ACT Election Overview

The Australian Capital Territory goes to the polls for the second week in a row this Saturday to elect a new 17-member Legislative Assembly. Chief Minister Jon Stanhope’s Labor Party currently governs with eight members and the consent of one Green and one Democrat. The balance consists of six Liberals and one ex-Liberal independent. The election will be the sixth since self-government was established in 1989 and the fourth since the original 17-member single electorate system made way for three electorates, two (Brindabella and Ginninderra) with five members and one (Molonglo) with seven, elected under the Hare-Clark sytem. The system’s closest Australian relative is that for the Tasmanian lower house, sharing with it rotating ordering of candidates on the ballot paper so that candidates must compete for votes with party colleagues, in contrast to the otherwise similar Senate system where the parties determine the order of their lists.

As Chris Uhlmann of the ABC notes, "it is hard to conceive of any set of results that does not add up to a return of the Stanhope Labor Government". The main source of interest is thus whether Labor can secure the one extra seat they need to become the ACT’s first-ever majority government, with Ginninderra looking their best chance. One observer who is not backing such an outcome is Greens Senator Bob Brown, who has never been shy of making implausible predictions on his party’s behalf. Brown has claimed that the federal election results suggest the Greens will increase their representation from one seat to four by winning one each in Brindabella and Ginninderra and two in Molonglo. Crispin Hull of the Canberra Times also assesses that the Greens will now "have left-field on their own" and are thus assured of a seat in each electorate, although to the Poll Bludger’s mind a lesson of the federal election is that the Greens cannot count on making all the hay from the decline of the Democrats, who received considerable support from those making what they perceived to be an ideologically neutral anti-major party vote. Hull also notes that a repeat of last week’s voting patterns in Canberra would give Labor 10 of 17 seats, and provides the following instructive analysis of why there is no chance of this happening:

Firstly, a lot of Canberrans vote for federal Labor for the purely selfish reason that they are federal public servants whose power and pay, they think, is improved by a federal Labor Government. But when it comes to local government they get as fretful as the rest of Australia, especially over rates – the local equivalent of interest rates. Secondly, in the ACT we have multi-member electorates … So we have a name-recognition factor plus a ‘my-local-member-helped-me’ factor. It means quite a few people will have both Labor and Liberal candidates in their first five or seven preferences. In Molonglo in 2001, 8 per cent of the preferences of the first excluded Liberal went to Labor.

All of which makes the process very convoluted and difficult to pick. Over the coming days the Poll Bludger will review the contests for each of the three electorates in turn. For the time being readers can amuse themselves with the following table, outlining votes and seats won by the various parties in each of the three electorates since their establishment at the 1995 election.

2001 41.7 (8) 31.6 (7) 9.1 (1) 8.1 (1) 9.5 (0)
1998 27.6 (6) 37.8 (7) 9.1 (1) 6.0 (0) 14.4 (3)
1995 31.6 (6) 40.5 (7) 9.1 (2) 3.9 (0) 14.9 (2)
Molonglo (7) ALP LIB GRN DEM OTH
2001 39.3 (3) 34.0 (3) 12.6 (1) 7.7 (0) 6.4 (0)
1998 25.6 (2) 41.5 (3) 10.1 (1) 5.1 (0) 17.7 (1)
1995 30.9 (3) 42.8 (2) 10.1 (1) 3.2 (0) 13.0 (1)
Brindabella (5) ALP LIB GRN DEM OTH
2001 44.0 (3) 31.8 (2) 5.5 (0) 6.9 (0) 11.8 (0)
1998 28.5 (2) 37.1 (2) 8.1 (0) 6.1 (0) 20.2 (1)
1995 31.6 (2) 37.1 (2) 8.0 (0) 3.8 (0) 11.5 (1)
Ginninderra (5) ALP LIB GRN DEM OTH
2001 42.8 (2) 28.0 (2) 7.9 (0) 9.7 (1) 11.6 (0)
1998 29.6 (2) 33.2 (2) 8.7 (0) 7.2 (0) 21.3 (1)
1995 32.7 (2) 40.7 (2) 8.7 (1) 5.0 (0) 12.9 (0)

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.