24 March 2024

Detail-free zone, as wily Lee positions Liberals for run to the polls

| Ian Bushnell
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Elizabeth Lee

Elizabeth Lee is keeping it simple and won’t be pinned down. For now. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee is playing a canny game at this point in the election year.

Seven months out, Ms Lee does not have to show her hand. Apart from putting the kybosh on light rail, she has kept commitments and policy positions to a minimum.

It’s a classic small-target, mean-all-things-to-all-people strategy. While journalists are miffed at their questions being deflected, it is perfectly legitimate for her to bide her time.

READ ALSO Chief Minister accused of ‘cooking the books’ during debate on mid-year budget review legislation

After the 2019 unlosable election, Anthony Albanese swapped the Shorten manifesto for a more generalist and less vulnerable approach.

And who can forget John Howard’s 1996 “relaxed and comfortable” campaign that suggested little change would occur?

Ms Lee’s focus remains on the government’s economic performance, particularly reframing budget numbers to “reveal” the “true” state of affairs – inflating the official deficit by a few hundred million to hit the much more scary billion-dollar figure.

Apparently, the ACT has its own unique methodology, so Ms Lee applied the accounting procedure used in other jurisdictions.

She has also called on the government to be more upfront with its $8 billion infrastructure spending estimates and highlighted the $18 billion debt waiting down the forward estimates.

But of course, she is keeping quiet about her infrastructure plans, while the government counters with the obvious jab about what Ms Lee will cut.

Well, light rail stage 2B, for one, although it looks like we’ll be waiting a while for what might replace it. And she certainly won’t be committing to cutting or deferring anything yet, if at all.

Ms Lee’s turn at the Property Council’s recent ACT Economic Outlook event gave her the opportunity to dramatise the budget numbers, although she may not have welcomed the visiting economist’s rosy view of the ACT economy, and to offer a couple of titbits to a friendly audience.

No limit on dual occupancy dwelling size in RZ1 zones, a review of the maligned Lease Variation Charge and a boost to land release.

But that’s a review, not a repeal. On land release, West Tuggeranong remains on the table, but it is subject to a feasibility study, which the government has already done.

Also on the table and potential chopping block is the government’s tax reform program, but again, we’ll have to wait, probably until she is Chief Minister for that one.

She was even asked about the stadium, but she chose her words carefully. The preference was for a city site and “we’ll have more to say”, holding out the prospect that a Liberal Government would deliver it to the true believers.

The government has already done the work on the Civic pool site and found it too small and prohibitive to develop. So what does Ms Lee know that others don’t?

That’s not really the point.

At this stage of the year, it’s more about positioning.

Ms Lee can afford to be all care and no responsibility, but as the election edges close the pressure will increase to bring more clarity, even transparency, to her party’s positions.

But her team needs to be on the same page. A bit of Labor scuttlebutt suggests her party room may not be united on dumping light rail.

Planning spokesperson Peter Cain certainly invited conjecture with his comments on radio last week when asked about Stage 2B and talked about “hitting pause”, not dumping the project.

Picked up on this, Mr Cain’s response was curious.

He said every election created a new team and government.

“So every decision that is made within a term by that government or shadow government is made by the particular team, so I can’t read the mind of the next shadow cabinet.

“So when I say hit pause, we will not go to Woden if we’re the next team, that’s the statement of the Canberra Liberals leader. Hit pause, and we won’t do it; it’s the same thing.

“We will invest in more public transport through an electric bus network. There’ll be more to say about that in the months to come.”

Mr Cain called it a subtlety. But it was clear as mud and that’s something his leader can ill afford. Ms Lee will want him to stick to the party line and hang the nuance, not muddy the waters on such an important issue.

READ ALSO Liberals claim ‘true costs’ of light rail Stage 2A three times what was promised, figure rubbished by govt

Eventually, journalists will press Ms Lee for more detail, for example, on infrastructure and reconciling commitments that will impact revenue with spending offsets.

At the moment, all we know is that everything will be “fully costed”.

Certainly, Chief Minister Andrew Barr will have the blowtorch ready and the inevitable scare campaign about cuts to programs and projects.

The small target strategy can only go so far in a city full of detail people.

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Alan Campbell4:33 pm 02 Apr 24

So, Gallagher-Barr unilaterally imposed the light rail via the 2012 Assembly agreement with Rattenbury as they needed his vote to retain power. Its plain the public service was still investigating light rail over dedicated electric busways. That was a political deal and imposed outcome that wasn’t taken to the electorate in 2012 (and by 2016 it was all locked in with the debate about rail or no-rail and massive contract break fees … not about transport, other infrastructure, budgets, sensible compromises … the conservatives Seselja, Hanson, Coe were too simplistic in their blanket opposition). The point is Mr Bushnell is the parties are duplicitous and power is their focus. Its a trait of both major parties (and the Greens get to be sanctimonious as they can never govern in their own right but claim the moral high ground – locally, in the States, and Federally). Be an independent journalist! Its plain how you vote…. I have no idea how top shelf political journalists like Laurie Oaks, Michelle Gratten or Andrew Probyn voted.

Its hard to win an election when one side likes paying higher taxes and never owning a home. Even many of the greens have investment properties in the inner north.

It’s amazing the number of projects that suddently got started to time with the election but have been missing the last 4 years.

Then there is the ACT double speak, where paying for a tram isn’t actually paying for a tram.

HiddenDragon9:28 pm 25 Mar 24

“Also on the table and potential chopping block is the government’s tax reform program, but again, we’ll have to wait”

In the 12 years since tax “reform” began in the ACT revenue from stamp duties has fallen in real terms and as a proportion of overall government revenue but it has still increased in nominal terms from $272m to $296m and is estimated to stay around the latter figure for at least the current forward estimates period.

Taken together with Andrew Barr’s more recent coded talk about the “heavy lifting” of tax reform having been done that looks a lot like a tacit admission that the abolition of stamp duty (i.e. the primary reason why many people were sucked into supporting Labor’s property tax changes) is just too hard for a big-spending, revenue-addicted government and will only ever be a mirage, except for the relatively small proportion who benefit from targeted exemptions.

The Liberals could make a virtue of this reality by promising to rule a line under Labor’s supposed reforms and commit to rates increasing by no more than CPI or some other relatively sober index and also to making worthwhile increases to all (not just selected) stamp duty thresholds.

This would put pressure on Labor to explain why its “reforms” have effectively stalled, even though rates are still rising rapidly, and for Andrew Barr in particular – who is rightly seen as having a lot of ownership of this issue – to explain how any benefits justify the financial pain which has been inflicted on so many Canberra households and businesses.

GrumpyGrandpa6:22 pm 25 Mar 24

Mr Bushnell’s article has said a lot about nothing.

We all know the Canberra Libs intend to derail 2B, but other policies haven’t been released.

As far as 2B is concerned, many of us south of the City, only see 2B as longer commute times. Others might see the expansion of LR as increasing our debts (aka higher Rates/Taxes).
In many parts of Canberra, LR won’t be delivered within the lifetime of the residents; I’d expect investment into Health, might be their priority.
The Canberra Libs are probably onto a winner here.

It’s 7 months until the election. No Opposition releases their policies early. Nervous governments always call for their Oppositions to release their policies, so they can match them or look for faults.

Oppositions have nothing to gain in releasing policies early, and everything to gain by keeping their powder dry.

Mr Bushnell’s articles in September might contain more substance.

It almost seems that Ms Lee, is going to try and emulate Geoff Kennett’s ploy, prior to being elected to Govt. in the 90’s. He told Victorians, words to the effect of, “We have a number of policies but, we won’t tell you about them until after the election”. How many remember what a disaster that was for Victoria, where some of the effects are still being felt today.

The ACT Liberals are “renowned” for being, the most conservative, religious branch of the Liberal Party, whose former MLAs are running, & heavily involved in, Advance Australia. These facts alone should be enough to cause any progressive voter pause.

Have you given any thought as to why Andrew Barr stopped publicly labeling the ACT Liberals as the most conservative branch in the country after the 2020 election? Could it be that the truth in ACT politics changes came into effect then and he knew it wasn’t true? The Canberra Times polled ACT candidates for the 2020 election on a number of social issues and the responses from the ACT Liberal candidates were less socially conservative than the responses of federal Liberals to similar questions for the 2019 federal election – proving the line you’re still running with to be wrong.

davidmaywald3:51 pm 25 Mar 24

Elizabeth Lee spoke at the National Press Club in November last year, and here’s the reporting from Jasper Lindell of The Canberra Times: “The Canberra Liberals also released a list of 35 commitments the party claims to have already made, including overturning bans on woodfire heaters, gas and internal combustion engine powered cars. The party would also commission an audit of the territory’s budget, reduce the “tax and regulatory burden” on rental properties and release more land for standalone houses.”

I’d suggest that this is far from being “small-target” and that Ian’s assessment that “she has kept commitments and policy positions to a minimum” is quite unfair. I urge him and Riotact readers to seek out the details of these 35 commitments, which have been added to with the $65 million cost-of-living relief package announced on 31 January.

“I urge him and Riotact readers to seek out the details of these 35 commitments, which have been added to with the $65 million cost-of-living relief package announced on 31 January.”
And exactly where would you suggest Riotact readers seek out those details, david? As another poster has highlighted, the information is not available on the Canberra Liberals own website.

Good to see someone in the Canberra Liberals reads RiotACT, as their website has been updated in the last couple of days

Dear oh dear Bushnell. Your bias is utterly predictable. But then of course Barr has fully costed stage 2B of the light rail hasn’t he. Done a stellar job so far hey with Calvary and who knows what next will be in the firing line from that clown. Keep your bias journalism to yourself.

It always good to have Ian Bushnell provide an insight into the rampant dysfunction within the Canberra Liberals, reinforcing my worst anxieties of what a Liberal government, led by Elizabeth Lee will bring to Canberrans. All those niggling little irritants, those doubts about the party that repel voters and keep the party in opposition.

This supposedly new reminted Canberra Liberal party under Elizabeth Lee is the same tired and divided party of far-right neocons that voters have become accustomed to. Recognised as the most conservative division of the party in the country, they have been in opposition in this city for over two decades. A party that attempts to appeal to the nation’s most socially progressive voters brings a back to the future Menzies type negativity to every election, a visionless agenda that only appeals to and protects the interests of their dwindling support base.

Elizabeth Lee is a trojan horse for the conservatives who dominate the party to win government. May these miserable wreckers continue to linger on in opposition forever!

Hear, hear. Very well, and accurately said.

Ms Lee seems to be doing plenty right in Canberrans’ books. Will make October interesting and Barr nervous

It’s a pity Riotact journalists won’t press the actual government on the deficits and growing debt.

Every time I read one of Mr Bushnell’s articles, my first thought is that it must look very much like ACT Labor’s talking points. His bias shines through very clearly and it’s a terrible look for someone who presumably wants to be taken seriously as a journalist. It’s my understanding the Liberals have so far made something like 40 commitments under Lee’s leadership, which is quite a lot for this point in the election cycle. Yet Ian still trots out the line that they’re engaging in classic small target politics in what looks like an attempt to damage that party rather than report on their undertakings to the electorate.

I didn’t read bias in Ian’s article – merely him shining a light on the lack of substance in the Liberal Party’s platform. Otherwise, I’m unaware of “40 commitments” (or however many) made by the Liberals to date, but I’d like to hear more.

Anyway, I feel that I’ve personally become the classic swinging voter. Labor has been the lead for too long and seem to be incapable of delivering promised infrastructure projects (within time and budget), and the Liberals are inexperienced and their key offering just seems to be to provide political counter-points to Labour positions. I’m thinking that this election could be the year of the Independents – if only they had policies upon which to judge.

Agreed – given the monocameral LA there is no pressure on the government (whatever flavour they may be) to be truly transparent and accountable with the electorate.

Perhaps an independent balance of power will deliver such transparency and accountability … but as you say, we need to be able to judge their policies, as the last thing we want is loonies trying to keep the b*st*rds honest.

I’ve never read an article from Bushnell about the Labor government that is half as harsh as he is on the Liberals, despite them being the ones in power for more than 20 years over which time they’ve trashed the budget, healthcare and education. I received a copy of a little booklet the Liberals were distributing late last year that mentioned 30 something commitments and I’ve read on other news sites about a number of additional undertakings they’ve made this year. Maybe if Bushnell was doing his job in a fair manner he’d report on the commitments made and actually analyse the governments failings. As for the Liberals just providing counterpoints to Labor positions, what would be the point of spending scarce time and money highlighting areas of agreement?

First you said 40 commitments then 30 commitments. Surely it is best just to show all of their policies. Here they are:

@Charmaine, I was prepared to be enlightened, but alas… Good to start the day with a laugh though. Thanks.

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