FEDERALLY, the major parties have only a minor interest in Canberra. The ACT’s Federal election results have always been a lay down misère with the 2019 election expected to deliver three House of Representatives seats to Labor with a Liberal and a Labor candidate in the Senate. No wonder Canberra is taken for granted!
Canberrans can send a message. By minimising the first-preference votes going to the two major parties the message will be that the ACT needs to be taken seriously.
The Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are busy pork-barrelling promises to marginal electorates around Australia while the three seats and senators for the ACT are of little consequence.
While traditional media electioneering focuses on the leaders of the two main parties, local candidates scramble for attention with roadside posters, appearances in shopping centres, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
The ACT seats of Canberra, Bean and Fenner are now up for grabs. The single incumbent, Labor’s Andrew Leigh, is standing in Fenner. Most candidates wisely prefer an electorate without someone who has such a high profile and has performed as well as Leigh. Leanne Castley, of the Liberals, and Andrew Braddock, of the Greens, have at best a tiny, outside chance.
For the ACT to gain influence and to be taken seriously, the prime focus needs to be on the Senate and on the other two seats.
The seat of Canberra is up for grabs. It is also time to get beyond the “professional politician”. Labor preselected Alicia Payne, a former staffer of Lindsay Tanner, Bill Shorten and Jenny Macklin. The Liberals have no chance. Tim Bohm is the only independent running in the seat. He seeks to undermine professional politicians by limiting them to a maximum of three terms. He is running an extensive and targeted social media campaign along with the usual banners and occasional media appearances. Bohm could be Canberra’s Cathy McGowan in Indi or Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth.
There is no incumbent in the seat of Bean which largely covers Tuggeranong and Woden south of Hindmarsh Drive. However, this seat also has an interesting independent candidate. Dr Jamie Christie is an emergency physician who has worked as a salaried specialist in the Canberra Hospital for decades. His family has been in Canberra since 1927. The Labor Party has manoeuvred their temporary senator, political adviser and former unionist, David Smith, into the seat to allow Katy Gallagher back into the Senate.
With former Chief Minister and popular senator Katy Gallagher running, Labor is unassailable in the Senate. This leaves one seat open to challenge. For the first time in many years the Liberals are looking somewhat vulnerable. Unlike former senators Gary Humphries and Margaret Reid, the Liberal Party is no longer represented by a reasonably progressive senator.
The campaign being run by the unions against the very conservative Zed Seselja highlights his strident support for Peter Dutton and other issues illustrate he is out of step with the high proportion of socially progressive Canberrans. These people, along with disenchanted Liberal voters, do have alternatives.
Independents Anthony Pesec and Gary Kent have grouped (as Group B) on the senate voting paper. Anthony Pesec, a former investment banker and civil engineer, is running a very public and effective campaign. Pesec featured in “CityNews” on March 28 and the digital version is easily found on the paper’s website. Gary Kent was once the president of the ACT Liberals and is one of those disenchanted Liberal voters mentioned above. Both present credible alternatives for centralist voters.
Canberra does not have to be dismissed and marginalised as being irrelevant. The way to really gain the attention of either major political party is to provide them with a reason to take the ACT seriously. This can be achieved if voters, at the very least, choose an independent or other cross-bench candidate before placing their next vote against their preferred major party.
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.