What went wrong for the Libs in the election like no other?

Share Canberra's trusted news:

“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. 

Michael Moore.

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.

Who Can You Trust?

In a world beleaguered by spin and confused messages, there's never been more need for diverse, trustworthy, independent journalism in Canberra.

Who can you trust? Well, for more than 25 years, "CityNews" has proudly been an independent, free, family-owned news magazine, serving the national capital with quality, integrity and authority. Through our weekly magazine and daily through our digital platforms, we constantly and reliably deliver high-quality and diverse opinion, news, arts, socials and lifestyle columns.

If you trust our work online and believe in the power of independent voices, I encourage you to make a small contribution.

Every dollar of support will be invested back into our journalism so we can continue to provide a valuably different view of what's happening around you and keep citynews.com.au free.

Click here to make your donation and you will be supporting the future of journalism and media diversity in the ACT.

Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Previous articleHolding the whole world in his hands
Next articleCartoon / Dose of Dorin
Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Surely one other issue may have been in play ? Australian voters have been notable for voting differently (and knowingly) between Federal and State/Territory administrations. It’s only rarely that the two series of governments align in political persuasion(s).

    So with an LNP Government in power in “Canberra” (the lazy metonym too often used by the media) – meaning our national Government – then the Canberra voters just may have NOT wanted an ACT Government of the Liberal persuasion. As well.

  2. The wordings at both the top and bottom are lazy encouragements to number 5 boxes. It advantages the parties that can achieve a quota (or more) across 5 candidates, and then those that can get close enough that a trickle of non-exhausted preferences and the effective lowering of the quota that exhausted votes create gives them a chance to be last person(s) standing. This is the big 3 parties.

    Preferences stay fairly tight inside columns and most exhausted votes initially come on the exclusion of independents and minor parties. If there are independents and minor party candidates still in the count as major parties reach ‘the end of the column’ the exhausted votes are usually very high percentages robbing those independents of vital votes.

    The messages in both places on the ballot paper should be bluntly accurate, and then specify the requirement for a formal vote. Something along the lines of “Your vote may not be effective unless you number every box in order of your choice from 1 to n – Your vote will be formal if you number one box with 1”. Then people will be accurately informed, will only waste their vote by choice, and the major parties will face the same risk as others from lazy voters that want to number as few boxes as possible.

    Given that the Hare Clark quota is intended to function with every voter numbering every box there is a case to made for the votes distributed from excluded candidates to be factored up to reflect exhausted votes. If a voter is expressing no further preferences they are in effect saying that they leave it to others to decide. Shouldn’t the others be those that had reached the same point on the ballot paper, rather than those that hadn’t.

    Don’t expect either of these things to happen, it requires the big 3 to vote against self interest.

  3. “Given that the Hare Clark quota is intended to function with every voter numbering every box there is a case to made for the votes distributed from excluded candidates to be factored up to reflect exhausted votes. ”

    This is the key point that is missed by most commentators, and I must admit I did not understand it properly until recently and after a lot of research into the maths underpinning Hare Clark.

    Remove thinking from the process, for Hare Clark to work make numbering every box compulsory.

Leave a Reply to Peter Graves Cancel reply