27 September 2023

Letter from the Editor: is it time to bring the independents back to the Legislative Assembly?

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Michael Moore was an independent Health Minister in the Carnell government. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

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.

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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.

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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?

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HiddenDragon9:07 pm 01 Oct 23

With genuine independents looking like a forlorn hope under the current ACT self government arrangements, and with the established parties in the Legislative Assembly presumably happy to keep things that way, it might be worth looking at modifications to those arrangements which introduce, as an alternative or sorts, some degree of genuine participatory democracy (as opposed to the fake consultative processes which have become a performative art form in this town).

The Wikipedia article on the subject of participatory democracy includes some ideas which could be adapted for use in the ACT and thus, perhaps, be adopted by an ACT Opposition which is still light on policy, particularly of the sort which might appeal to the progressive sentiment of the many ACT voters who have noted that the ACT government’s enthusiasm for change and reform wanes notably when it comes to open and accountable government.

GrumpyGrandpa1:58 pm 01 Oct 23

With Hare Clarke, a party system is almost a necessity, meaning you’d need a party of Independent candiates, all preferencing each other.

The problem as I see it is finding enough Independents that are prepared stand “to keep the bastards honest”, as opposed to have leaning towards one of the dominate parties.

There is no point voting in an Independent, if aren’t truly Independent.

Yes, I echo others thoughts, Hare Clark and the way the major parties have set up the electorates make it harder for independents to get across the line.

We would definitely benefit from greater independent representation.

Voting implies legitimacy.

The problem for Independents is the Hare Clark voting system. The majority of the candidates have no name recognition which is an important requisite.

Independent Fiona Carrick who ran in Brindabella at the 2020 election was a quality candidate with name recognition. She did exceptionally well in first preferences coming in fourth in the popular vote in the final count. This was well ahead of Giulia Jones and Emma Davidson who were elected on their party’s preferences. Ms Carrick lost out again when Giulia Jones stepped down and a count back saw her lose to Ed Cocks on his party’s preferences.

Mr Cocks came in tenth on the first preference votes with 1,125 less than Ms Carrick at the election. It must have been tremendously disappointing for Ms Carrick and her supporters.

Hopefully we will see Ms Carrick return at the 2024 election!

*Ran in Murrumbidgee

One big road block is finding the money to have a go and try to get elected. It costs a lot and if an independant doesnt have their own money they need to find other sources which usually comes with strings attached

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