Make no mistake, the ACT election result is a disaster for the Canberra Liberals, and one that has to be sheeted home to the leadership of Alistair Coe and the campaign strategy of his federal reinforcement, Josh Manuatu.
Both of them insulted the intelligence of Canberra voters and were rightly punished.
Slogans and stunts do not make up for a lack of detail and policy substance, at least not in the ACT.
By the last week of the campaign, the Liberal cause descended into vaudeville with a series of visual stints lifted shamelessly from the Boris Johnson playbook, only serving to invite ridicule and confirm that Mr Coe and his party were unfit for government.
Despite his enthusiasm, Mr Coe proved inflexible and robotic, constantly falling back on nonsensical rehearsed answers when quizzed on policy matters.
From his National Press Club appearance a year ago, the inconsistencies in Mr Coe’s tax and spending approach were plain, and he never reconciled those differences.
Former Leader Jeremy Hanson blamed the defeat on the pandemic and the advantages of incumbency, but the Liberals’ decisions to, in effect, try to undermine the health advice was mystifying and only further diminished their standing in the electorate.
From accusing the government of secret deals without evidence to callous indifference to businesses, Mr Coe attempted to make political capital out of a health crisis that the Labor government was managing, with the right advice, to great effect.
Mr Coe tried to broaden the party’s appeal to blunt attacks that he was a hardline right-winger out of touch with the ACT’s progressive culture by taking up the cause of battlers and the environment, but it just came across as tokenism.
The million trees promise grabbed a headline but was obviously under-costed. Mr Coe said he supported the ACT’s climate change actions and offered a pragmatic approach but voters weren’t buying it.
It’s not as if the Liberals didn’t have something to run on. Health, planning and development were all fertile grounds but, if anything, voters have trusted the Greens to be more effective in those areas.
Oppositions need to actually do the work, not rely on the ‘it’s time’ factor or a flashy media strategy that in the end was a house of corflutes.
Mr Coe saying in his concession speech that it was the most professional campaign he had ever been associated with was just another example of the denialism that pervades the Canberra Liberals.
The party has a poor relationship with the media, fails to engage positively and remains defensive and suspicious.
If the Canberra Liberals seriously want to return to government in the ACT, they need new leadership, broader appeal and stronger candidates.
But the signs are Mr Coe will try to hang on, and is already fighting the ‘real’ battle to maintain the Right’s grip on the party. Mark Parton, if he wants it, and Elizabeth Lee deserve a chance to dig the Liberals out of its hole, backed by a root and branch review.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr called the victory humbling, and he meant it. It has been a tough year and a more mature Mr Barr has come through it as a genuinely responsible leader.
But he still has problems, particularly in housing, planning and development. Mick Gentleman may have got back easily, but the planning portfolio needs someone who has the confidence of stakeholders and the ability to sort out the ongoing issues there.
Mr Barr must also ensure that the Canberra Hospital expansion starts and is completed on schedule. Then there is the thorny issue of light rail stage 2 and delivering that, especially the more problematic leg over the lake to Woden.
Now surely that is an issue that can now be put to bed, along with Labor’s tax reform program.
Labor maintained its vote, but it’s the resurgent Greens that are cock-a-hoop. Their influence – already an important factor in government in transport, energy and climate change areas – will only be strengthened. Depending on the final count, another Greens minister is on the cards.
The election result could be seen as strong vote for the environment and climate change action, in the wake of the Black Summer. But Greens leader Shane Rattenbury has also put inequality and housing on the agenda.
It will be an interesting discussion when Mr Barr and Mr Rattenbury sit down to divvy up the spoils.
Cabinet needs new blood and Labor’s Tara Cheyne deserves her chance with a strong showing in Ginninderra and a solid performance behind her.
Overall it was a good night for women, with Emma Davidson (Greens), Rebecca Vassarotti (Greens), Marisa Paterson (Labor) and Leanne Castley (Liberals) likely new faces in the Assembly.
But Liberal supporters should be angry at a leadership that has got it so wrong.