CANBERRANS will no longer be so severely disadvantaged by a lack of representation in the House of Representatives. However, the proposed new electoral boundaries for the ACT provide significant opportunities and some great political challenges.
Changes proposed by the Electoral Commission have been drawn strictly within the parameters set by legislation. And there is still a month to comment on the names of the electorates and exactly where the boundaries should be drawn. However, the arguments put in the Electoral Commission’s nearly 80-page report provide a strong rationale.
The Greens were very upbeat in welcoming the boundaries of the new electorate with ACT Greens co-convenor Emma Davidson declaring the seat of “Canberra is now one of the greenest in the country. Finally, Canberrans have a chance to send someone to parliament who will truly represent them”. Three seats in Canberra certainly raises the idea of Canberra being able to have a broader representation.
Senator Zed Seselja represents the Liberal Party, Senator Katy Gallagher for Labor and there are two Labor members of the House of Representatives for the ACT. A fifth member representing the Greens would have some merit.
However, considering the Greens have an eight per cent representation in the Legislative Assembly, it is a tall order to triple that for a quarter representation for the ACT in the Federal Parliament that is not elected on proportional representation.
In marked contrast to the Greens was a more measured response from Labor MP Gai Brodtmann, who welcomed the changes along with renaming her area the electorate of Bean. She noted “the strong connection” to the World War I historian Charles Bean “to the Tuggeranong Homestead and the Valley”.
She immediately launched a claim arguing “subject to preselection, I plan to stand in the southernmost seat”. This seat has been Brodtmann’s heartland and she will be hard to shift.
The seat of Canberra may be “one of the greenest in the country”. This does not make it an electorate ripe for their pickings with a significant fly in the ointment.
The member for the electorate of Fenner, Andrew Leigh, will have a choice between the electorates of Canberra and Fenner.
Fenner takes in all of Gungahlin and most of Belconnen. The better choice for Leigh is to run in the seat of Canberra. The new boundaries for this seat are largely North Canberra and South Canberra with some Belconnen suburbs. This is very much Leigh heartland – inner city, academic, socially conscious and environmentally responsible.
Leigh is simply one of the most competent Members of the Federal Parliament. He appeals strongly to Canberrans with his understanding of equity issues and his drive for a much fairer Australia. His strong academic background as a professor of economics at ANU and his high public profile defending “battlers” and the environment means that many voters who might otherwise have been tempted by the Greens will not abandon him.
This leaves the electorate of Fenner, made up of Gungahlin and most of Belconnen. Assuming Andrew Leigh runs for Canberra a whole new contest opens. This area has not elected a Greens MLA since Meredith Hunter was defeated in the seat of Ginninderra in 2012. However, with masterful campaigning by Alistair Coe in Gungahlin and Vicki Dunne in Belconnen the Liberals have been quite successful in Assembly elections.
The reforms to the electorates have been carefully thought through. It is likely the distribution and names will remain. There are now pre-selection and then election struggles ahead and battle lines are already being drawn up.