Plotting the Canberra Liberals’ path to government

Dominic Giannini 13 October 2020 36
Alistair Coe

Can Alistair Coe be the first Liberal Chief Minister in 19 years? Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Despite 19 years of Labor incumbency, ACT elections are always close. In the history of self-government, there has only been one majority government, well over a decade ago.

Canberra Liberals leader Alistair Coe told his party’s campaign launch he was sick of hearing that Canberra is a Labor town.

“It’s clear that there are so many people that are Labor voters, that have decided that this government has been in too long. It is clear that there are so many Labor people that are going to be lending the Liberal Party their vote,” he said.

A year ago, when Labor started planning its re-election campaign, one of their biggest concerns was that people would see two decades in government as too long, regardless of the party.

But in a year of disasters and a global pandemic, Labor’s messaging has changed to highlight their experience in government in contrast to the Liberals inexperience, hoping to stem the tide of voters who think “it’s time”.

The Liberals think just 2,500 people need to change their vote in order to change the government, Mr Coe said.

But from where?

Find out where the major parties stand on the issues that matter to you:

The ACT is broken into five electorates, Brindabella, Ginninderra, Kurrajong, Murrumbidgee and Yerrabi. Each is represented by five elected members.

To take government, the Liberals will need to pick up two seats to reach the coveted 13 members needed to form a majority government. There is also a slim chance the Belco Party, headed by former Liberal leader Bill Stefaniak, could become the first minor party outside the Greens to have a member elected since 2001 and subsequently supply confidence to his former party.

Since self-government, there has been only one majority government.

As it stands, the Belconnen-based Ginninderra is the dark horse seat to watch. Liberal MLA Vicki Dunne is stepping down from her seat and the Belco Party’s convenor and founder, Mr Stefaniak, is running.

Hare-Clark’s quota system essentially gives two seats each to Labor and Liberals, meaning each electorate has a ‘swing seat’. In Ginninderra, this third seat is currently held by Labor, and they are nervous.


READ MORE: The ACT election is almost here, so what’s Hare-Clark and what does it mean?


Several factors make the seat unpredictable, according to ANU Emeritus Professor of Political Science John Warhurst.

These include the division of Ms Dunne’s personal vote, the Belco Party’s attempt to syphon disenfranchised major party voters, the local popularity of Labor candidates Gordon Ramsay, Yvette Berry and Tara Cheyne, and a strong swing for the Greens at the federal election.

“You would think if an independent or minor party is going to get up it will probably be the Belco Party,” Professor Warhurst told Region Media.

“You do hear people say ‘I want a change but I cannot vote for the Liberals’, and Bill Stefaniak is a former political leader with some standing in the community.”

Bill Stefaniak

Former MLA Bill Stefaniak’s Belco Party has made Ginninderra one of the most unpredictable electorates in the upcoming election. Photo: File.

Ginninderra is one of two electorates where Labor holds three seats, the other being Gungahlin-based Yerrabi. Labor is also wary of losing there.


READ ALSO: Minor parties band together for $2 billion, free solar-for-all scheme


Labor’s Deepak-Raj Gupta inherited the third seat in the multicultural electorate after Meegan Fitzharris resigned last year.

Yerrabi is Mr Coe’s hunting ground and he may be able to use his popularity as leader to springboard Leanne Castley, Jacob Vadakkedathu or Dr Krishna Nadimpalli into a third seat for the Liberals.

Ms Castley has some name recognition after running against Dr Andrew Leigh in Fenner during the 2019 federal election.

The fifth seat in Murrumbidgee will also be in play following the retirement of Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur, who held the seat on a razor-thin margin.

The Greens’ Emma Davidson is campaigning hard to succeed Ms Le Couteur and while she isn’t the favourite, there is a chance of her retaining the seat for the Greens, Professor Warhurst said.

“The Greens are a bit of the unknown quantity in a way,” he said.

“The Greens may be reduced to just Shane Rattenbury but they polled very well in the last federal election here in the ACT. If people are looking for alternatives and Labor voters looking for somewhere else to go, the Greens are a possibility – [they] could hold the seat.”

The Tuggeranong-based Brindabella is a Liberal stronghold with three members, while Kurrajong in central Canberra is typically more progressive with strong support for Greens leader Shane Rattenbury almost certainly ruling that fifth seat out for the Liberals.

The Liberals’ second seat in Kurrajong is held by the more conservative Candice Burch who replaced Steve Doszpot after his death in 2017. She could be under pressure from Labor or the Greens if federal swings are replicated.

Deakin and Yarralumla, traditionally Liberal suburbs, have also been moved from Kurrajong to Murrumbidgee. This could impact their vote across both electorates after the latter became notionally Liberal due to the redistribution.

None of the current Canberra Liberals have ever been in government, while no Labor MLAs have experience in opposition. Can this change after almost two decades?

According to Mr Coe, it can.


What's Your Opinion?


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36 Responses to Plotting the Canberra Liberals’ path to government
Ric Hingee Ric Hingee 4:54 pm 15 Oct 20

I agree about a community minded Independent or a Community oriented party holding the balance of power might make the major parties think a bit about being more responsive to community concerns

Ric Hingee Ric Hingee 4:51 pm 15 Oct 20

Voting Green is the same as voting Labor. They are joined at the hip

Chris Bee Chris Bee 11:55 pm 13 Oct 20

If Canberra votes along standard lines, Labor and Liberal will almost certainly win at least 10 seats each and get around a million dollars each of taxpayers money from Elections ACT.

That’s because whoever you put down as your #1 preference on the ballot will receive $8.62 if that party or candidate gets more than 4% of first preference votes. Second preferences do not count.

I think we need more diverse representation in the ACT, and putting a quality minor party or independent as your #1 preference will help achieve this.

For me, the Canberra Progressives align with my vision for Canberra, and I believe they will provide a strong voice on the issues that matter. Definitely worth a look.

And if you’re worried that your #1 pick won’t get in, you can always vote a major party down the ballot to make sure.

#voteindependent #improvedemocracy #breaktheduopoly #actelection2020

Geoff Moore Geoff Moore 9:57 pm 13 Oct 20

Sorry nooooo.

Noel Bartone Noel Bartone 9:02 pm 13 Oct 20

Just like the Labour Greens we will be in more debt no matter what party is elected.

    Alix O'Hara Alix O'Hara 4:34 pm 15 Oct 20

    Noel Bartone not if the tram extension is stopped.

    Both majors and the Greens are behind it: that's $2 billion to interstate contractors in a pandemic and recession, pushed through pre-election.

    Vote for the minors for an alternative, with the United Solar Policy, returning money to the community.

    Nevermind $400 in rate cuts that we'll have to catch up, we've calculated $2000 savings per annum.

Michael Quirk Michael Quirk 9:01 pm 13 Oct 20

Alice, it's ironic that labor came to power in 2001 opposing Liberal infill plans. Guess it is a matter of whatever it takes to win regardless of the merits or otherwise of the policy

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 5:18 pm 14 Oct 20

    Michael Quirk isn’t that essentially the Libs plan for this election?

    Basically say they will do the opposite of Labor on any contentious issue knowing full well what Labor is doing is the only way to go. Urban infill and gentrification being a prime example.

    Michael Quirk Michael Quirk 5:32 pm 14 Oct 20

    Ashley Wright, disappointingly it's the nature of politics

Melinda Gonczarek Melinda Gonczarek 9:00 pm 13 Oct 20

2500 when it was Hanson. Completely different story with Coe at the helm.

Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 7:33 pm 13 Oct 20

Most importantly do not put a number in a box next to the name of someone you do NOT want to represent you.

Mike Hobson Mike Hobson 6:48 pm 13 Oct 20

Hopefully the 2500 have more sense.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:23 pm 13 Oct 20

Congratulations to Dominic for having gone through all that detail without once having resorted to the term “battleground seat” – the breathless use of that term on election night four years ago was a bit sad.

chewy14 chewy14 3:55 pm 13 Oct 20

Yes, the most likely scenario for the Libs to take government is for them to win the 5th Murrumbidgee seat and the Belco party to take the 5th Ginninderra seat and provide the Libs with Minority government.

I can’t see the Greens maintaining Caroline Le Couteur’s seat but the lower potential of the Greens winning a 2nd Kurrajong seat would scuttle most of the Lib hopes of government.

It will also be interesting to see what happens with the 5th Yerrabi seat seeing as the strong ALP showing in the last election was significantly driven by the promise of the Light Rail. How much of that “glow” will have faded away?

Nathan Lofthouse Nathan Lofthouse 1:02 pm 13 Oct 20

*2500 sheep

Zkotz Ryder Zkotz Ryder 12:52 pm 13 Oct 20

And only one person, Alistair, needs to stop avoiding the question on how he’s paying for his parties policies and some of those people maybe be swayed by an honest answer.

Alex Troy Elsworth Adkins Alex Troy Elsworth Adkins 12:39 pm 13 Oct 20

And all the Canberra liberals need to do is get rid of Alistair Coe!

Phil Essam Phil Essam 11:57 am 13 Oct 20

And there will be a lot of new people on the electoral roll.

David Perkins David Perkins 11:52 am 13 Oct 20

Where's the money coming from ? Mr Coe.

We will have none of your voodoo economics. Sorry but you will lose.

Lea Powell Lea Powell 11:40 am 13 Oct 20

Yeah? Sorry not me!

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 11:42 am 13 Oct 20

    I didn't even give them a single vote. I had 23 more worthy candidates to choose before anyone them.

    Lea Powell Lea Powell 11:43 am 13 Oct 20

    Russell Nankervis yes agreed

    Brenton Higgins Brenton Higgins 11:46 am 13 Oct 20

    Pro-tip for making sure Coe gets no vote from you: ACT ballots get counted the entire way through with a reducing value. You don’t actually have to vote for him at all - that way they don’t get the reduced portion of the vote!!

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 11:48 am 13 Oct 20

    Yep. I left every liberal square blank to ensure they didn't even get a slight chance of my vote going to them

    Lea Powell Lea Powell 11:51 am 13 Oct 20

    Russell Nankervis that’s the way to go!

    Colin Vivian Colin Vivian 12:30 pm 13 Oct 20

    Brenton Higgins only partially true. Preferences of votes in excess of a quota are counted at fractional value. Votes for eliminated candidates transfer at full value. However I’ve noticed an interesting conundrum - the formula fractional transfer value of surplus votes is:

    number of surplus votes /

    total number of ballot papers with further preferences shown

    which means if you didn’t fill in a preference and your vote exhausted you’d be increasing the fractional value of those who did!

    Raffy Sgroi Raffy Sgroi 3:06 pm 13 Oct 20

    Colin Vivian exactly right

    Brenton Higgins Brenton Higgins 3:24 pm 13 Oct 20

    Not quite - this is super nerdy election talk now - I love it hahaha.

    It’s transferred at the value it went to that candidate, each degradation of the preference is a corresponding value difference.

    Put simply, it’s why the libs run fake parties like the ‘Belco Party’. I suspect there are a few more but I don’t have the evidence just yet.

    Lea Powell Lea Powell 3:26 pm 13 Oct 20

    Brenton Higgins oooh I love super nerdy election talk too. Bring it on!

    Jose Black Jose Black 8:27 pm 13 Oct 20

    Wow! I've just learned I don't really understand the Hare-Clarke system as well as I thought I did. 😬

    Lea Powell Lea Powell 8:37 pm 13 Oct 20

    Jose Black it’s a lot harder to understand than most people think. I remember when it came in, someone explained it to me. It’s very different.

Jo Holburn Jo Holburn 11:32 am 13 Oct 20

Not likely hopefully ...

Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 11:23 am 13 Oct 20

If they have to change 2500 votes I hope none of them go to the Liberals

    John Ryan John Ryan 11:55 am 13 Oct 20

    Russell Nankervis make sure you vote for Labor candidates somewhere in your preferences then!

    I’m a labor voter but I’ll definitely be voting 6-8 Greens to make sure the Libs don’t get in!

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 11:58 am 13 Oct 20

    1-2 Green 3-4 Labor 5 - Green. Can't remember the rest

    Warwick Alsop Warwick Alsop 3:35 pm 14 Oct 20

    Too right Russ! If there's one thing we don't want it's for someone else to maybe have a crack at reducing specialist wait times to less than 'years'.

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