It is reflective of just where the Canberra Liberals are on the election trail that it was Mark Parton’s social media antics that grabbed most of the attention last week.
With only three months to go until Canberrans choose the next Legislative Assembly, the Opposition’s headlines are getting shriller, and while it continues to push familiar buttons we’re no closer to knowing the detail of what’s on offer in October.
Worse, the Liberals seem intent on contorting themselves on key issues and leaving voters guessing about what they will do if they make it into government.
They appeared to jump back on board the stop-the-tram bus, now being driven by former Labor chief minister Jon Stanhope, when attacking the government over delays in signing contracts with Canberra Metro for Stage 2A light rail to Commonwealth Park.
Nothing wrong with saying there had been epic mismanagement of the project but Opposition Leader Alistair Coe insisted on the release of the full business case and costings for the leg, something that is clearly not in the ACT’s interests during negotiations with the contractor.
While the Liberals say they are committed to the light rail extension in principle, they’re not about to back anything without knowing the cost and all the pros and cons.
“It’s very hard to make any commitment when the government refuses to reveal this information,” Mr Coe said.
Not only that, Mr Coe said that instead of sticking with the Canberra Metro, the Stage 1 contractor, the government should have gone to open tender, even though it makes sense to stay with a successful team to ensure a unified network.
But he would not answer questions about whether a Liberal Government would review the project, revert to an open tender process or not proceed at all.
This puts an election cloud over the whole light rail project, in spite of its popularity and the clamour from all areas of the city for the shiny red vehicles to come to their part of town at some point.
It is all too easy for the government to brand the Liberals, again, as anti-light rail and anti-progress.
Do we really need another light rail election?
The community needs to know if the Liberals will continue the project, and Mr Coe should not play a political game that he cannot win. He should get on board, and pledge to manage and run light rail better than the government, neutralising attacks and giving the Liberals something positive to say.
At least the Liberals will honour any contracts if the government does manage to ink any before the election.
The Liberals continued to hammer the theme that the government wants to corral Canberrans into high-rise apartments when young families want their own patch of dirt and freestanding house in the suburbs.
The bias towards medium and high-density development and the high cost of land is well documented, and the Liberals have been saying since Mr Coe’s Press Club appearance last October that they will release more land for houses and make them more affordable.
It may have been OK then to scope out some general principles on what could be fertile electoral ground but last week he again refused to put some meat on the bones for journalists at a press conference he called to highlight some development approval and land release numbers that supported his case.
Mr Coe will let us know in good time where land will be released, how much and by what amount he would like to see prices come down. It would also be good to know if he plans to reform the Suburban Land Agency to overturn the government’s monopoly on land sales, something he is fiercely critical of.
With land being the currency in the ACT, these are significant matters for any territory government.
Mr Coe has also been relentless on rates and you can’t blame him for that but beyond the four-year freeze does he intend to abandon the government tax reform process, something most economists support?
And when it comes to sport, Mr Coe seems all too willing to take a punt on any populist cause, backing Women’s Football World Cup games in Canberra no matter what the cost, and calling on the AFL to set up a playing hub in the national capital, the timing of which was unfortunate considering the events in Melbourne.
This may have grabbed some airplay but considering the valid criticisms the Liberals have levelled at the government largesses towards big sport it only undermines their cause.
Finally, there is Mr Parton, who has spent more time this year climbing Mt Taylor with his dog and posting his expeditions on social media than putting in for the team.
He has recently discovered TikTok, although some have cruelly jibed that he’s the wrong demographic, and fell foul of Speaker Joy Burch last week in a bid to save democracy from itself.
Disingenuously, he said he was a little perplexed that it got anyone’s attention and the Assembly had wasted so much time on his flouting of the rules on filming inside the chamber
Meanwhile, the government gets on with being the adult in the room, rolling out its infrastructure program and managing the COVID-19 pandemic soberly, with the Melbourne outbreak only vindicating its cautious approach in the face of Liberal calls to reopen the economy.
If Mr Coe believes it can all wait until the campaign or that somehow his team can skate through on vague promises and Mr Parton’s social media skills, then that will be a shame.
The clock is TikTok-ing.