THE return of the Greens Shane Rattenbury to a cabinet position strengthens the Labor-Green alliance.
However, this time, he is joined by Caroline Le Couteur returning to the Assembly cross bench after a four-year break. The Greens Party, having won two seats in five-member electorates, now has the opportunity to work towards winning the fifth seat in each of the other electorates.
The Greens are effectively the counterfoil to the growing conservatism in the Liberal Party as they provide a philosophical approach that is further left than the Labor Party.
Rattenbury has, like his Federal counterpart Senator Di Natale, demonstrated the Greens are also prepared to be pragmatic. They have moved well beyond the notion of a protest party to one able to be in government making hard decisions.
Hard decisions hurt. Rattenbury suffered serious flak from members of his own party when he made the decision to support the kangaroo cull in the ACT. However, the fact that he was so strongly returned in his own electorate and Le Couteur also won a seat, indicates that plenty of people accept the decision to take a cabinet position.
Interestingly, the Labor and Greens parliamentary agreement that has 13 key elements does not include culling under the heading of “animal welfare”.
With Rattenbury as Minister for Mental Health and Labor’s Meegan Fitzpatrick, not only as Minister for Health but also Minister for Transport and City Services, it would indicate that Labor has tapped one of their most competent on the shoulder as the (informal?) liaison point with the Greens.
When then-Chief Minister (and now Senator) Katy Gallagher signed the first of the Labor and Greens Agreements with Rattenbury, I wrote in this column about the primary challenge.
The argument was that it would be “about retaining strong, positive relationships within the cabinet while being able to air differences of opinion in the chamber of the Legislative Assembly and in the public arena”.
The electorate has rewarded both parties for managing this relationship effectively. With the second Green on the cross-bench it should be even easier to effectively offer the differentiation.
At the time, I identified other examples including in SA, with independent Rory McEwen and the National Party’s Karlene Maywald under Labor Premier Mike Wran. Additionally, there was my own role as an independent minister in the Carnell and Humphries Liberal Governments from 1998 to 2001 that was strongly dependent on high levels of reciprocal trust with the right to be exempted on certain issues from cabinet solidarity.
The move at this election from 17 to 25 members will also provide an opportunity for much more effective governance. Members who are not in cabinet will now be able to provide a much more considerable contribution through their work on committees.
New members should be exploring the opportunities to make a difference, to raise issues and to question government through the well-established ACT Parliamentary Committees. The positive reputation of the Assembly committee system provides significant prospects for MLAs wishing to make a difference.
A more balanced Assembly facilitating an even more effective use of the committee system could have been achieved had Labor taken a Nelson Mandela-style approach and supported Vicki Dunne to return to the role of Speaker.
Dunne had proven herself proficient and competent in the role over the previous four years and, by returning her to the position, Labor would have had one further backbencher in Joy Burch available to balance numbers on committees.
The appointment of Speaker Burch raises the issues about the importance of factional “jobs for the boys (girls)”. Are factional issues re-emerging within ACT Labor as the party continues to argue that factional differences and struggles have been put aside?
The 8th ACT Assembly is already shaping up to be incredibly interesting. With the extension to 25 MLAs, there is now a real opportunity for members to raise new issues, examine in more detail some of the challenges of our community, to sort out differences and to deliver an effective government with the people of the ACT as the priority.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.