14 May 2019

Canberra's Liberal candidates: underdogs or quiet achievers?

| Genevieve Jacobs
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The ACT’s federal Liberal candidates. from left: Ed Cocks, Leanne Castley, Senator Zed Seselja, Mina Zaki and Robert Gunning. Photo: Supplied.

Judging by voter reactions, electoral confusion reigns. Redistribution, retirements and a whole new electorate mean many Canberrans are uncertain what seat they’re in, much less who’s standing in it.

I’ve spoken to Liberal, Labor and Green candidates, asking what motivates them; what the major issues for Canberra voters are; are local and federal issues confused; does Canberra suffer from having safe seats and where they sit politically inside their party?

On that, you’ll be relieved (or cynical) to hear that every would-be politician claims they’re factionally independent and on excellent terms with everyone inside their parties.

Conversations were by phone or at venues of the candidates’ choice. For two Liberal candidates, this turned out to be the new Cotter Rd McDonalds.

Mina Zaki is standing for Canberra. Born in Kabul, she’s a copywriter who’s a Liberal “because I know what it’s like to live without individual rights, freedoms and opportunities”.

Zaki moved to Canberra in 2016 and nominated because she didn’t like what she saw happening. “People are struggling to pay rates, to find an affordable place to rent. Canberrans can’t afford more taxes on top of the rates they already pay.”

Doorknocking, Zaki says Canberrans constantly raise “the retiree tax” (all three Liberals repeated this: I clarified they’re referring to franking credit proposals), increasing rates and lack of local maintenance.

“I’m worried about income tax on top of rates. Families won’t be able to afford higher taxes. If this is what they’re doing locally then we can’t afford it federally.”

Zaki resists factional labels, saying “I’m a person of faith and I’m guided by those ideals. If I was to tell you where I was on the spectrum, it depends on the issue at hand.”

A believer in small government, Zaki says Canberra needs a lower house advocate. “I didn’t have the privilege of being born in Canberra…I chose Canberra because its the best place to raise a young family.”

Fourth generation Canberran Ed Cocks is standing in Bean.

He says 20 years of Labor in Tuggeranong means voters feel taken for granted. “I think Labor hasn’t had to fight for this electorate for a long time… we’ve got the better plan, we need to keep the economy strong, we need to make sure we’re supporting people to get up and have a go and not holding them back when they do so,” he says.

On Canberra issues Cocks nominates bureaucratic barriers for business, referencing the Solarshare project which he calls “something great, that’s spent so long having to fight red tape.”

He links rates with Labor tax plans, saying landlords passing on costs will hurt vulnerable renters. The “retiree tax” gets a nod: Cocks says he’s met “a lady in Isaacs who gets $300 in franking credits that keep her car on the road, another who gets $800 that just helps out”.

He defends federal/local confusion, calling out the lack of suburban infrastructure investment. “Zed’s lobbied hard to upgrade the Monaro Highway, but I didn’t see this area being treated the same way as a marginal seat.

“Labor makes a fuss over public sector jobs, but…we were looking down the barrel of 14,500 job cuts under the last Labor government. I didn’t feel a Labor representative had the traction in the party to properly represent this area.”

Regarding allegiance, Cocks calls the ACT Liberals “a very democratic party…the things that bind us on freedom of choice and speech are so much stronger than the things that divide”.

IT project manager and musician Leanne Castley is standing in Fenner. She grew up in Charnwood, saying “I’m all about jobs and family. That’s the cornerstone of a good community and building a strong economy.

“People like me know what it’s like to fight through traffic, work all day, feed the kids, clean the house and get to weekend sport. The government’s there to guarantee essential services but then let us get on with it.”

On voter issues, it’s rates and Gungahlin infrastructure. “We’re hoping the government will get the roads done, not just a quick band-aid…even though we’ve got the tram, it’s not working.”

She believes voters are “thrilled we’re doubling health funding and offering record funding for education”. On franking credits, Castley refers to her own mother, a single mum and nurse, but wants to focus on grassroots, not “fearmongering”.

“When I talk about federal, it doesn’t mean anything. They want to know, can you fix my footpath? I haven’t met Andrew Leigh until recently. I don’t really see him in the electorate, or other Labor MLA’s…it would be good to have a shake-up.”

What’s the take-home message? Despite energetic prodding, candidates prioritised local government issues, gave little policy detail and toed the line from franking credits to factions. They’re representative locals who’ve had careers and lives outside politics. History suggests victory is unlikely for them, but kudos to each one for having a crack at something they believe in.

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I’d give Zed a “Z” for effort and that’s a generous grade. Having either avoided a vote or directly voting against the views of a majority of his constituents he can hardly put a case for re-election.

I wasn’t going to vote Liberal this time but when I heard Labor and a gaggle of independents rabbiting on about “real action on “climate change” ” I reconsidered. I have been writing down the names of these candidates and they will be placed last on my ballot paper. See my YouTube videos as The Naked Commentator for commentary on the election and how to vote.

I am a Rabbit™8:16 pm 14 May 19

I’m sure your political commentary will be of a high-calibre when you’re a single issue voter.

Anthony Pesec8:55 pm 14 May 19

Thanks John. I went to check out your YouTube channel and came across a song that you dedicated to me. I’m flattered!


Capital Retro11:05 pm 13 May 19

Quiet dogs and under-achievers should have been the headline.

HiddenDragon7:35 pm 13 May 19

“A believer in small government, Zaki says Canberra needs a lower house advocate. “

For all the huffing and puffing on this subject, there’s generally not much difference between the major parties on size of government – it’s typically a debate about who pays relatively more or less for the public sector(s) we have. The debate is even more complicated in Canberra because most businesses are either directly or indirectly reliant upon federal government spending (in spite of the statistics which are regularly trotted out about the proportion of Canberrans employed in the “private sector”) and thus tend to be less attracted to small government arguments than their counterparts elsewhere in the country.

If the elusive vision of Canberra as a dynamic hub of high-tech exports (with many, many thousands employed in that sector and competing on the world stage with lower cost nations) ever happens, there might be a solid constituency for smaller government, but in the meantime, the votes will be with keeping the gravy train rolling along.

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