The five-member electorate of Ginninderra covers the Belconnen district in Canberra’s north-west. It is the strongest of the three electorates for Labor, having given them 50.1 per cent of the vote in 2004 against 45.7 per cent in Brindabella and 45.3 per cent in Molonglo. The 2004 election also produced a relatively strong performance for the Australian Democrats due to the presence of sitting member Roslyn Dundas (4.1 per cent against well under half that elsewhere), who nonetheless lost her seat to Labor. The three-Labor, two-Liberal result was the first time non-major players had been frozen out. The first election under the current system in 1995 delivered a seat to Lucy Horodny of the Greens, who retired at the 1998 election. The seat was then won by conservative leaning independent Dave Rugendyke, who failed to win re-election in 2001. Dundas won the final seat after finishing 48 votes ahead of Greens candidate Shane Rattenbury, who is now his party’s lead candidate in Molonglo. The 2004 election result gave Labor 3.01 quotas and the Liberals 1.95, leaving all minor players well out of contention. If the recent Patterson/Canberra Times poll is even remotely accurate, this time Labor looks almost certain to drop one of its three seats to the Greens.
Labor’s Wayne Berry is retiring after 19 years in parliament, reducing the risk of an incumbent emerging as a casualty. In any case, it was highly unlikely that Chief Minister Jon Stanhope was going to run into trouble. Stanhope entered parliament at the 1998 election and was immediately elected leader of what was then the six-member parliamentary party. A former staffer to Kim Beazley, the unaligned Stanhope was deemed the best prospect to lead the party after a disastrous election result neutered the previously dominant Left faction. Stanhope’s personal vote went from 8.0 per cent on debut to 24.5 per cent at the 2001 election, at which he led Labor to victory, to 36.9 per cent in 2004. Mary Porter was elected to parliament in 2004 with 3.8 per cent of the vote, and has thus far remained on the back bench. A member of the Right faction, Porter was previously chief executive of the ACT Volunteering Association, a staffer to Keating government minister Ros Kelly and a midwife in remote Aboriginal communities. Newcomers on the Labor ticket are Chris Bourke, described by the Canberra Times as a prominent Aboriginal dentist; Adina Cirson, advisor to Jon Stanhope and former CFMEU official; and Dave Peebles, a training consultant.
The Liberals also have a former leader bowing out, namely Bill Stefaniak, who led the party from May 2006 to December 2007 as a compromise candidate between the warring factions who supported Brendan Smyth and Richard Mulcahy. The remaining incumbent is Shadow Education and Transport Minister Vicki Dunne, who was elected to parliament in 2001 with 3.6 per cent of the vote, which she increased to 5.7 per cent in 2004. She was stripped of her portfolios in February 2006 following an argument with Brindabella Liberal MLA Steve Pratt in a corridor of the Legislative Assembly building, of which she was accused of leaking details to the media. Then-leader Brendan Smyth said she had been dropped because she could not assure him of her loyalty. Dunne returned to the front-bench when Stefaniak deposed Smyth as leader three months later, and she remained on Mulcahy’s side of his ongoing leadership stand-off with Smyth. The absence of other incumbents has created opportunities for the newcomers to the party ticket: Jacqui Myers, an accountant; Andrea Tokaji, a mental health professional and small business owner; Matthew Watts, whose unspecified occupation involves assisting vulnerable new migrants or cracking down on migration fraud; and Alistair Coe, 24-year-old former vice-president of the National Young Liberals, a late addition to the ticket following Stefaniak’s retirement announcement in late August.
The Greens’ only sitting member in the parliament is not seeking re-election, but in each of the three electorates they have designated senior candidates who have taken prominence in party advertising. In the case of Ginninderra the candidate is Meredith Hunter, director of the Youth Coalition of the ACT. Also on the ticket is James Higgins, a 23-year-old field organiser for the Community and Public Sector Union.
The most noteworthy of the micro-party and independent candidates is Canberra politics veteran Harold Hird, who was a Liberal member from 1995 until 2001 when Dunne defeated him by 55 votes. He polled 2.0 per cent in his first bid to recover the seat as an independent in 2004.
The five-member electorate of Brindabella covers Canberra’s southern suburbs, beginning in the north with Chifley and Farrer and extending through Tuggeranong, along with the unpopulated balance of the ACT. The Liberal vote of 40.4 per cent in 2004 was around 8 per cent higher than in the other two electorates, although this resulted from lower support for the Greens (7.2 per cent) and minor candidates (6.7 per cent) rather than Labor (40.4 per cent, compared with 50.1 per cent in Ginninderra and 45.3 per cent in Molonglo). The first two elections under the current system, in 1995 and 1998, returned two Labor and two Liberal members along with one independent, Paul Osborne, whose support helped maintain the minority Liberal government of Kate Carnell and Gary Humphries. Osborne’s defeat at the hands of Labor’s Karin MacDonald in 2001 was a crucial factor in the election of the Stanhope government, helping boost Labor from six to eight seats and allowing them to govern them with the support of Kerrie Tucker of the Greens. The only change at the 2004 election was the election of Labor’s Mick Gentleman in place of the retiring Bill Wood, who had been in parliament since 1989. The least clear-cut part of the outcome was Liberal incumbent Steve Pratt’s win over party colleague Steve Doszpot, whom he outpolled by only 6.1 per cent to 5.8 per cent.
Two of Labor’s three sitting members are seeking re-election, with Karin MacDonald retiring after seven years in parliament. The senior of the two is John Hargreaves, Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Territory and Municipal Services and Housing. Hargreaves entered parliament at the 1998 election at the expense of sitting Labor member Andrew Whitecross, and polled 17.8 per cent at the 2004 election. When first elected he was described as socially conservative, and he remains a stalwart of the Right faction. Mick Gentleman is a member of the Left, and has remained on the back-bench during his first term. He won the third Labor seat at the 2004 election after polling 7.4 per cent of the vote, not far behind Karin MacDonald on 8.3 per cent. The other Labor candidates are Wayne Sievers, a former Australian Democrats candidate and ACT branch president who served with the Australian Federal Police in East Timor; Joy Burch, a nurse and director of the Australian Rural Health Education Network; and Tracy Mackey, a public servant with the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
Both Liberal incumbents are seeking re-election, but the past electoral weakness of one means the internal contest is of considerable interest. Despite having lost the party leadership in May 2006, Brendan Smyth‘s record in polling 16.5 per cent in 1998, 15.8 per cent in 2001 and 21.4 per cent in 2004 suggests he is unlikely to be troubled. Smyth first came to prominence after winning the federal by-election for Canberra in 1995, but the seat reverted to Labor type amid the party’s otherwise disastrous performance at the 1996 election. Eighteen months after entering territory politics Smyth became Deputy Chief Minister when Gary Humphries replaced Kate Carnell as Chief Minister, and he replaced Humphries as Liberal leader when he departed for the Senate in 2002. The 2004 election initiated a leadership stand-off between Smyth and newly elected Richard Mulcahy, who each claimed two supporters in the seven-member party room. Bill Stefaniak was able to marshall the support of the Mulcahy faction to depose Smyth in May 2006, with Mulcahy emerging as deputy leader. It was well known that Smyth continued to harbour ambitions to recover the position, but he was persuaded to settle for deputy to Zed Seselja when Mulcahy was dumped from the parliamentary party in December 2007. One of Smyth’s party room backers was Steve Pratt, who made national news in 1999 when he was imprisoned on spying charges while working as a CARE aid worker in Yugoslavia at the time of NATO’s Kosovo bombing campaign. Pratt scored 7.0 per cent of the vote when first elected in 2001, but this fell to 6.1 per cent in 2004. He was only narrowly able to defeat newcomer Liberal candidate Steve Doszpot, the managing director of Canberra Strategic Marketing, who is again taking the field at this election. According to Liberal sources quoted in the Canberra Times, both Doszpot and another new candidate, David Morgan, outpolled Smyth and Pratt at the Liberal preselection vote. However, beyond a background in economics and finance, information on Morgan’s professional background is elusive. The other Liberal candidate, Audrey Ray, is described on the party website only as a professional project manager.
The lead Greens candidate is Amanda Bresnan, a policy officer with the Mental Health Council of Australia. Bresnan polled 3.4 per cent as a candidate in Molonglo at the 2004 election, and was also the candidate for Canberra at last year’s federal election. Her running mate is Sue Ellerman, described on the party website as a counsellor and health educator.