So as 2011 comes to an end we look forward to the prospect of an ACT election in October next year.
Our once every four years, all or nothing, chance to have some sort of say in how we’re governed, where we get presented a smorgasbord of candidates most Canberrans have little to no idea about.
Let’s have another look at how things turned out last time around in 2008:
Brendan Smyth – Canberra Liberals
Steve Doszpot – Canberra Liberals
Amanda Bresnan – The Greens
John Hargreaves – Australian Labor Party
Joy Burch – Australian Labor Party
Jon Stanhope – Australian Labor Party
Meredith Hunter – The Greens
Alistair Coe – Canberra Liberals
Mary Porter – Australian Labor Party
Vicki Dunne – Canberra Liberal
Zed Seselja – Canberra Liberals
Katy Gallagher – Australian Labor Party
Shane Rattenbury – The Greens
Andrew Barr – Australian Labor Party
Jeremy Hanson – Canberra Liberals
Simon Corbell – Australian Labor Party
Caroline Le Couteur – The Greens
So in the five seat electorates of Ginninderra and Brindabella you get two each from the major parties and then a fight for the fifth seat, last time around the Greens swept these final seats.
In the seven seat mega electorate of Molonglo things are trickier.
Labor took three, the Liberals two and the Greens scraped in by the skin of their teeth to get a second seat.
The 2008 election can be broadly summarised thusly; an electorate tired of the long running Stanhope Government were not impressed by the Liberal campaign and flocked to the Greens, taking that party from one seat to four.
The Liberal campaign was so very bad that across the ACT they polled 31.5% compared with 34.8% in 2004!
To put this in perspective Labor was so on the nose that their vote had collapsed from 46.8% in 2004 to 37.4% in 2008.
Yet the Liberals still went backwards.
With a lack of appealing alternatives Liberal Leader Zed Seselja clung to his position. In a party brimming with talent he would have walked the plank.
So what’s changed in the last three years?
My gut feeling is a hell of a lot of people who voted Green for the first time in 2008 will not have been thrilled by the results of that vote.
While the Greens have championed a lot of worthy causes these have not resonated out in the McDonalds and licenced club belt.
On the other hand the plastic bag ban and rising electricity prices have really ticked off a lot of people. The Greens do want to change the way people live and a lot of Canberrans are pretty happy with things just the way they are.
(Having said that if 70% of the population loathed them and 30% voted for them the Greens would be thrilled, they don’t have to play major party politics, yet.)
Also hurting the Greens is a perception, which the Liberals will ruthlessly exploit, that a vote for the Greens is a vote for the continuation of a tired Labor Government.
A wildcard for the Greens is if Bob Brown resigns from the Senate in the next year (we haven’t heard of any plans, but he’s not getting any younger). There’s real potential post-Brown for the party to tear itself apart like the Democrats did.
The departure of Jon Stanhope this year is a huge change in the landscape. The population was getting tired of his government but had significant respect for him personally.
His replacement as Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, has a grab bag of good intentions. But she’s shown little sign of the competent execution and staff work in her office to turn good intentions into good outcomes.
Where Stanhope would inform the public of plans for grand crusades (however unwilling the people of the ACT might have been to embark on them) Gallagher gives us fluff from the rearview mirror and motherhood statements.
After years of poor administration of the Territory the sharks are in the water, as evidenced by an enormous PCB treatment facility setting up in Mitchell and burning down.
How many other disasters waiting to happen are breeding out there as word gets around Australia’s unscrupulous operators of our lax regulatory environment?
(The Canberra Times brought another song in this key just a few days ago with NSW bouncers flocking through our certification system.)
My tip for 2012 is that there are going to be quite a few more nasty scandals coming to light. It’s just natural for Governments in their third terms. Chickens come home to roost. But the ACT Government is particularly crippled by the talent drain to the Commonwealth Public Service.
With Labor going nowhere and the Greens in likely decline is this the Liberals big chance?
They’ve been hammering away on family issues for three years now which is pretty much where there are Labor votes to be shaken loose.
Historically though they’ve only formed government with the aid of minor parties (largely elected by a public who didn’t know what they stood for).
Their real period of electoral success was under Kate Carnell who brought a very moderate form of Liberalism to the table, with big lashings of social progress that even Labor was too conservative to have a go at.
It’s hard to see anyone in the current crop of Liberals bringing anything so brave or exciting to the table.
Zed Seselja’s office too often parrots either Tony Abbott or the Property Council, neither of which resonate particularly well with Canberra voters.
The Liberals can win the primary vote in Canberra (but not necessarily form Government) if they can present themselves as the Liberal Party of Malcolm Turnbull and Kate Carnell, not the party of Tony Abbott and Nick Minchin.
I’m not sure they want to win badly enough to make that change.
Earlier in this term there was some suggestion that the Liberals Jeremy Hanson could challenge Zed Seselja for the leadership and transform the party.
But Zed appears to have shored up his position inside the party, and with 10 months to go it’s probably too late for a leadership change.
Historically independents have done well in the ACT but there’s a lot of wariness out there as the plain speaking celebrity candidate has had a tendency to turn out to be nutty hyper-conservative once into the chamber.
The right independent willing to spend the next year working hard for it could give things a shake, especially in Molonglo.
But at the moment there’s no-one in the field.
So here’s the nub of it. A tired and listless government, a crossbench seemingly devoted to unpopular initiatives, and an opposition unwilling to give the electorate what it wants.
Something has to break. On election day 17 candidates will be elected, and a Government will be formed soon after.
But if nothing does break, if the scales remain untipped then expect the Liberals to pick up one seat in Molonglo and the Greens to return Labor to Government for another four years.
I think something’s going to break though, at which point all bets are off.
Regardless of who wins the people of Canberra deserve parties they can get enthusiastic about, rather than holding our noses in the ballot box, and numbering from the bottom the candidates we hate the most.