“Alistair Coe prided himself on refusing to use a negative campaign as noted, in his gracious concession speech. Why? Labor was vulnerable on poor performances in education and health and corruption,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.
IT’S easy to blame COVID-19 for the failure of the Liberals and the success of the Labor/Green government in the ACT election. However, the reality is much more complex.
Social distancing, restrictions on movement and gatherings, limitations on being in shopping centres or door knocking made this election like no other.
Campaigns are multi-facetted and many elements were limited, favouring incumbents. In times of uncertainty voters tend to favour incumbency and voters could appreciate ACT’s handling of the virus in contrast to Victoria.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr constantly reassured the community that he was doing everything within his power to protect jobs in Canberra. This was an issue raised by “Andy”, a caller to 2CC’s “CityNews Sunday Roast”, suggesting jobs was really the issue rather than the Liberals’ populist campaign, appealing to the hip pocket.
However, the mantra of cutting costs and improving services was never fully explained. It did not make sense to voters. How would they do it? Opposition Leader Alistair Coe simply had no answer and credibility dived as he avoided the question. This was reinforced by Labor’s negative campaign tactic of putting an “L” plate around his neck.
Coe prided himself on refusing to use a negative campaign as noted, in his gracious concession speech. Why? Labor was vulnerable on poor performances in education and health and corruption. NAPLAN results and the poor rating of the Canberra Hospital by the AMA along with delay in establishing an anti-corruption and integrity commission were opportunities missed.
Instead, the negative focus was on the Liberal Party. The leadership of Alistair Coe has never been popular amongst Canberrans. He has failed to offer the sort of cut-through personality that we have seen from politicians such as Kate Carnell and Meegan Fitzharris. The control by the conservative elements of the Liberal Party, with the impression that Senator Zed Seselja is still the puppet master, has not helped.
The policy of providing more funding to Catholic schools rather than a broader policy of support for education across the board (including Catholic schools) would have created a better impression.
Dissatisfaction with Labor and Liberal is not enough to explain the result. The performance of the Greens is appreciated by Canberrans. The way in which the Greens have used their influence within government has appealed to voters.
Addressing climate change, a focus on social justice and willingness to take hard decisions, have all brought the Greens into the mainstream. A great deal of the credit for this must go to leader Shane Rattenbury.
And where were the independents and minor parties in this election? The Belco Party appeal in Ginninderra “to keep the bastards honest” was not enough. Fiona Carrick in Murrumbidgee was the outstanding crossbench achiever on primary votes. Her profile and contribution within her own community clearly had an impact.
However, the preference flows moved across to the Greens rather than to her. David Pollard, also a long-term contributor to his community, was not able to appeal to Yerrabi voters in the primary vote and was not able to get ahead of the Greens to gain the preference flows.
The expected strong showing from the Canberra Progressives and the Belco Party did not materialise. And this may well be where COVID-19 played a key role. The Greens were a safer option in uncertain times and conventional approaches to campaigning were not available until very late in the run up to the election.
The review of the election by the Electoral Commission and the Legislative Assembly Committee needs to examine the ballot papers.
The message at the top of the ballot paper reads “Number five boxes from 1 to 5 in the order of your choice”. Instead,the message currently at the bottom of the ballot paper is the one that should be used in both places: “Remember to number at least five boxes from 1 to 5 in the order of your choice”. This would result in fewer exhausted votes.
Most voters were surprised at the outcome of the last federal election. It is a similar story in the ACT. What it demonstrates is that voters really do have the final say.
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.