Greens lose advantage

THE proposed electoral redistribution should make the ACT Greens stop and think about their policies, says political commentator MICHAEL MOORE

OVER the last five elections, since the introduction of the Hare-Clarke system, the Greens have had the advantage of a favourable seven-member electorate.

Shifting the seven-member electorate from central (Molonglo) to north (Ginninderra) Canberra, as proposed for by Elections ACT, will mean an increased challenge for the party.
The ACT Electoral Commission is an independent body charged with maintaining the electoral boundaries in a way that, as closely as possible, means that a vote in one electorate carries as much influence as a vote in any other electorate.
It is uncanny how well they have achieved this as any examination of the electoral boundaries over the last five elections will indicate. However, there is another factor that they also attempt to manage – taking into account common interest.
It is the common interest factor that provides an impetus for relocating the seven-member electorate from central to north Canberra. As Gungahlin has grown, there is clearly a much closer relationship on issues with the newer Belconnen than the traditional areas of north and south Canberra. The questions lie over the transition of the Greens’ strongholds of Lyneham, O’Connor and Turner.
The impact of the proposed redistribution can be better understood by examining how people voted in the affected booths at the 2008 election.  For Labor, the changes will have little consequence as across the Gungahlin booths and for those targeted in north Canberra, its vote remained remarkably consistent at around 40 per cent of the formal vote.  The overview for the Canberra Liberals shows a Molonglo vote at just over 30 per cent and a Ginninderra vote of around 28 per cent.
However, they had very strong support in Gungahlin, which will move across to the new seven-member electorate and is likely to consolidate their two current seats in that area and provide a reasonable chance for wrestling the third seat from the Greens. O’Connor, Turner and Lyneham were weak booths for them.
An alternative approach for Elections ACT would be to attach the areas of Watson, Dickson and Downer to the new seven-member electorate as they had a similar number of voters at last election. However, voter preference at the booths indicates little difference in voting impact.
The Greens were very strong performers in the three central Canberra seats with about 30 per cent of the vote. However, in some major booths in Gungahlin such as Palmerston, Ngunnawal and Amaroo they performed poorly by comparison, with their votes going to Labor and to the Australian Motorist Party.
In the last election commuting from the Gungahlin, and the Gungahlin Drive Extension in particular, was a major issue that would have undermined the Greens’ vote.
It does not have to do so at the coming election as the GDE will be duplicated before the poll and Chief Minister Katy Gallagher has now secured Commonwealth agreement for a Majura Lane parkway.
The Greens policies can now come into play. They will need to continue to advocate strongly for a fast and effective public transport system and for the establishment of Commonwealth offices and other employment to be located in the Gungahlin town centre – but they will have to do so with much more panache.
The difficulty for the Greens is they are often seen to focus on developing systems that effectively punish motorists rather than emphasising the parts of their policies that encourage multiple use of cars and fast, efficient public transport systems that link the town centres.
Greens MLA Meredith Hunter has argued that growing support for her party will shield it from any adverse effects. However, it is important for the Greens to understand just where the support is coming from and which policies to emphasise if they are to maintain four seats in the Assembly.

Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.

 

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