Moore / When poor politics come back to bite

“It has taken some time, but the rate increases being experienced this year are really being felt,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE

WITH nearly 100,000 new electoral enrolments the Coalition government should be feeling proud about its contribution to democracy. If only improvement in our democratic system had been its motivation.

Michael Moore

Two thirds of new enrolments are aged 18 to 24. This will come back to bite Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Coalition colleagues.

The marriage-equality plebiscite was set up to solve internal party conflict. Thanks particularly to Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, even most of the conservatives within the Liberal Party know they can roll Turnbull but understand they need a “wet” liberal leader to have any chance to win an election.

In attempting to appease conservatives on same-sex marriage, the Liberals may well have undone themselves. The majority of young voters who have just enrolled are likely to support marriage equality. An injection of young, left-leaning voters may just be enough to swing a marginal seat away from the Coalition in favour of Labor.

The plebiscite debate will empower recently enrolled young voters to engage with democracy. It may not be the best form of democracy, but it provides motivation to be involved with political action. Having enrolled, it will become clear that failing to attend the polling place at the next election will incur a (minor) fine. Carrot and stick! Either way the Coalition will have to deal with a backlash of enfranchised young voters.

A backlash is not just on the cards at the Federal level. The ACT government will start to feel the pressure of its actions.

At the election before last the Canberra Liberals were trying to warn ACT ratepayers that rates would mushroom. It has taken some time, but the increases being experienced this year are really being felt. There is now the dual hit of increased land value and the seven per cent increase from the Budget. Additionally, different calculation methods are being used in some cases. A 31 per cent increase in unit rates over two years will be sorely felt.

Many blame light rail. Colleagues accuse those complaining about rates with: “You voted for a tram. What did you expect? It has to be paid for in some way”.

It may not be the whole story. However, significant increases in rates will never be popular. Government arguments about reductions in other charges are falling on deaf ears. Who has paid less for vehicle registration? Have public transport costs reduced? Why is stamp duty on land so steep?

Ironically, the Canberra Liberals were unsuccessful in running both light rail and rates increases over the last election. On neither issue were they able to cut through with voters. What really came back to bite them was their own incredibly conservative stances on social issues. They opposed a needle and syringe program in the jail, challenged sensible prostitution laws, ran law and order and recently challenged the Safe Schools Program.

The Canberra Liberals also get caught up in Federal issues. Even lawyer Senator Zed Seselja supports the government stance on indefinite offshore detention for refugees. Indefinite detention is an affront. It is an anathema to good legal practice, to our democratic institutions and to human rights. Centralist Canberrans can see through the constant attacks on social welfare recipients at the same time as tax cuts for big corporations.

And then there is the issue of the banks. The conservatives continue to resist a royal commission into our banking sector. All is not well. The most recent fracas involving the Commonwealth Bank’s laundering of money for terrorists is just a pimple on a pumpkin. Huge profits combined with claims of “low-rate credit cards” around 13 per cent for purchases and more than 20 per cent for cash advances when the Reserve Bank of Australia “cash rate” was just 1.5 per cent is simply a rip off. And the Federal government is not prepared to hold these big businesses to account.

It may not be in the manner they expect, but one of the joys of our democracy is that decisions made by politicians do come back to bite them.

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