The ACT election result has national significance. It’s a warning for all political parties.
True, the result was not that big a surprise.
Admittedly, the Government had been in power for some time and was looking long in the tooth. Add to that the damaging audit report on its land dealings just a fortnight from the polls. Not to mention the Libs getting into bed with the clubs sector.
The reality however is that Canberra is a left-leaning sort of town.
The vote for Andrew Barr’s Labor Party last night came in at the same level it had in 2012: 39 per cent. The Liberals went backwards, their vote falling 3.3 per cent to 35.6 per cent. The Greens also slipped 0.1 per cent to 10.6 per cent.
Now the Liberal Party would be making a big mistake by saying Canberra is just that kind of electorate.
The reality is the Libs could have won the election but decided to contest it without a strategy.
Labor won because its platform was built around the territory’s biggest ever infrastructure project, a tramline.
Over the next few decades, the light rail will roll out a trunk route from Gungahlin to Woden.
And the numbers from the polling booths tell us something.
The Gungahlin electorate of Yerrabi handed Labor its biggest vote of any of the five electorates, at 44 per cent.
Canberra needs light rail because the only way people can get around the nation’s capital is by car. Without public transport infrastructure, Canberra is likely to turn into another Los Angeles.
There is a deep irony that the Libs did not support the $930 million light rail project. Light rail is the sort of public transport infrastructure that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull would be keen on.
That might say something about issues inside the Liberal Party. But that’s another story.
The results show the political parties in Canberra, nationally and in other states, that voters want infrastructure.
They now expect governments to do the hard work and provide infrastructure instead of relying on commodities exports and the RBA to keep cutting interest rates.
Building infrastructure creates jobs and long term benefits for the economy.
Australia’s unemployment rate is at 5.6 per cent but full time jobs are vanishing and strength in accommodation, food and recreation (thanks to the lower $A) means that part-time jobs are keeping a lid on unemployment while full-time employment is shrinking wiith job losses among miners and in the utilities.
A public transport infrastructure project will create full time employment and that will have national consequences.
We cannot as a nation keep relying on commodities which fluctuate and which have sent the mining industry into retreat.
Nor can we keep relying on the Reserve Bank to keep cutting interest rates for economic growth. The RBA is reluctant to cut much further with household debt so overstretched. And while low interest rates have boosted housing and retail, those sectors are close to their peaks. Growth in housing will fall and that will fall heavily on retailers and the banks.
But the sort of public transport infrastructure to be rolled out in the ACT could change that and provide the economy with a second wind.
The challenge is developing strategies that make it pay for itself.