3 October 2018

History shows Greens upset in Canberra is possible...

| Andrew Fraser
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Clouds gathering around Malcolm Turnbull's leadership. Photo: AUSPIC/DPS

The next federal election has all the makings of a Labor-Green contest in the ACT. Photo: AUSPIC/DPS

“Looks like Killara, votes like Cessnock.”

Former prime minister John Howard was only partially right in his view of the ACT.

In broad, two-party preferred terms, over the longer haul, he was spot on. The high-income residents of the bush capital kept their House of Representatives seats substantially in Labor hands, just like those seats on the leafy north shore of Sydney were blue-ribbon Liberal.

But there is a critical difference.

The seat of Hunter (home to Cessnock) has not, in its various incarnations, returned anything other than Labor members since 1910.

The ACT has done so, albeit infrequently, showing a willingness for voters here to be swayed by circumstances or candidates. Indeed, its first Member of the House of Representatives, Dr Lewis Nott, was an Independent.

The first occasion when an ACT seat changed hands between the major parties was the nationwide landslide to the Liberal Party in 1975 at the election after the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. The ACT had (finally) received its second seat in 1974.

John Haslem, who campaigned under the well-deserved banner of “hard-working Haslem”, won the seat of Canberra for the Liberals in 1975 – and held it for two terms.

He was defeated in 1980 by Labor rising star Ros Kelly, whose political demise 15 years later in the “whiteboard affair” would be the second occasion that Labor lost an ACT Reps seat.

Whether it was disquiet at Kelly’s actions (major decisions on funding had been made with political advisers on a big whiteboard in her ministerial office), or the fact that she was part of a government deep in its fifth term with the national mood changing (or a combination of both), the swing ousting Labor was huge.

At the 1993 general election, Labor smashed the two-party preferred vote in Canberra, 59.56 to the Liberals’ 40.44.

In the 1995 by-election, popular Liberal Brendan Smyth won handsomely, 56.58 to 43.42 for Labor’s Sue Robinson, who only just got over 30 per cent of the primary vote.

A similar ACT turnaround occurred after the death in office of Labor’s popular Jim Fraser*, who won the 1969 general election with a primary vote of 39,070 over Liberal Robert Maher with 15,492.

At the by-election only seven months later, Labor candidate Kep Enderby was forced to the counting of preferences after receiving only 20,132 votes to Liberal Clarrie Hermes on 15,900. That’s almost a halving of Labor’s primary vote, much of it going to the Australia Party’s Alan Fitzgerald; the much-liked journalist (12.9 per cent of the primary vote), and the well-known Independent Jim Pead (14.4 per cent).

The situation in the countdown to the next federal election is ripe for another surprise for Labor.

As happened for one term of parliament in the 1990s, the ACT again has three seats.

And the numbers of recent years point to a thorough-going contest in the seat of Canberra.

The 2013 Senate primary vote results from booths in the new seat had the Greens less than 400 votes behind the Liberals and less than 2000 behind Labor.

If these results were replicated in the House, this seat would be a Labor-Green contest.

Recent history (ie by-elections in Batman and Wills) suggest people who vote Greens in the Senate start voting Greens in the House when their seat becomes winnable.

When a new seat with no incumbent has been created in strong Greens areas, the Greens have often won the seat: Newtown (NSW) in 2015, and Maiwar (Queensland) in 2017.

So, Canberra becomes a fair dinkum fight that could well see a second Green in the House of Representatives.

Disenchantment with the major parties is rife and Labor has the added disadvantage of being without a sitting member.

Gai Brodtmann, who held Canberra, is not contesting it on its new boundaries.

Beyond that, the local party appears factionally riven (including the recent defection of one sitting MLA), to say nothing of the friction over the Territory Senate seat after the constitutional ousting of Katy Gallagher.

It is significant that she has chosen to go again to the upper house.

Her cachet and recognition as a federal frontbencher and as a popular former Chief Minister would have been worth a considerable number of percentage points to Labor in the contest for Canberra, one might have thought.

Combine all that with the fact that the ACT is not dogmatically rusted on to the ALP (as history teaches), and you have a recipe for a real contest.

*Father of the writer.

Andrew Fraser is a criminal lawyer, former journalist and member of the ACT Greens.

What do you think will happen at the next election? Comment below.

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pink little birdie4:36 pm 11 Oct 18

I think Greens will get a seat in the house of reps and the Liberals might be outed for the senate seat particularly if they have Zed as their preferred candidate.
Canberra will have a lot of Anger for leaving the ACT unrepresented in the marriage equality vote in the senate.
(yes I realise Gallagher also missed it but she was with her kid who was having surgery)

Blen_Carmichael10:28 am 11 Oct 18

“Combine all that with the fact that the ACT is not dogmatically rusted on to the ALP (as history teaches), and you have a recipe for a real contest.”

A recipe for a real contest?

I think the Greens could pick up the seat of Canberra if they picked the right candidate and mounted an effective campaign. I think their habit of selecting late in the electoral cycle means the candidate has limited opportunity to cut through.

Capital Retro9:26 am 10 Oct 18

I hope they choose another candidate who drives a big, gas-guzzling 4WD.

Remember the days when the Greens were solely tree-huggers and whale-watchers?

Yes I well remember a Greens representative for Tuggeranong, who fought very hard to keep Schools open near where she lived in inner Canberra and yet let the ACT Government close schools 3 Primary, 2 pre schools and a High School in Kambah. Talk about standing up for yourself and not standing up for your voters.

I think the Greens have a chance to get elected in Canberra, but they have to equally represent their constituents in the outer Suburbs, not just represent the views of their affluent, tertiary-educated, inner city, café set professionals that they consider their Canberra base.

I want to see the Greens representative who fights for Mortgage stress in the Burbs, fights to stop moving Social housing from the inner city out to the Suburbs and the Green politicians who seeks better subsidies for SOLAR rooftops for the working class, not just Solar subsidies that end up being mostly obtained by rich Canberra households (as is currently the case). I think I much prefer the Le-Couter style Canberra Green, than the Rattenbury Canberra Green.

I certainly think anything is possible in any of the Canberra Electorates, but I am still 99% sure Labor will win all the Canberra seats in a Federal election.

Canberrans are smarter electors when visiting the voting booth than they are given credit for. Some correspondents were claiming the Libs were a good chance of winning the southern most Bean electorate, because Tuggeranong were Liberal voters. These people are confusing the results at ACT elections with the voting patterns at Federals Elections.

ACT Labor used to win basically all the Tuggeranong Booths for the history of Self Government. However, the ACT Labor/Greens government of the last 2 terms has had a self-confessed focus on the Northern half of Canberra (as that is where they claim ACT elections are won and lost). Tuggeranong should traditionally be Labor voting working class people, but just the first booth based example I looked at on the AEC, the ‘Gilmore Booth in Tuggers’ had 46% Labor first preference in the 2016 federal Election, but it fell to just 29% Labor in the 2016 ACT election. The Libs reversed that trend with 38% at the Federal election, jumping to 44% in the ACT election. That’s a big switch between Territory and Federal voting patterns, showing that the voters of Canberra think about where their vote goes, not just being rusted on to a particular party.

Canberra voters will choose the party that they think will best meet their needs, maintain their jobs and represent their values. At the Federal level, I think this is most likely Labor. So my call is a Labor clean sweep for Canberra.

Capital Retro8:02 am 08 Oct 18

Well, with ACT Greens leader Rattenbury now touting for an interstate drug-fest to be held in the ACT under the guise of “we will pill-test it” we can be assured that every drug user in the ACT who previously didn’t vote for the Greens now will.

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