“The government will be carefully planning to orchestrate announcement after announcement across each of the portfolios. Many of the announcements will be about where our taxpayers’ money is going to be spent next,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.
THE announcement of upgrades to the Braddon and Dickson precincts demonstrates the advantage of electioneering from government.
There can be little doubt that this is the start of a series of taxpayer-funded announcements designed to put the government in the best light. The “pork barrelling” begins.
Without the theatre of the Assembly and the ability to question and expose government failings, the Liberal opposition has its hands tied. The pandemic has made it even harder with the opposition supporting the government in order to ensure the best interests of the community.
Door knocking is one of the most effective methods of campaigning – but the vulnerability of both the constituents and the candidates has, at least for the foreseeable future, ruled this out. Candidates are beginning to set up stands in shopping centres in order to reach their constituents.
In the meantime, the government will be carefully planning to orchestrate announcement after announcement across each of the portfolios. Many of the announcements will be about where our taxpayers’ money is going to be spent next. Experience teaches us that the announcements will specifically target areas of electoral vulnerability.
Illustrative is the resignation of National Party Minister Bridget McKenzie over the sports rorts affair where the targeting of specific electorates so blatantly misused taxpayers’ money to purchase favour for Scott Morrison and the Coalition Government.
Although ACT governments in the past have announced spending by drip feeding their good news, there has not been exposed such a blatant targeting of particular electorates. In many ways, the use of the Hare-Clark electoral system makes this approach to electioneering more difficult. On the other hand, until now the ACT has not had the necessary checks and balances to expose situations where spending is not in the best interests of the community as a whole.
There have been some checks and balances including monitoring by Elections ACT. The ACT’s auditor-general has also done excellent work in ensuring appropriate use of money. However, that office has not had the power of a Royal Commissioner nor an Independent Commission Against Corruption.
The equivalent for Canberra is the ACT Integrity Commission, headed by QC Dennis Cowdrey. The CEO, John Hoitink, is responsible for advising the commission about operational and financial matters. Amongst other responsibilities, the Integrity Commission’s functions include investigating “conduct that is alleged to be corrupt conduct” and to “foster public confidence in the Legislative Assembly and ACT public sector”.
Unethical conduct as part of elections not only undermines confidence in the Legislative Assembly, it also undermines trust in politics. Deteriorating trust in our democratic institutions has been of major concern over the last couple of decades. Trust seems to have been re-established to some extent through the actions of governments at all levels in response to the coronavirus pandemic. However, such trust can be whittled away very quickly.
While the government uses the drip-feeding technique to dominate air time in the traditional media, it will be difficult for the opposition, and even more difficult for minor parties and independent hopefuls, to gain air time. Use of social media will assist. However, social-media platforms thrive best when they are also linked to traditional media stories.
The best part of two decades in government for Labor is enough reason on its own for constituents to look for a fresh alternative. However, the alternative has to be one that appeals to enough voters. As demonstrated by the Bill Shorten opposition at the last election, the old adage that elections are lost by governments rather than won, only applies when the opposition has appropriate appeal.
The greatest challenge for the Canberra Liberals will be shedding the ultra-conservative image of their leader and many of their elected members. Former Chief Minister Kate Carnell demonstrated the advantage of a Liberal Party that can appeal as socially progressive while financially responsible.
The election opportunity is ripe for the Canberra Liberals – provided they can adopt and sell themselves as a socially liberal and financially conservative 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.