HOW are the political parties matching up halfway to the October 2020 ACT election? The Liberals seem to grow even more conservative. Labor wrestles with complacency. The Greens attempt to prove their agenda is broader than the environment.
Energy and enthusiasm are hallmarks of successful progressive governments. Outstanding support for gay rights (and especially gay marriage), pill testing, restructuring health and building active urban transport are all indications of a government with a progressive agenda. However, it is hard to find further demonstrations. And there are some clangers.
Planning continues to plague the Barr government. Constant community complaints are simply dismissed. The Chief Minister has no time for the opinions or aspirations of baby boomers and Canberra’s unique characteristics are being traded off for an attempt at a poor copy of inner-city Melbourne.
New residential and business buildings envelop the footpaths. The long-term Canberra policy of no front fences seems to have disappeared. New suburbs have smaller and smaller blocks and are overwhelmed by large apartment complexes.
Rate rises are an achilles heel for Labor. The latest rates notices are designed to trick people into paying a full year instead of making quarterly payments. Much too tricky by half! Although average salaries remain steady, rates go up and up. Relentlessly. The argument of phasing out inefficient taxation systems such as stamp duty and insurance taxes is wearing thin. Rates have gone up exponentially while many other taxes are yet to be abolished.
In August this year the Greens’ Caroline Le Couteur proposed a radical rethink of ACT rates. Her proposal was to base the taxation system on the full value of the property rather than on the unimproved value of the land. At the time of the proposal Ms Le Couteur argued: “The ACT has been leading the nation in tax reform since 2012. This tax reform has been successful so far and the ACT Greens have supported these reforms.
“Because we are the first jurisdiction in Australia to deliver this tax reform, we are also the first to uncover some of the downsides.”
In a discussion paper she suggested an improved capital value (ICV) system would mean higher rates for people with expensive homes and lower for people with less expensive ones.
The Liberals have been successful in calling the government out on bullying and poor management of the hospital sector. Unfortunately, the drive came well after Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris had moved to restructure health and to introduce more control through a purchaser/provider system.
The bigger challenge for the Canberra Liberals is to distance themselves from the reactionary element of the federal Liberal Party. The close relationship between the ACT opposition leader and ACT senator Zed Seselja makes this challenging, especially in the light of Senator Seselja’s support for Peter Dutton in the coup on Malcolm Turnbull.
The Canberra Liberals made good headway during the 2012 election on the issue of rates and then lost out in pursuing the light rail issue in the 2016 election two years ago. Rates will be back on the agenda unless there is a radical change by Labor. It is hard to believe this will happen under the current leadership of Andrew Barr.
Unhappy with the progress on an issue that all parties supported at the last election, opposition leader Alistair Coe, tabled his own legislation – an Independent Anti-corruption and Integrity Commission Bill 2018. The Select Committee examining the issue now has this piece of legislation along with the government’s exposure draft to establish an Independent Integrity Commission.
It is already two years since the promises by all current parties in the Assembly were tested in an election. Two years is too long to fulfil such an important commitment.
Mid-term is an opportunity for all members of the Assembly to reflect on the last two years. It is also a chance to refresh their thinking for the next two. It is time to re-read their own inaugural speeches and to get on with their original intentions as well as the job of improving our territory.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.