbs of ingrained poverty unlike other cities but there are people it tough”, he says.
“That’s why we asked Jon Stanhope to get involved. I am delighted he agreed to chair the task force”.
Door-knocking has given Mr Coe insights into how tough people’s lives can be. He notes, for example, the rising rate of homelessness among older women and talks about meeting a woman people who are couch surfing, depending on the kindness of friends or family to keep a roof over their heads.
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Politically, it’s an interesting pivot. Throughout the campaign, the Liberals have been doing some energetic brand differentiation. The spectacle of Labor hounding them on financial accountability while they push Labor on a major poverty initiative is an interesting one, as is the Liberals’ million tree policy.
The Liberals say this campaign is all about the cost of living and where it hits people hardest. That’s why there are no big-ticket infrastructure promises like light rail.
Instead, Mr Coe says his big picture thinking is about the welfare of Canberrans.
“This is a household and family-focussed campaign, our best asset is the people. It’s very much about practical and local services, allowing Canberrans to get ahead. A lot of people in Canberra can manage the cost of living but many can’t.
“Labor is running an opposition campaign – opposition to the Liberals. We are running on how to make Canberra the best place to work live and raise a family. All our initiatives, all our ideas and policies are about tangible and practical things, there is a contrast in the two campaigns”.
The problem would appear to be how to pay for them and it’s not easy to pin down Mr Coe on where the money will come from to replace the promises he’s made about freezing rates for a full term and abolishing payroll tax.
There’s discussion about growing the pie and keeping Canberrans in Canberra, but little in the way of costings or analysis. But he denies vigorously that the Liberals are standing very still and hoping to fall over the one by capitalising on the voters’ dislike of Andrew Barr.
Neither is he keen to engage in discussion about whether long stretches of incumbency are a poor outcome for our democracy, or if the Liberals are simply too far to the right for Canberra voters.
“I’ll leave that to the analysts”, Mr Coe says. “We are running to win this election, Whilst Labor may well focus on us a lot as it seems that they are, we’ll keep focussing on Canberrans.
“Only journalists and the Labor Party raise philosophy and ideology. I don’t get it when I’m doorknocking”.
He says instead that the Liberals have candidates from a far broader range of backgrounds and with a broader range of opinions than anyone opposing them.
“That range of background and experience and opinions is a strength, not a weakness, in my opinion”.