Into the home straight of the election race and it is clear that Canberra Liberals leader Alistair Coe has loaded lead into his saddlebags.
The questions around his economic strategy just won’t go away and with every sliver of information journalists have managed to drag out of him, the inconsistencies of his party’s “lower taxes and better services” slogan have been drawn into focus.
The key question of how Mr Coe is going to pay for his $1.1 billion of promises remains unanswered.
Nobody takes the ‘growing the population pie’ explanation seriously, and after ruling out borrowing more he has nowhere to go.
Residential and commercial rates freezes, rego cuts and other tax relief will mean foregoing significant revenue that Mr Coe is going to need to meet his election commitments.
Defying gravity like this has left Mr Coe as open as a pre-election polling station to Labor attacks but it needn’t have been this way.
Mr Coe’s instincts about growing unease with successive rates rises and Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s tax reform program are right, so giving property owners a breather has its attractions, particularly in this year of COVID-19.
But he has failed to capitalise on the radically changed fiscal approaches that COVID-19 has wrought, stubbornly locking himself into an untenable position by refusing to say that a Liberal government will, like every other government in the western world, drop the debt and deficit conceit and borrow.
Unless, of course, he is not being entirely truthful, or in Mr Barr’s colourful language, “lying through his teeth”.
In any case, the Liberals’ eCoenomics has put a cloud over his party’s shopping list of promises, from sports centres to dog parks and the infamous million trees, many of which would be worthwhile community assets.
The other campaign clanger has been light rail, first with Transport spokesperson Candice Burch’s flirtation with a Belconnen route and then again Mr Coe’s fixation on releasing the full business case for Stage 2 and going to an open tender.
The Labor government has rightly not declared its hand as it negotiates with the nominated contractor, the Canberra Metro consortium, which delivered Stage 1.
It also makes sense to stick with the same project team and all that was learnt during construction of Stage 1, instead of wasting time and money reinventing the wheel with a new entrant, or more likely, ending up back with the original contractor.
But Mr Coe remains, like an LRV, fixed on the tracks and, again, easy pickings for Labor, which simply argues he never supported light rail and never will.
Light rail does not make a whole campaign but it is emblematic of a Liberal Party that can’t quite come to grips with the times.
This was always the Liberals’ election to win and Labor’s to lose. Mr Coe has campaigned and debated with vigour, proposed some good ideas and homed in on those community sore points of housing, planning and cost of living.
But the lack of team depth has become apparent and the choice of some candidates embarrassing. As we enter the final week, the Liberals are in a bind of their own making and Mr Coe can only grit his teeth and press on till polling day.
Labor only needed to be solid, and has run a campaign firmly grounded in reality, with Mr Barr the ACT’s good COVID-19 shepherd with a safe pair of hands.
It would be a shock indeed if Canberra, even after 19 years of Labor and some pretty obvious baggage and weak links of its own, chose to change horses, but the Liberals look as if they have handicapped themselves from the start.