The prospect of new ACT Senator David Pocock being able to twist the government’s arm to achieve better outcomes for Canberra, including infrastructure projects such as a stadium and convention centre, has increased dramatically with the settling of Senate results from the May election.
The Albanese Government will need to negotiate with the 18-strong crossbench, including 12 Greens Senators, to get its legislation passed after holding steady at 26 and the Coalition falling back to 32.
The other six on the crossbench include Senator Pocock, two from the Jacqui Lambie Network, two from One Nation and one from the United Australia Party.
If Labor secures the backing of the Greens, it will still need one more vote; more likely than not, that will be Senator Pocock.
“It’s a great result for me and the ACT,” Senator Pocock said.
“It’s a great result in ensuring policy that comes through the Senate will be in the best interests of Australians and the kind of future that we want.”
Apart from big picture issues such as climate change, it means the odds have shortened on the ACT securing Commonwealth funding for large infrastructure projects such as the combined city stadium and convention centre Senator Pocock championed during the campaign.
The winter has again brought the stadium issue into focus with Raiders coach Ricky Stuart calling for a new enclosed stadium so fans do not stay at home or have to brave freezing conditions at Bruce to watch Super Rugby or NRL games.
Senator Pocock argued during the campaign for a new shared Stadium and Convention Centre Precinct on the site of the old Civic pool that would provide a world-class sporting and conference experience and revitalise the CBD.
There is also believed to be strong private sector interest in building such a shared facility if the land could be made available or the Commonwealth contributed to the cost.
Senator Pocock told Region that the Convention Centre was clearly not up to scratch.
“We’re missing out on a lot of business; we’ve got the ANU taking conferences to Sydney,” he said.
“As the nation’s capital, it makes no sense to me that we can’t host major conferences. There’s clearly a need for a secure meeting place and conferencing venue for Defence, cybersecurity – conferences that the government can hold and bigger meetings.
“We’re certainly looking at a way to further those plans and have the right conversations. I’ve already met with Minister [for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government Kristy] McBain and raised it as an issue.”
Senator Pocock is also looking at the more grassroots, community sport level where “there is clearly a lot of need”.
“The ACT has some of the highest participation rates in the country,” he said. “They’re not able to access regional grants and almost every sport raises concerns about their ability to keep up with demand.
“Coming out of COVID, we need to be focusing on health and wellbeing, and allowing people to get out and be active but also for the community and mental health.”
The other big ACT issue that won’t cost the Federal Government anything is Territory rights and repealing the Andrews Bill forbidding the ACT moving on voluntary assisted dying.
“I’d love to see it prioritised to actually fix what has been longstanding inequality in the Territories of not actually having the ability to debate and legislate on something that every state has now legislated on,” he said.
Senator Pocock said more ambitious action on climate change was the clear take-out from the election, and he would pursue his idea of Suburb Zero pilots to demonstrate how to unlock energy savings for households through technologies such as batteries, heat pumps and electric vehicles.
“We’re currently importing oil, paying export prices for gas – the result is that everyday Australians cop the consequences of that,” he said.
Senator Pocock said he was disappointed at the small number of sitting days left in the year for the Parliament, given the Morrison Government was criticised for not sitting enough.
Parliament resumes on 26 July, and Senator Pocock is giving thought to what he will say in his maiden speech.
He said holding the potential balance of power was a huge honour and privilege, and a massive opportunity.
He has had conversations with all sides but nothing beyond introductions.
“My commitment to the people in the ACT doesn’t change,” Senator Pocock said. “I’ll be looking at every piece of legislation on its merits as it affects people in the ACT and use any power that I do have to get good outcomes.”