Coleman / Off the cycle and on to another

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SO, what do we do with ourselves now we’ve come to the end of the electoral cycle?

Chris Coleman
Chris Coleman.

Sure, we could start a countdown to Saturday, October 17, 2020. That’s one of the advantages of the fixed, four-year cycle for elections in the ACT; we can all know the date of the next polling day well in advance. But is it also one of the disadvantages?

As an example (and I promise this is the last time I’ll bring up light rail in my missives for quite some time), a great deal of discussion in the year before this election revolved around the tram and opponents stepped up their volume when the government decided to start construction before the election.

Supporters of the project, naturally enough, said the government was right to get things rolling, even with the possibility of the contract being terminated should there have been a change of government.

It’s something we need to be aware of as our local democracy reaches a – hopefully – more mature stage of existence. Canberra deserves better than what we’ve seen happening more and more often in the world’s best-known, fixed-four-year political cycle, the American Presidential process.

Across the Pacific in recent years politics has reached a point where an incoming president is now lucky to get two years before they have to start working on their re-election. They do have their cycle punctuated by mid-term elections, which can alter that equation a little, but effectively if a president wants to get something done over there, they have to go for it early in their term. Once the electioneering starts, it’s almost impossible to stop.

If you follow American politics at all, you’ll be aware that Barack Obama has been stymied in his attempts to nominate a replacement for a Supreme Court justice, who died in February. His opponents effectively decided that any nomination made by President Obama in the nine months between the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the US election would not be acceptable to them. This is not the first time an outgoing president has found himself unable to get measures through, but the period of time is unprecedented.

I accept that their system of government is different to ours. Thankfully we haven’t often seen parliaments held ransom in their last year here, possibly because elections are usually called before their due date.

Federally, I wonder how things would have played out had Julia Gillard’s leadership gone to her preferred election day. The one she announced some eight months out. Although having to fight opponents across the chamber and on her own backbench make this difficult to ponder.

More locally, there are lessons to be learned. ACT governments are elected, for better or worse, to serve their four years.

It will do us all a great injustice if we start to see bureaucratic paralysis taking hold earlier and earlier in those final terms. Governments need to govern.

Mind you, the habit our politicians have developed of leaving things to the last minute (election costings, anyone?) means they may not be doing themselves too many favours.

At least we’re not at the point where a candidate is refusing to accept the result. Yet.

Chris Coleman is the drive presenter on 2CC.

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