If the crowd at the Inner South Canberra Community Council’s election forum tonight is representative of Canberra voting intentions generally, both Labor and the Greens are in BIG trouble.*
There will be no light rail in Canberra after the election, not over the dead bodies of many of these voters.**
The Safe Schools program will be banished, never to be mentioned again. Ditto the acronym LGBTQI, which left several attendees looking confused when dropped into the conversation by Greens candidate Rebecca Vassarotti.
Rates will be frozen for two years, then capped in line with CPI.***
There will be no development at Manuka Oval at all. Unsolicited proposals will be banned.
Politicians will keep in touch with voters by spending their weekends and evenings door-knocking beyond the campaign, nay, in perpetuity.****
Independent candidate Marea Fatseas, who is clearly something of a heroine in this particular community, will be Chief Minister as a compromise between the two major parties in the Assembly: the Liberals and the Canberra Community Voters group.
Wow. Until this moment, I had believed the experts who have been telling me for months that candidates from the major parties and Greens were the only ones with a chance of being elected.
Now I’m not so sure. If ever there were a room full of people who seemed as though they might think 15 years was long enough for one mob to be in government, this was it. If ever there were a room full of voters who were cynical about the major parties, I’d found it. If ever there were a room full of voters who were ready to embrace alternatives if it might mean relief from rising rates and the “horrors” of a light rail network, I was sitting in it.
You could almost hear them all (yes, all) making a mental note to refer back to come election day when Mike Hettinger of Canberra Community Voters advised them that the only way to be sure of getting independent candidates up was to leave the boxes next to Labor, Liberals and Greens blank and number only the boxes for the minor party representatives and independents.
I have no doubt that readers (and political candidates and their minders) will take one look at the photograph here and dismiss this crowd as “old” and “out of touch”.
I can’t argue with the former given one major plus about the whole event was how youthful I felt in their presence.
But out of touch? These are residents who regularly attend community meetings, read newspapers and listen to the radio. They contribute substantially to the Territory’s revenue each year through their high rates (yes, calculated on land value of the inner south blocks on which they live, but high from their perspective in the context of the retirement incomes from which they must be paid). These are voters who have genuine concerns that have not been addressed successfully by the Barr Government to date.
The wars over Manuka Oval, the Yarralumla Brickworks and MOCCA/Telopea Park School tennis courts are in the past (for the moment, at least), but new battlegrounds emerge constantly, with the matter of a six-storey hotel directly opposite Forrest Primary among those mentioned last night.
These are the issues that have mobilised this crowd, this time, but you get the feeling many of these electors have been mobilised before. They probably voted against self-government or for the Residents Rally at the first Legislative Assembly election in 1989. Have they been this angry and anti-establishment since? I doubt it.
Will their vote have an impact in the seat of Kurrajong next month? Sure. Ms Fatseas is shaping up to be the most successful of all independent candidates running at this election. Will it be enough to see her win office? I doubt it.
* Both Greens candidate Rebecca Vassarotti and Labor candidate Rachel Stevens-Smith spoke calmly and rationally about the cost of light rail, but were shouted down by those in the audience who deemed their statements to be outright lies.
** Independent candidate Peter Robinson promised at one point that though he was anti-tram, he would not go so far as to throw himself under one, Anna Karenina-style, if the light rail went ahead.
*** Canberra Community Voters candidate Lucinda Spier is making the rates issue her own, harking back to her days as founder of the Canberra Rates Association late last century. Ms Spier is also focused on government transparency.
Her husband is registered as a lobbyist in the ACT Legislative Assembly on behalf of clients including the Superbarn group and Australian Hotels Association. Ms Spier’s name also appears on that listing, as a company director, but she is not a lobbyist herself as earlier reported here.
**** One Liberal candidate, Brooke Curtin (as in the suburb, as she reminded us three times) claims she stopped counting doors upon which she has knocked in recent months at 7000. There were nods of acknowledgement at her commitment level around the room.
Frankly, we were also impressed. Come to think of it, this whole exercise was impressive. It made me feel very fortunate to live in a city in which so many are engaged with our democratic processes.
Speaking of which, departing felt a little like arriving at a polling booth. Supporters of Ms Fatseas were waiting at the main exit with copies of the independent candidate’s flyer and a photocopy of an anti-light rail article. I took copies of each then stepped outside the room, only to stumble upon this:
The major parties were nowhere to be seen.