28 October 2019

Is Alistair Coe just too conservative for Canberra voters?

| Ian Bushnell
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Alistair Coe

Canberra Liberals leader Alistair Coe delivers his stump speech on Friday. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

“If you’re a Liberal in Canberra you believe in miracles!” responded Alistair Coe when asked if, like Prime Minister Scott Morrison, he did.

It was probably the most candid comment of the National Press Club lunch on Friday and betrayed just how big a task it is for the Canberra Liberals to oust Labor from government after 19 years in power.

Mr Coe is young, an arch-conservative and many say way too far to the right to lead the Liberals to government in possibly the most progressive jurisdiction in the country.

He shrugged off questions about his leadership, saying the party was united behind him. His world view may be different from some but it was all about respect for each other, something he said was in short supply in his opponent Andrew Barr and his ‘vindictive’ Government.

And his pitch, in the Liberal tradition, was to the forgotten middle weighed down by rates, rents and priced out of the housing market by a rapacious Government strangling the supply of land and sending good Canberra families across the border, from where they used ACT services anyway.

Besides trying to flip the ideological record by also championing the downtrodden, Mr Coe’s speech was dominated by land, holding out the promise of cheaper houses and a new era of growth and prosperity that would take care of any hit to revenue from capping rates.

Mr Coe may have successfully fudged the issue when asked how he would pay for everything with less money – don’t mention the cuts – but this will be the question that dogs him and the Liberals as we get closer to the election.

Not that cutting spending need necessarily be a bad thing – all governments need to make choices at different times. It’s just that Mr Coe will need to be upfront eventually with Canberra voters.

The pitch to young families wanting their own home – no apartments, please – is understandable and could be a potent strategy. Mr Barr says the city needs to be contained, hence the emphasis on infill and urban renewal, but given a choice of an apartment or your own patch of dirt, many prefer the latter.

And they’re prepared to go to NSW to find it. Mr Barr even undermines his own argument by the Government being a joint venture partner in the cross-border Ginninderry development.

Many will not care about the logistical and environmental issues of the suggested greenfield sites of Kowen, over the Murrumbidgee in Tuggeranong and west of Weston Creek and Molonglo.

They just want cheaper houses.

For renters, the solution is the same – more land, more houses, more supply.

Mr Coe also had it in for the dead hand of regulation, and government getting in the way of people trying make a success of their lives, which is always popular with the Liberal base.

Although it’s a tricky line to run when property owners are screaming about how dodgy builders have ruined their lives and nobody seemed to be able to be held responsible. Someone’s red tape is another person’s consumer protection.

Mr Coe says for all the complaints there are thousands of happy customers, and anyway, it’s the Government’s fault for not enforcing the rules already in place.

The gist is that the Barr Government is stopping you from chopping down a tree on your own property, putting obstacles in the path of your business, and holding up proper development.

It’s going to be a freer maybe more freewheeling kind of Canberra under Mr Coe.

Despite the Liberals still talking about alternatives to light rail after two elections and approaching a third, Mr Coe remains cagey, saying the party accepts the reality of light rail and remains open to Stage 2 and beyond.

“But it’s got to stack up. It’s got to be at the right time, the right cost and right technology,” he said, alluding perhaps to his Transport spokesperson Candice Burch talking up so-called trackless trams or electric buses in the Assembly.

It’s good to know he won’t tear up any contracts but if the Liberals really want to pitch themselves as a party of the future, it’s time for Mr Coe to get on board so the network can be planned properly and we don’t end up with a bastardised mass transit system similar to the botched ‘mixed-tech’ NBN.

People in the north love light rail and the rest of the city is now clamouring for the same kind of service.

After such a long time in power, Labor has accrued its fair share of scandals, stuff-ups and enemies, and in any other electorate it should be vulnerable.

Which is why some are asking if Mr Coe will survive as leader, believing a more moderate, broadly based Liberal Party that wasn’t hostage to the Right (think climate change, same-sex marriage, abortion rights) should be able to win government.

It’s a good thing Mr Coe believes in miracles.

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Mike of Canberra10:42 am 01 Nov 19

I see Geoff Richardson advising people to vote Liberal “at your peril”. What perils could he have in mind? A more affordable land rates trajectory? Downward pressure on land prices for young couples? Better urban management? More control over dangerous dogs? Less hazardous footpaths? Better and more rational public housing management? And much more. All really hair raising stuff I must say!

Mike of Canberra8:00 pm 29 Oct 19

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, for an electorate that is supposedly the most educated and astute in the country, Canberrans sure do a lot of dumb things. One of these is to keep re-electing a tired, hubristic 20 year old government to the point where that government now takes us all for granted and is governing us accordingly. How else to explain the ruthless bludgeoning of people’s pockets and household budgets through sky high domestic and commercial rates and sundry other taxes and charges?

Barr’s stated aim to replace stamp duty with land-based taxation to secure the ACT Government’s revenue stream should have been undertaken on a revenue-neutral basis. Instead, it’s been geared blatantly to a major expansion of the revenue base, with the resulting funding looking to be directed to Barr’s pet projects and causes. How else do we explain the major emphasis on social engineering in Barr’s government structure while our main hospital continues to lag in terms of standards, our urban areas all too often present as shabby and, in my area at least, you need to take out accident insurance before taking to our poorly maintained footpaths?

As for Coe being an arch conservative? A freeze on rates? What a fascist! Trying to expand land supply as part of putting downward pressure on house prices and rents for young couples seeking their first home? It’ll be a police state next!

Canberrans need to get over themselves. Coe is a politician first and foremost and thus, if elected, would cut his cloth to the culture of those who elected him rather than risk defeat. But to listen to commenters on this site, you’d think his election would be followed by burning the Reichstag. Give me a break!

Capital Retro8:52 am 29 Oct 19

Q: What have the Liberals ever done for Canberra?

A: Stayed in opposition.

HiddenDragon6:37 pm 28 Oct 19

He probably is too conservative for the majority of Canberra voters but so too, by definition, would anyone else ever selected to be leader of the ACT Liberals.

There’s obviously still a lot of hurting, sullenness, denial and siege mentality about the federal election result around this town (not to mention the unspeakable horrors of Trump, Brexit, Bolsonaro etc. etc.), and that would make it difficult even for the most exquisitely progressive Liberal leader to persuade enough Canberrans to change the voting habits of a lifetime.

There are some standout Liberal MLA’s, but Zed uplifts the mediocre conservatives so the answer is yes. It’s the What Zed Wants Party. They long ago stamped out all talent and fresh ideas.

I’m not sure exactly what he stands for but I’m guessing that yes, he will be far too conservative for Canberra voters.

Most likely, the Liberals will win yet another round as the opposition where they can slumber away, comfortably dreaming of a mythical day when Canberrans will step backwards a century or two and vote for them.

Those Liberals with a bit more ambition will stare at the election results in bewilderment, wondering where it all went wrong for them yet again.

Yes, many of us hate the current government. But a pathetic government such as our current one, that is at least partly in touch with the modern world is better than a bunch of neo-medievalists.

Anthony Pesec1:12 pm 28 Oct 19

It’s very clear that the Canberra Liberals have gone rogue with a portfolio of non-performing incumbents battling to keep their positions and happy to stay in opposition where it’s an easy way to earn a coin. Since Zed back-stabbed his way into a lazy Senate role it’s become widely known that he fights off anybody of any talent from going anywhere near the party to avoid being challenged at pre-selection. As a result Canberra has a lazy Labor government that is relaxed knowing that it has an opposition with little talent and zero chance of ever winning an election. The whole Territory is worse off due to the self-focussed few in the Canberra Libs who are desperate to cling onto the only jobs that they’ve ever known.

The Canberra Libs have not won a local election since 1998 which I’m pretty sure sets some kind of record for losing in Australian political history. How long can this go on for? Their lack of performance locally rubs off on abject failure to secure House of Representative seats at federal elections. The Liberal Party have been writing this off for years with the false excuse that Canberra has many public servants that only ever vote Labor. However, while the ACT previously held only two lower house seats it now holds three and with marginal control of government in recent elections they can’t afford to keep tolerating a Canberra branch that has such a long and embarrassing losing streak.

We’ll see how this next election goes but if the Libs fail again (despite an unpopular Andrew Barr) I suspect that there will be some hard questions to answer to the rest of the party as well as to all Canberrans (Liberal supporters and otherwise) who are tired of not having a real choice.

Yeah, nah, won’t happen. They purged anyone who asked questions and had ideas. Opposition is an easy gig. All those overseas junkets and no accountable. Just have to turn up and whinge occasionally. Why give that up?

I don’t think you need to worry about the ACT Labor Party Anthony. While you can’t please all of the people all of the time, I think Labor are doing a pretty good job. I think even Kate Carnell would agree (remember her, she even encouraged voters to vote for you at the last Federal election). Andrew Barr makes the tough decisions and the Liberals just snipe from the sidelines without offering any alternatives. The Liberals haven’t even released any policies and we don’t even know who their candidates are going to be going into the 2020 election. At least Labor has released their policy agenda and their candidates. Look what Labor has done – Progressive policies, light rail, Drug laws, modernised taxation system (although there will always be the complainers), first jurisdiction to push for and won marriage equality debate, euthanasia and Safe Schools (although Canberra Liberals have voted against). The Conservatives (who pretend to be Liberals) are embarrassing. I have been to the Assembly and watched some of the debates. The two Elizabeths, Giulia Jones and Jeremy Hanson – This is the best they have to offer. Jeremy Hanson has no respect for the Assembly. He is bored, rude and offensive, he should just go. But it is you Liberals who have allowed these conservatives to take over the party. The liberals complain about taxapayers dollars going to waste. They have been in opposition and ineffective for nearly 20 years. Now that’s a waste of taxpayers dollars.

michael quirk9:31 am 28 Oct 19

He probably is. The Barr government can essentially do whatever it wants without having to justify its decisions. The ACT libs essentially need to demonstrate,if they can, that they are not right wing idealogues. High profile indepenents holding the balance of power may be the only answer

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