The most frequently argued topic in ACT politics is the state of government in the Territory.
A bewhiskered Labor government more than two decades old, with all the comfort, certainty and lack of adventurous thinking that engenders in the public service, is matched by a weakened and often ineffective Opposition, fixated on its own factional woes.
Then there’s the Greens, a critical ally for Labor, compliant thus far in a progressive electorate but potentially restive as their numbers increase and beset elsewhere with extremism. None of it is ideal, none of it is democratic, and none looks fixable any time soon.
And, given the current Assembly’s make-up, there aren’t any obvious solutions sitting on the benches.
So perhaps it’s time to go back to the future and bring on the independents?
Stay with me here. I’m not necessarily talking about those legendary stalwarts, the Sun-ripened Warm Tomato Party or the Party! Party! Party! Party, fun as those were in the heady days when we experimented with how self-government would work in the Territory. Self-government is here to stay and requires competent representatives, not tongue-in-cheek jokers.
But let’s remember this is the jurisdiction that recently replaced a hardened federal political warrior with a former footy player and dedicated environmental activist who has managed to keep most of his voters pretty happy so far.
Imagine some of those same instincts could be harnessed to provide ACT voters with an alternative to the three major parties.
Imagine if all those people complaining about the Assembly being a shire council could direct their support towards MLAs who represented their communities on local matters rather than federal agendas?
Imagine all the people, living life in peace … You get the idea.
And while it’s unlikely to manifest in the short term, a steady growth of plausible independent candidates would have several effects.
Like the Teals in Federal Parliament, a cluster of local independents would call to account long-established presumptions about who rules the Territory and why. The government would have to negotiate with more than the Greens to get policies through – possibly a long and tedious task – and would need to make concessions to those same independents.
That would surely produce some outcomes for determined lobby groups who are currently serenely ignored by the Territory government if the cause doesn’t fit their agenda.
It worked for Michael Moore, originally elected for the Residents Rally. As Health Minister, he set policies that have endured to this day, including legalising sex work with significant benefits for the safety of workers and clients.
One of the significant problems in the current Assembly is that in a town of high salaries, it’s genuinely hard to attract good talent to the political party system with its few rewards and relatively low remuneration. That creates a shallow talent pool, and once you add factional loyalties on every side, it’s remarkable there’s anyone competent in the Assembly at all.
Well-supported independent candidates would be more highly motivated by the desire to get things done for their communities than by the prospect of advancement in the Labor, Greens or Liberal parties.
And, possibly, a rising tide of independents would attract the kind of quality candidates who want to serve but have no truck with the established party system and all its encumbrances. It’s the middle path between the tired party system and an argumentative shire council.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Now, who’s going to put their hand up?