Libs hold an edge in tight fight

“The idea of Canberra as a Labor town has merit. However, at the last election the Liberals did win the popularity race beating Labor by just 41 votes out of 220,000,” writes columnist MICHAEL MOORE

THE 2016 ACT Election will be a tight contest. The Katy Gallagher factor is all but gone, the rates issues that dominated the 2012 election have lost steam, and the light rail debate seems to be losing impact.

Labor has been in power since 2001, so they are asking the people of Canberra to give them a fifth term, potentially delivering 19 years in government.

Michael Moore

Michael Moore.

On the other hand, the Liberals faced a devastating Abbott factor only a few months ago, but that is now gone. Changes to the electoral boundaries and the increase by eight to an Assembly of 25 members presents some interesting possibilities – mostly favouring the major parties.

With a change from three to five electorates, although it is much more difficult to predict the outcome of the 2016 election, it is possible to do some extrapolation.

The results of the 80 polling booths can be examined and mapped on to the new electorates. From this we can create a baseline of how the last election would have panned out had it been conducted in five rather than three electorates.

The idea of Canberra as a Labor town has merit. However, at the last election the Liberals did win the popularity race beating Labor by just 41 votes out of 220,000. With eight seats each Labor was able to negotiate with the Greens’ Shane Rattenbury bringing him into the ministry and forming a strong, stable minority government.

Under the new system it is almost inevitable that all the major parties will gain two members in each of the electorates. The challenge is always in the fifth seat. A strong showing, a third prominent candidate, or a brilliant campaign is how that third final seat will be won in each electorate.

A strong Greens’ candidate or an outstanding independent could shake the tree and undo this relatively cosy arrangement. In the central Canberra seat of Molonglo at last election, while Labor and Liberals shared three seats each in a seven-member electorate, Shane Rattenbury took the final seat. He might do the same in the new seat of Kurrajong (which largely replaces Molonglo). A strong centralist or right-wing candidate in any of the electorates could do the same for the Liberals.

Malcolm Baalman (for seven years my senior advisor in the Assembly) has provided me with an extrapolation from the results at the last election. The ABC’s Antony Green has done a similar exercise – but did not deal with the third of the votes that were not cast in polling booths on the day.

The difference does give an edge to the Liberals in Malcolm’s hypothetical scenario, compared to Antony Green, who leaves a deciding seat in the Gungahlin electorate of Yerrabi as “difficult to allocate”. In both scenarios it really is too close to draw a strong conclusion. Indications are, however, that in a 25-member electorate (applied to last election) there would most likely have been a strong Liberal showing – but the result would probably have been, very narrowly, a similar Labor-Green government in power.

In this hypothetical case, the Tuggeranong seat of Brindabella would favour the Liberals giving them three of the five seats, while the final Belconnen seat of Ginninderra and the Weston Creek seat of Murrumbidgee would have gone to the Greens.

The most revealing part of this exercise is that the battle for the numbers in the Assembly is really most likely to be closest in two electorates; Yerrabi (where the light rail is largely favoured) appears in better form for Labor as it boasts new minister Meegan Fitzharris and has some other prominent candidates to improve the Labor chances for the third seat. In Murrumbidgee, with Brianna Heseltine (of Mr Fluffy fame) shunned, the Labor candidates are relatively unknown to the general public. In contrast, the Greens will run former MLA, Caroline Le Couteur, who narrowly missed out at the last election.

One dark horse across all electorates is Vote Canberra (votecanberra.org.au). A bit like the “preference whisperer” federally, this group is working to support independents and improve their chances with none of their executive permitted to be candidates.

The Liberals have not chosen their candidates. This differentiates the party from Labor and the Greens, who completed preselection around a year prior to the election. No doubt, the Liberals will be looking to place prominent candidates in the electorates where unknown candidates make Labor and the Greens more vulnerable.

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

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