Griffiths / Power shifts as the outer suburbs rule

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The ACT election officially began last week. Independent candidates are now allowed to nominate; months after the party hacks started miserably trudging through the suburbs knocking on doors.

John Griffiths.
John Griffiths.

This year’s election is unlike anything we’ve seen since self government.

The 17-seat chamber is expanding to 25, elected proportionally from five seats.

The expansion means that whomever wins (and it looks closer than it has been in many years) will have a very large backbench of new members.

More importantly, we’re about to see a fundamental and possibly long overdue shift of power from the inner to the outer suburbs.

In the old Assembly the electorates based around Belconnen and Tuggeranong provided 10 members. Gungahlin and Woden/Weston were lumped in with the inner suburbs for a seven-member electorate that largely reflected the preferences of the inner north and south.

In particular, Gungahlin-based candidates had a miserable electoral showing, whereas in the new seat of Yerrabi it’s going to be all Gungahlin, all the time.

Similarly, the Woden/Weston-based electorate of Murrumbidgee is going to have a voice previously largely unheard.

In the new Assembly, the former 10 outer-suburb, elected members are jumping to 20, and a mere five members will represent inner-city concerns from the new seat of Kurrajong.

One wonders if the members of the new Assembly, from either side of politics, will share the enthusiasms of past Assemblies.

Inner-city life is very different to the outer suburbs. There are places to go within walking distance of home. Very little one could want (hardware stores aside) is more than a 20-minute cycle away.

On days when it rains, the buses are frequent and direct.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise this environment nurtures a very different set of priorities to living further out.

When your whole existence, and that of your dependents, revolves around the car, then things like free parking and the price of petrol become a lot more important.

When getting anywhere on the bus involves long ordeals lasting hours and very rigid planning, driving is a human right.

There’s an easy way to tell the life-long Canberran from someone who’s come here from a bigger city.

The Canberran will often get in their car at the time they are supposed to be somewhere.

For bonus true-Canberran points, they will message their friends, at the time they are supposed to be arriving: “What’s the address?”

Active travel strategies are all well and good for convincing the inner urbanite to figure out how to use their excellent buses and discover the many joys of the Sullivan’s Creek bike path.

But when work, childcare, after-school activities and shopping are all 15 kilometres apart, there are no pluses to buses and the tram is a very cold comfort.

Watching our political classes adapt to the new reality is going to be a bit of fun.

John Griffiths is the online editor of

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