UNDETERRED by the party’s less-than-spectacular result at October’s territory election, in which it failed to get a single candidate elected, the Belco Party is heading east and south with new branches.
Intent on building on its slim electoral support across the community, it will form branches in the Gungahlin-based electorate of Yerrabi and the Tuggeranong-based seat of Brindabella, adding to its already established branch in the Belconnen-based electorate of Ginninderra.
Former Canberra Liberal leader Bill Stefaniak has confirmed he won’t be re-contesting as a Belco Party candidate for the next ACT election, but will remain as convenor of the expanded Belco Party (ACT).
Retaining its recent campaign catchcry, “keep the bastards honest”, lifted from Don Chipp’s Democrats, the Belco Party aims to drive a wedge between Labor and the Greens and smash what convenor Stefaniak sees as an unholy alliance between the two.
The former lawyer argues that a Greens-influenced Labor government is not in the territory’s best interests and more independents need to offer themselves up as candidates.
“We now have a monopoly of a Labor/Greens coalition, which is as rock solid as the Liberal Nationals are federally,” Mr Stefaniak said.
“How are you going to break that in this town unless you get some good independents?
“If nothing changes, we may never see a change of government for the next 20 years.”
In a bold move some three-and-a-half years out from the next ACT election, a party that received only 9.4 per cent of total votes cast in Ginninderra at the election, is already looking to field candidates across the three electorates of Ginninderra, Yerrabi and Brindabella.
Mr Stefaniak has not entirely ruled out fielding candidates in the remaining two electorates of Murrumbidgee and Kurrajong.
Referring to the newly formed sub-branches as the “Gunners” branch and the “Tuggers” branch, the party has made two unusual choices for branch presidents.
The Tuggeranong branch president is Jason Potter, a former ACT Federation Party candidate for Brindabella.
Mr Potter, a school counsellor, is motivated to improve mental health resources across the territory.
“It’s cheaper to drive to Sydney and back again to see a psychiatrist, than it is to attend a one-hour $750 session with a psychiatrist in Canberra,” Mr Potter said.
“It’s the same story with paediatric psychiatry in Canberra. It’s an incredibly under-resourced service, there is one registered paediatric psychiatrist at the hospital in Belconnen whose books are closed.”
Beyond advocating for mental health services, Mr Potter is passionate about grassroots issues in Tuggeranong, such as heavy traffic on roads around schools.
The Gungahlin branch president is Greg Burke, a former jockey, who fears for the future of the thoroughbred racing industry in the ACT, claiming it will fold if steps are not taken to reinvigorate the sport.
“Racing is the third biggest industry and the fourth and fifth biggest employer in Australia,” Mr Burke said.
“In Canberra, the industry employs some 500 people, but with the Greens’ power, we don’t know what’s going to happen to the industry.
“There’s no racing minister, they have taken it off the portfolio,” he said.
“Shane Rattenbury is the gaming minister and the attorney-general, which is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house, so I don’t know what is going to happen.”
Canberra blues singer Angela Lount, who ran on the Belco Party’s ticket at the last ACT election, is president of the Belconnen branch.
While the party was criticised for taking votes away from the Liberal Party, it seems the Belco Party is targeting old-fashioned, socially conservative Labor voters, whom Mr Stefaniak believes are uncomfortable with a left-leaning progressive government that seems to be promoting further radical policies.
“We are a party that takes in good, old, solid, right-wing Labor conservative values, which they have ditched for inner-city trendies,” said Mr Stefaniak.
“Obviously people like myself have more of a Liberal conservative bent, but essentially we represent mainstream ACT people in the suburbs.”
Notwithstanding a stronger showing at the next election, the Belco Party would still be relying on a stable flow of preferences to secure any seats in the Assembly.
“We will be making sure we sort out our preferences much better than last time, because that was all over the shop,” Mr Stefaniak said.