With the announcement by the Australian Electoral Commission of the proposed new boundaries for our House of Representatives seats in the ACT, we are starting to get a better picture of what this might mean for the next Federal election. This is a chance for voters in the ACT to be more influential in the upcoming Australian election – not just because we get another representative, but also because one of Canberra’s representatives could be a critical decision-maker on the House of Representatives’ crossbench. As one of the most progressive groups of voters in Australia, voters in the reconfigured electorate of Canberra have the chance to crack the duopoly in Federal politics.
It is significant that ACT voters are gaining additional political representation. Thanks to the way the Federation was established, as a Territory, we are one of the most under-represented communities in Australia, particularly when it comes to the Senate. While our population is comparable to Tasmania (Tassie’s is just over 500,000 and ours is 400,000) we have two senators to Tasmania’s 12. The House of Representatives works a little differently with representation based on population. Our recent population growth and a redistribution of electorate boundaries mean that at next election, we will have another member in Parliament – three up from two in the current Parliament. We will now have re-configured boundaries for Fenner and Canberra, and a new southern based electorate named Bean. While the details are stilling being finalised (with a final decision made in around June), the draft announcement gives us a pretty good sense of how the new electorates will look.
Canberra has always been known as a Labor town and we have only had Liberal representatives in the House of Representatives a couple of times since we first got the opportunity to vote in 1949. This has the double whammy effect of both the Liberal and Labor parties often neglecting the specific needs of our community. Both the major parties have seemed to accept the status quo and not really paid much attention to the ACT in election periods – often opting to spend much more time just over the border in Eden Monaro due to its distinction of being a bellwether seat.
With the likely boundaries for the three seats now announced, there is the chance for things to be different in future federal elections. The proposed reconfigured Canberra electorate is similar to many inner-city seats in our other capital cities – full of residents who are socially progressive, hungry for action on climate change, well educated and politically engaged. Many residents have either voted for, or considered voting for the Greens, recognising their own values in the more progressive policies around the treatment of refugees, leadership on climate change, and focus on accountability and integrity. While in the past there has been particular encouragement to vote Greens in the Senate, there is now a chance to vote for a Greens House of Representative candidate in a seat where they have a real chance of winning. This is a chance for a Canberra representative to be a key figure in the House, holding the major parties to account, better reflecting our values – not just in what they say, but in how they vote on the floor of the Parliament.
Our vote is a valuable thing, and it is important that our representatives value it as much as we do. I think this is a great chance for us to reverse the usual call to ‘send a message to Canberra’, and instead use this chance for ‘Canberra to send a message to Australia’. What do you think?
Rebecca is an active member of the ACT Greens and ran as a candidate in the 2016 Territory election. She will not be contesting pre-selection for the federal election.