Senate election races can be little more than an afterthought elsewhere in Australia. Not so in the ACT. As ACT Labor Senator Katy Gallagher told the audience at this week’s Region Media Senate Candidates Debate, everyone knows their senators and treats them much like their local MP.
Region Media brought together six candidates from across the political spectrum for a live debate at the Southern Cross Club, Woden. You can see the full debate below with senators Katy Gallagher and Zed Seselja, and candidates Kim Rubenstein, David Pocock, Tjanara Goreng Goreng from the Greens and James Savoulidis from the United Australia Party.
Starting with housing and the cost of living, the debate included vigorous discussion on how best to cap steep housing price rises, whether expanding housing sites would be a key to the squeeze and how the current government’s economic management had impacted Canberrans’ ability to buy a house.
Murky preference swaps and the realities of political deals were also interrogated, given the strong likelihood they will decide the second seat.
Candidates canvassed their value to the electorate, and Senator Gallagher told the audience she treats every election as if she was a local MP, denying that the ALP had taken Canberra for granted.
Senator Zed Seselja, the ACT’s only sitting government minister, and Senator Gallagher, who holds a senior role in the ALP, have both argued that their seniority in the major parties makes them more able to advocate effectively for the ACT.
Kim Rubenstein, who has drafted legislation for additional ACT senators, argued that the Territory was fundamentally under-represented and under-served in the current situation.
David Pocock argued that independent representation would break the major party stranglehold in the Territory, but both he and Ms Rubenstein were forced to defend their decision to accept Climate 200 funding.
UAP candidate James Savoulides thinks there should be fewer politicians around the country, although he faced difficult issues raised by Ms Rubenstein, a constitutional law expert, about his plans to decrease the national quota of senators.
Multiple viewers raised the issue of Territory rights, and Senator Seselja defended his voting decisions on issues like euthanasia and same-sex marriage in the face of strenuous local opposition.
Questions from the floor and via Facebook covered refugee and multicultural issues, women’s safety and whether candidates would agree to outlaw false and misleading political advertising and agree to fully transparent and independent anti-corruption hearings.
“Yes, and yes,” Greens candidate Tjanara Goreng Goreng said, while Senator Seselja reiterated Liberal Party beliefs that the NSW ICAC model unfairly ends the careers of politicians who are later exonerated of wrongdoing, citing Nick Greiner and Barry O’Farrell as examples.
And on the matter of corflute wars, misleading memes and false inferences about political allegiances, James Savoulides had bracing advice. “Just own it!” he said of his decision to appear on social media wearing a Make America Great Again cap after being aligned with Trump supporters.