ACT election: Molonglo

The Australian Capital Territory is divided into three multi-member electorates, one (Molonglo) returning seven members and the other two (Brindabella and Ginninderra) returning five. The first in our three-part installment looks at Molonglo, which has an enrolment of around 100,000 compared with just over 70,000 for the five-member regions. Molonglo extends from central Canberra to its northernmost (Gungahlin) and westernmost (Weston Creek) areas. As Adam Carr’s 2004 booth result maps demonstrate, Labor is relatively weak around the city centre, the Liberals are relatively strong in the north and there is a concentration of Greens support in between: “within a short bike ride of the ANU coffee shop”, as Carr put it on this site. The last two elections both saw the major parties win three seats each with the Greens on one. Labor only won two seats at the previous two elections under the current system, the other seat going to independent Michael Moore, who served as Health Minister in the Liberal government and retired in 2001. The recent Patterson poll in the Canberra Times suggests both Labor and the Liberals are in danger of being reduced to two seats (the Liberals in fact have only two seats at present due to the departure of Richard Mulcahy, more on which below), with losses coming at the expense of a second Greens member or possibly an independent.

Labor has three members in Molonglo standing for re-election, all cabinet ministers. Deputy Chief Minister Katy Gallagher entered parliament at the 2001 election, at which her win was a crucial element in Labor’s victory. A member of the Left faction, she was promoted to cabinet in December 2002 as Education and Industrial Relations Minister, becoming Deputy Chief Minister when Ted Quinlan quit in January 2006 and trading education for health. Andrew Barr came to the parliament in March 2006 after replacing retiring former Treasurer Ted Quinlan, winning the seat on a countback after polling 3.8 per cent at the 2004 election. A former adviser to John Hargreaves and member of the Right, Barr was immediately promoted to fill Quinlan’s vacancy in cabinet, reportedly ruffling the feathers of the backbenchers who were overlooked. Despite taking on what might have proved to be the poisoned chalice of education (along with industrial relations), he continues to be spoken of as a future leader. Barr was given further responsibility for planning when the other Labor member for Molonglo, Simon Corbell of the Left faction, was stripped of the portfolio in April 2007. Corbell has been in parliament since 1997 and currently serves as Attorney-General and Police and Emergency Services Minister. He was relieved of the planning portfolio he had held throughout the life of the Stanhope government after breaking cabinet solidarity to publicly urge colleagues to speak out against the prospect of recycled sewage being used as drinking water. Labor’s other candidates are Mike Hettinger, a former US Air Force officer and scientist with the Department of Education, Science and Training who narrowly failed to win a fourth seat for Labor at the 2004 election; Eleanor Bates, 29-year-old breast cancer survivor; Louise Crossman, a CFMEU industrial officer; and David Mathews, manager of an IT services and consulting business.

The senior Liberal candidate is Zed Seselja, who rose to the party leadership at 30 years of age last December. His elevation came shortly after long-standing leadership aspirant and erstwhile Seselja ally Richard Mulcahy was expelled from the parliamentary party (see below). The party collectively chose to clear the air by giving Seselja a clear run at the leadership, with Mulcahy’s rival Brendan Smyth agreeing to settle for deputy. Seselja came to parliament at the 2004 election, emerging as the second strongest performing Liberal candidate on his debut with 6.1 per cent of the vote, but he was only the third Liberal elected after being overtaken by Jacqui Burke on preferences. Jacqui Burke entered parliament in January 2001 after filling the vacancy created by former Chief Minister Kate Carnell’s departure, but failed to retain her seat at the election the following October. She returned after another countback, this time caused by Gary Humphries’ move to the Senate in 2002. A self-described “little-l Liberal”, Burke was on Brendan Smyth’s side of the party room stand-off against the Richard Mulcahy faction in the period when Bill Stefaniak was compromise leader. In November 2006 she replaced Richard Mulcahy as deputy leader, and was reported as having aspirations to go one better during the party turmoil of December 2007. She stood down as deputy together with leader Bill Stefaniak in December 2007, making way for the new leadership team of Seselja and Smyth.

The departure of Mulcahy means that unlike Labor, the newcomer Liberal candidates are of more than academic interest. According to Markus Mannheim of the Canberra Times, Gary Kent and Belinda Barnier both outpolled Jacqui Burke in the party’s April preselection vote, respectively scoring 24 and 11 votes to Burke’s seven. Kent was an all too active player in last year’s party ructions as ACT branch president, notably when a leaked email emerged in May in which he accused Brindabella MLA Steve Pratt of trying to destroy the career of his ally Richard Mulcahy. Kent opted not to reconstest the presidency the following August shortly after four MLAs defied his order that they not attend functions of the Canberra Business Club, with which he had been at loggerheads. Belinda Barnier works for the Red Cross, and has twice run for the federal seat of Canberra. A third newcomer, Giulia Jones, equalled Burke’s seven preselection votes, despite her apparently low profile. Also on the Liberal ticket are Clinton White, media adviser to former leader Bill Stefaniak, and Jeremy Hanson, a lieutenant-colonel in the army who was recently awarded the Chief of Joint Operations Gold Commendation for service in Iraq.

The recent surge in support for the Greens means the party seems certain to win one seat and could even win two if we are to believe the Patterson/Canberra Times poll, which had the party’s vote up from 11.5 per cent at the 2004 election to 23 per cent. For the second successive election the party has an open ticket of newcomers, with sitting member Deb Foskey announcing she would not seek a second term in May. Greenpeace International business director Shane Rattenbury is acknowledged as the party’s senior figure: he has been the focus of its advertising campaign, and could potentially emerge as Deputy Chief Minister if the party presses its case with sufficient force in post-election horse-trading. Rattenbury narrowly failed to win election in Ginninderra in 1998 and 2001, falling short on the latter occasion by 48 votes. The other Greens candidates are circus organiser and performer Elena Kirschbaum and ethical investment manager Caroline Le Couteur.

With seven seats up for grabs, Molonglo is by far the most attractive of the three electorates for independent and minor party candidates, and has again attracted some significant entrants. The most notable is Richard Mulcahy, who was expelled from the parliamentary Liberal Party amid the turmoil that engulfed the party last December. The trouble began when then-leader Bill Stefaniak stood Mulcahy down from his portfolios pending a federal tribunal inquiry into past activities as executive director of the Australian Hotels Association (he was cleared of wrongdoing in February). Mulcahy reacted by claiming to know of unspecified allegations against Stefaniak and Brendan Smyth, intimating that it would be in their best interests if they joined him on the back bench. The ensuing explusion motion was passed unanimously by the party room, which then sought to clear the air by having Stefaniak stand aside for clean-skin Zed Seselja. He will now attempt to hold his seat under the banner of “Richard Mulcahy Canberra Party”. Two other independent candidates of interest: Frank Pangallo, the high-profile former mayor of Queanbeyan, and Helen Cross, who was elected as a Liberal at the 2001 election but was expelled the following year after a series of disagreements with her colleagues, most notably over her decision to support legislation to legalise abortion. The Patterson/Canberra Times poll had Pangallo on 3 per cent, Cross on 2.5 per cent and Mulcahy on 2 per cent.

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.

15 comments on “ACT election: Molonglo”

  1. Adam, a small typo in the Labor paragraph.

    “Simon Corbell of the Left faction, was stripped of the portfolio in April 2007. Stanhope has been in parliament since 1998 and currently serves as Attorney-General and Police and Emergency Services Minister.”

    Should be “Corbell has been in parliament…

    Also he was first elected to parliament in 1997, not 1998.

  2. Also running in Molonglo is a large variety of independents and minor party types.

    Including the Greg Tannahill running for the Democrats from the Ungrouped column of the ballot. He’ll the only person in that column without the word “Independent” next to his name.

    Also the Liberal Democrats, the Australian Motorists Party and the Community Alliance Party are all running candidates in Molonglo. Though I’m not entirely sure of the circumstances that would put them into the Assembely. I wonder if there’s any polling that asks about minor parties? Though I guess for Canberra we’re lucky to have any polling at all.

  3. Is the Burl Dobell standing for the Motorists the same person who stood for One Nation in Eden Monaro a couple of elections ago? Do the two parties have some core beliefs in common?

  4. William et al

    Good review. Important to remember that a quota in Molonglo is 16.667% of the vote (100% divided by 5 members plus one) which makes the electorate more competitive than the other electorates for all parties.

    For Labor to retain three ministers (Corbell, Barr and Gallagher they need greater than 50% of the vote following distribution of preferences from candidates who have missed out. This will come down to the sequence of elimination of other parties as to whether they will get all three ministers back.

    For Libs Zed is certain to be re-elected but it is very unclear who of the Libs will pick up their second seat. Kent as a former President has a profile, and Clinton White is community FM radio voice. Jacqui Burke is no certainty despite having had two stints in the Assembly

    Since the Canb Times polls the major parties have attacked the Greens. It is also very unclear who will pick up the last seat and it will probably involve a margin of less than 100 votes

  5. Having Zed as leader- and apparently a fairly popular one- should give a boost to the Liberal vote here. Assuming the Mulcahy vote was more for the party and not him personally, at least some of it will flow back to the Liberals. This should be enough to give them 3 seats.

    Greens should easily win the other seat, but a 2nd Green and/or independent doesn’t look likely unless there’s a tight, co-ordinated preference arrangement (which might happen).

    Labor should win their 3 seats comfortably- they were all elected before the Liberal candidates in 2004.

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