Australian Capital Territory election guide

An overview of Saturday’s election in the Australian Capital Territory, where Labor is seeking to make it five in a row.

I have just published a guide to Saturday’s Australian Capital Territory election, which provides an overview of the territory’s political history going back to the establishment of self-government in 1989, and observes the lay of the land in the five newly created five-member districts. I am indebted throughout to the coverage of the Canberra Times, which has a good overview of the election issues here.

The new regime will result in a parliament of 25, replacing an existing arrangement of one seven-member and two five-member regions, with 17 members overall. The numbers in the chamber since the 2012 election have been eight each for Labor and Liberal, with Labor surviving in government by the grace of Greens member Shane Rattenbury, who has held a position in cabinet throughout the current term. Labor has been in power since 2001 and is seeking a fifth victory under a third Chief Minister, Andrew Barr. The Liberals are led by Jeremy Hanson, who replaced Zed Seselja when he moved to the Senate in February 2013.

In the absence of published opinion polling, the situation is not easy to read. While the Liberals stand to benefit from the government’s longevity, and perhaps also the controversy over its pursuit of a light rail scheme that so far offers benefits only to the city’s north, Canberra is always difficult ground for the conservative side of politics. The challenge they face is to have three out the five seats won by Liberals or amenable independents in three of the five regions. They are presumably well placed to again win three seats in the southern suburbs district of Brindabella, but to this must be added third seats in two out of Ginninderra and Yerrabi, in the north of Canberra, or Murrumbidgee, which neighbours Brindabella in the south.

The Greens were reduced to a single seat in 2012 after winning four in 2008, and the new electoral arrangement – the fruit of a deal between Labor and Liberal – has made life difficult for them by abolishing the seven-member region of Molonglo. However, the party’s concentration of support around the centre of the city should at least be enough for them in the Kurrajong district, which Rattenbury is contesting.

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.

44 comments on “Australian Capital Territory election guide”

  1. Some relevant issues.
    The other issue that might be biting is rate rises. Ours have risen more than 50% in four years. This shows no signs of levelling off. If it keeps going we will have to shift our of our home of 30 years. Some of our neighbours are already gone.
    The housing market/construction industry is buoyant.
    Employment is OK.
    Labor campaigning organization seems to be better.
    This is the corflute election. I have not seen this many in 30 years worth of ACT elections.
    The Liberal team is nondescript.
    The quality of the Indies seems to be a bit better than usual.
    Barr is thin-skinned, somewhat abrasive and a tad arrogant.
    Money is being pissed away on odd projects like an urban demonstration garden (now derelict) and the million dollar container waste of money on the lake. This was so bad they had to let a consultancy on ‘revitalization’. It has never been vital.
    ACT debt is growing rapidly.
    There are already delays on Northborne as a result of Light Rail construction. The locked in contracts will be a financial millstone around ACT ratepayers’ necks for a generation.
    There are various signs of corruption involving the Labor/Greens Government and developers.
    Rattenbury is essentially a property speculator who appears to have gained capital value as a direct result of Labor/Greens decisions. There is no evidence that he absented himself from decisions involving an apparent or a direct conflict of interest.

    There seems to be a profound sense of indifference about this election except amongst the folk who are being skinned alive by way of rate increases. This is, as far as I know, the only vote changer out there.

  2. The Canberra Times has really gone downhill into the tabloid zone. The paper edition is now tabloid size with larger fonts and much white space. It also goes for misleading headlines. I saw today’s front page headline in a shop “Hanson in Striking Distance” and assumed they had a poll of some sort. (Jeremy Hanson is the Liberal leader for those outside the ACT.) All the article contained was a story of Hanson’s personal background and views. It mentioned that the election would be close – as anyone could tell you given proportional representation with five electorates having five members each.

    There’s still a possibility of an opinion poll before Saturday but it doesn’t seem likely.

  3. thank you. labor has been in power for a long time but have made few errors so besides longevity they deserve by their performance to be re-elected.

  4. There seems to be a lack of public polling in Canberra, but I wonder how many privately commissioned polling the parties and special interest groups are doing.

  5. wait, apparently I really can’t maths.

    ACT deficit is $250 per person per year. Federal is $2000 per person per year.

    Still not seeing the ‘rapidly’

  6. SB

    Your 1.2 is utter bullshit.
    It has been analysed by independent experts to be such. It relies on absolutely heroic assumptions about property values.
    The real value is almost certainly less than 1.
    In any case the silly buggers that the GreensLabor Government played with the various attempts at getting the ‘right’ answer is fully instructive.
    They had the question they wanted, they just had to stitch up the answer.
    Still, Rattenbury, wink wink, nudge nudge accidentally found himself on the right side of economic history whatever the outcome.

  7. SB

    That debt is rising rapidly before the cost to the ACT budget of the Light Rail hits and despite a 50% rise in rates for yrs truly.
    We can all see where this is going.

  8. The local libs have always marched in step with the federal Libs, over the years regardless how often the Feds knocked canberra, the public service cut backs etc even when the last two local libs slipped into the ACT Senate seat have said nothing. The greens are non existent and there are a few Green posters of Rattenbury whose call to fame is forcing the light rail system. The Libs are on about building small hospitals, seemingly unaware a training hospital is under construction in Belconnen. What we need is more medical staff to man the two we currently have. My rates have rise by just over $200 since last year even though I am a pensioner it is no game changer and is the only thing other than the light rail that the Libs are rabbiting on about. Other than there are road works or blocks of units being constructing every where one looks, us locals soldier on and apart from the weather (which the Fed Libs consider a work in progress all downhill) it is still the best place to live in Australia.

  9. There was this poll over a year ago:

    I’d expect the Greens to pick up a couple of seats at least. Proportional result with the new seat numbers based on the 2012 (low-tide) result they got last time would be 2 seats. A more reasonable 14%, which is less than the poll indicated last year, would be 3 seats proportionally. If they get the 15% lower house vote they won in Canberra at the Federal election earlier this year, they should get 4 seats proportionally.

    Of course it’s not a perfectly proportional system and actual seat outcomes depend highly on whether the Labor remainder is more or less than the Green vote in any electorate, whether the combined surplus Labor + Green vote is more or less than the surplus Liberal vote, the order of elimination of candidates, distribution of Green vote between districts, name recognition and all sorts of other fun factors. But in the almost identical system in Tasmania the overall seat results for the Greens have ended up remarkably proportional to the actual statewide vote they get, exception being 1998 when Tas Labor’s vote was at heights not seen by ACT Labor since Jon Stanhope. It’d be astounding for Barr to get that kind of primary support, given the circumstances, so I don’t think there’s much risk of that same kind of Tas 1998 “edging-out” happening on a mass scale to the Greens in 2016.

    To back up the proportionality point:

    Tasmanian elections under 25 seat Hare Clark
    Year – Green vote % – Seats won – Rounded proportional seat result
    1998 – 10.18% – 1 – 3 (See explanation above)
    2002 – 18.13% – 4 – 5
    2006 – 16.63% – 4 – 4
    2010 – 21.61% – 5 – 5
    2014 – 13.83% – 3 – 3

    In more depth, based on Antony Green’s redistribution numbers:

    My instinct, particularly based on national trends and Labor’s incumbency would be that the Greens will gain ground and Labor stays static or loses a little ground at this election – if that plays out without heavy vote leaking from the Green ticket they will stay ahead of Labor in the run for all of the final 5 seats. All this is subject to the massive, massive problem that it is basically impossible to predict how evenly the votes of individual candidates will split, the stuff below is based only on total party votes and doesn’t look much at candidates. Although this problem is mitigated by the fact that only 12 members elected in 2012 will be facing re-election, there will be much less name recognition than usual and more more dependence on the generic party vote.

    On the total votes Liberals are pretty close to taking a third seat in Brindabella as they did at the last election, so unless Liberals go backwards and Greens advance I think the prospect of a new Green seat there is very slim. Two high-profile Liberals are not recontesting here, so while there might be opportunities it is impossible to predict. Liberals didn’t even get 2 quotas worth last time in Ginninderra, it would be astonishing if they were competitive for the final seat, so I’d say the Greens should almost definitely pick up that one – although this is where Labor won 3 seats due to their even split last time. Only 2 of those 3 are recontesting, and I think the swings will prevent this from happening again here. Greens pretty much always get enough support to make a quota under the new system on their own in Kurrajong, I’d expect that to happen yet again & Shane Rattenbury easily returned. Even if Greens don’t get a quota in Kurrajong, there’s a very healthy progressive surplus to fill the gap, so he’s back. As long as Greens stay ahead of Labor surplus in Murrumbidgee, there should be plenty of unspent progressive vote to gain the final seat there – so that’s another likely new seat unless the left-indie preferences flow strongly against. The battle in Yerrabi will be on between combined Greens + Labor and the Liberal surplus for the final seat, completely depends on how much ground the Liberals can gain this time as to whether that battle is won by Greens or Liberals, although my bet would be on the Liberals here as the progressive vote will be heavily split.

    So I think the Greens will get 2-4 seats, most likely 3, and that this will give them an expanded role in a returned Labor + Greens majority government, facing a slightly expanded Liberal opposition.

    Another wildcard here is the significant chunk of independents / others vote which could split in any number of ways. Last time the big ones were Motorists with 4% overall (unlikely to favour Greens) and Bullet Train for Canberra also with 4% (likely to favour Greens / left), although neither of these parties are recontesting their voters are still in the mix. Probably the biggest risk from independents/others would be Sex Party (scored 4% in 2016 Senate) ambivalence toward the Greens or Animal Justice voters (1.7% 2016 Senate) punishing Greens over the Kangaroo cull by exhausting or boosting Labor candidates. I expect Liberal Democrats will take most of the votes from 2012’s “Motorists”, as they did in 2016 Senate, and will not help Greens at all.

    Or I might be wrong about all that! One of the most technically difficult elections to predict. The electoral system and strength of the Greens makes this a *very* interesting one to watch, and I’ll be glued to the TV on Saturday.

  10. PG

    I can’t see the roo culls changing a single vote – unless some rational people see the enormous benefits to biodiversity from the roo culls in places like Mullies and decide to vote for groups which are a bit more rational than the Greens and the Animals Rights Maddies.

    I am curious in this election to see whether Labor gets to learn a fundamental lesson: that getting into bed with the Greens is bad for Labor.

    I agree that the Labor vote will go down. The Lib vote will increase this election.

    Like you, I am concerned that increasing the number of seats will have the perverse outcome of increasing the number of seats that the Greens hold regardless of whether their vote goes up or down.

  11. @Boerwar
    I think for that story to do any damage whatsoever it will probably have to be picked up by literally any other news source. I, for one, can’t even read it. The national wall-to-wall focus on same sex marriage this week will be handy, since it was this Labor + Greens government in the ACT who passed marriage equality and had it struck down by the high court not so long ago. Turnbull’s recent renewables stuff up will also not have done the Liberals there any favours, since renewables are so popular in the ACT even the Liberals support a 100% target.

    It will be interesting to see what the big media issue is in the final few days before the election itself, and whether Turnbull will risk trying to help out.

  12. Andrew Barr must be thanking his lucky stars that the Liberals chose Jeremy Hanson as leader in seeking a fifth term: a hard-right former army officer whose views fit better in rural Queensland couldn’t be a worse political fit for the ACT.

  13. Seems about the best guess on the basis of commentary here is:
    Liberals 11
    Labor 10
    Greens 3
    Independents 1

    But a Liberal victory is not out of the question, as polling is not existent.

  14. @ BW. I don’t really understand what you think your point is.

    Rates are going up to replace stamp duty, which is going down. Because stamp duty was a much bigger revenue raiser than rates, rates have to go up by a big % to make up for a smaller % change in stamp duty.

    So why would you make the comment that “debt is rising rapidly despite a 50% rise in rates for yrs truly.”? How could an increase in rates change the rate at which debt is raising, considering it is revenue neutral?

    Basically, from what I can see, your entire argument is “I already own my house, and Labor are proposing to replace stamp duty with rates, which is supported by every economist ever, but disadvantages me personally, so I am going to look for any possible made up reason to hate Labor”
    Also, Henry review in 2010.

  15. Oh, and if you honestly think the ‘independent experts’ that the Liberals asked to analyse the LR CBA are expert and independent , then you have a weird definition of both expert, and independent.

  16. [Rebecca
    Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 12:47 am
    Andrew Barr must be thanking his lucky stars that the Liberals chose Jeremy Hanson as leader in seeking a fifth term: a hard-right former army officer whose views fit better in rural Queensland couldn’t be a worse political fit for the ACT.]

    I think Jeremy Hanson is fairly benign. He is supposedly a ‘moderate’ Liberal.

    The far right person is the deputy leader, Alistair Coe. He is young and very ambitious. He was a mover in the campaign to unseat the moderate Gary Humphries as ACT Liberal senator, to be replaced by the hard right Zed Seselja.

    During the election campaign the stories around Hanson have been mostly his history as an army officer and nice family man. He doesn’t have that ‘attacking’ personality. Stories around Coe have been mostly about his virulent attacks on Labor and the Greens. The Liberals’ main item of the campaign (anti-tram) has been run by Coe. Should the Liberals win, I see him challenging Hanson for the leadership within a year or so. Should they lose, one of two things will happen to Coe – either he will challenge Hanson for the leadership or he will be under attack from Liberal moderates for planning a losing election strategy.

  17. SB
    ‘Basically, from what I can see, your entire argument is “I already own my house, and Labor are proposing to replace stamp duty with rates, which is supported by every economist ever, but disadvantages me personally, so I am going to look for any possible made up reason to hate Labor”’

    I have voted Labor/Greens for over 30 years in the ACT. I believe in wealth redistribution. I have paid lots of tax.

    Normally I don’t mind because I have been fortunate and I believe that it is important in a decent society to support those who have not shared in my fortune. Simple as that.

    Here is my situation.
    My rates have gone up more than 50% in four years. Only four years.
    If I live in this house for another 25 years which is about my life expectancy, that equates to an INCREASE of $75,000 in my base living costs that I can do nothing about.
    We all know that the ACT budget depends very heavily on land sales and rates to balance the books.
    We also all know that sooner or later there is going to be a hiatus in the land sales stuff. So we all know that they will go back to the rates trough.
    Now. We all know that they stuffed around with the Light Rail cost/benefit stuff until they got the answer they wanted. So, let’s not go there.
    Let’s go to the pissing away of my rates money on the container monstrosity down by the Lake.
    BUT, there is no way that these bastards are going to stop my rate increases next year or the year after that or the year after that.
    Are they?
    Let’s just say they increase my rates by another 50% by the next four years…
    I have tried on several occasions to approach various Labor people about this from reps to appartchiks to people manning the phones during the election.
    As have some of my neighbours. They are not interested in actually listening to the problem here. We get the fob off. One of my neighbours was told to fucking shift. But this was well before the election period. This guy is elderly and on a fixed income. He is now also an ex-Labor voter.
    I sincerely hope there are enough people like me to attract the undivided attention of Labor and the Greens over the next four years. What with all the extra time they will have on their hands to actually listen to people.

  18. Regarding rates in Canberra, my situation is as follows – quarterly accounts I paid in July (October bills to come in a week or so & rates, gas, electricity and water all come at the same time).

    Rates $468 ($1,869 for 2016/2017)
    Water $259
    Electricity $192
    Gas $787 (this for three months to 12 July; our gas bill this time will be much higher over the cold & wet winter and spring). Our house is reasonably well insulated and we set the thermostat at 20 degrees and limit the time the heater is on.

    Frankly, I am much more concerned about AGL’s constantly increasing prices for gas than about rates. The price of gas for domestic consumers compared to export prices is a national scandal.

    Another scandal is the amount raked off by injury compensation lawyers who advertise heavily. Any compensation lawyer who can afford to give $95,000 to the Liberal party for this election is really receiving too much money from my CTP premium ($560 paid in March).

  19. Noting the comments of some here about the evils of ACT Labor, rate increases, and Light Rail, I think it worth having some reality based commentary.

    ACT rates are going up. But the reason is not Light Rail. The reason is the decision to reduce stamp duty, which has propped up state and territory revenues for too long, to a more realistic level. Rates go up to make up the slack. The fact is, in all states and territories with hot property markets, home owners have paid artificially low rates because home buyers have paid artificially high stamp duties. Kudos to ACT labor for some honest reform.

    Here in Adelaide Xanthippe and I pay $1900 a year in rates, plus the various dreamed up state levies (e.g. Emergency services) take the total well over $2k. So Boerwar’s $2100 per year is not so unusual when compared as a whole.

    The real problem with rising state and territory charges is not public transport. It is Abbott and Hockey. The many billions per annum they have ripped out of state and territory payments for health and schools have made all the states and territories desperate for revenue. Blaming ACT LRT for the rates rise is completely missing the main game.

  20. I’m sure this has been mentioned, but any ‘cost benefit analysis’ of investment in public transport, especially fast trains, metro lines, subways, trams, light rail which only looks at the direct costs is a con job.

    The land value increase along the public transport corrider increases exponentially. In the case of the ACT where all land is owned by the ACT government, and all you can buy is a lease, it is a great money spinner.

  21. I should mention that I live in the deep south of Canberra and the light rail is very unlikely to come this far. However I support the construction of a light rail network to provide an important component of an adequate transport infrastructure in the years ahead.

    The Liberal plan is to pay $300 million compensation to the light rail consortium to produce absolutely nothing. That is at least $1,000 for every adult in Canberra. This is far greater than the per capita cost of cancelling the East West toll road in Melbourne.

    We all know that if the Liberals should be elected, they will discover a “great big hole in the budget left by the previous government” and renege on most of their spending promises.

  22. Sprocket
    The land value increase for light rail is certainly true. A study here in Adelaide showed that the economic development from the Glenelg tram extension was worth more than the project cost (admittedly a lot less than Capital Metro).

    This is why, in policy terms, we should look more at light rail and less building freeways in Australian cities. They have similar capacity but the freeway degrades suburbs whereas the light rail linesimprove them. Less cost and property acquisition too. All the other recent LRT projects (Gold Coast, Sydney, Adelaide) have been fairly successful. Go to France and they are using light rail networks as the mass transit systems for entire cities.

  23. S
    ‘ACT rates are going up. But the reason is not Light Rail. The reason is the decision to reduce stamp duty, which has propped up state and territory revenues for too long, to a more realistic level.’
    Realistic? I would like that.
    Having looked at the cost comparisons I would be very, very happy to get my rates back to where they were and pay stamp duty to prop up the duds.
    The truly worrying thing is that they are spending my rate increases now and that there is no end in sight on the rate increases.
    What is happening here is that there is a wealth transfer from everyone to those few fortunate ones, including Rattenbury, who are fortunate enough to own property along the light rail route.

  24. On a lighter note I believe I observed a historical first this morning: three people waving corflutes at the traffic.
    They would have done better not increasing my rates by over 50% in four years.

  25. Citizen
    Yeah. We are down to the only poll that really counts.
    Only three more sleeps until we find out whether increasing rates by 50% in four years gets its just reward.

  26. Boerwar
    When you do the sums, the rate increase and the consequent stamp duty decrease is both equitable and efficient, which is the reason the ACT Government introduced it. The rate increase was structured so that the rate increase was higher for those with higher unimproved values. There is some protection for pensioners by generous rate concessions for pensioners. Those paying the higher rates have almost all benefitted enormously from the increase in property values in recent years, and although it is true that you can’t live on higher property values (unless you run a reverse mortgage), the ACT Government have put in very generous concessions on stamp duty to enable older people to downsize at a fairly low cost. It’s true that in any change there will be some people who lose a lot of utility from the new system, and some off those will not be well-off. And you may well be in that group. But overall I think it is a progressive policy. If you have practical suggestions to make it even more progressive and to correct injustices, I’m sure the ACT Government will listen. If you like, post the suggestions here, and I will forward those ideas to the ALP Economic Policy committee.

  27. johncanB
    As noted before I have paid lots of taxes over a lifetime. I could yada yada about hard, gruelling work etc, etc and it would all be true. But those were my choices and I was fortunate. I had good choices. The nub is that I have been fortunate and I believe that a just society needs fortunate people like me to share my wealth with less fortunate people.
    So, in principle, no problem and in practice, as I have said, I have paid lots and lots of taxes.
    But I am getting quite sick of people telling me that my rates have gone up by 50% in four years for my own good cos ‘stamp duty’. It is not good at all. I will take the stamp duty, thank you very much. It costs me a lot, lot less than the rate increase over the decision frame.
    I had no problem with my rates increasing with unimproved property values increases – even when they got really cute with the objections process.
    But my property value has not improved by 50% over four years.
    I can still live with what’s happened – even though my cost base is much higher than it was just four years ago.
    But the thing that literally worries me is that this mob are running up debt and have extremely limited sources of revenue.
    There is, as far as I can see, no end to the rates increases.
    What am I looking at?
    Another 50% in the next four years, compound, – with that being the new cost base for the rest of my life expectancy in this house?
    As for the ACT Government ‘listening’…bwahahaha…
    I can tell you that they have absolutely no interest in listening except to what they want to hear.

    Some of the debt is for truly stupid money-wasting stuff like the container monstrosity down by the Lake. When it failed, rather than closing it down, they paid tens of thousands for a ‘revitalisation’ consultancy. FMD. That’s were my 50% is going.

    I have tried repeatedly to talk to people but just get a wall of bullshit.
    They just do not want to know the practical consequences of their decisions for people such as moi.

  28. On the topic of the break costs, I would happy to pay $1,000.
    That would be far, far less than I will have to pay over the next couple of decades if the Light Rail goes ahead.

  29. Boerwar
    Friday, October 14, 2016 at 6:58 am
    On the topic of the break costs, I would happy to pay $1,000.
    That would be far, far less than I will have to pay over the next couple of decades if the Light Rail goes ahead.

    I think I read above somewhere a comment from you saying that there are locked in contracts in place for the light rail. How can it NOT go ahead, other than by paying out a fortune on broken contracts?

  30. Would expect the Liberals to outperform expectations simply because light rail is a toxic issue for the Government. I’m a supporter though, it’s about time.

  31. Darn
    The $1000 was raised as the per capita cost for the break fees. That would be cheap for me and I would be pleased to pay it now.
    As a practical alternative, dedicated bus lanes, electric buses a la Stockholm and a high congestion tax would be an acceptable alternative to me. The Greens argument that we have to have trams because people do not like to get on buses is defeatist. People all over the world cram themselves into buses.
    I have passed several early polling places this week and the activity outside them has been remarkably thin. One had no how to vote carders at all and the other had one on one occasion, none on another occasion and two on a third occasion.
    This would be, on the surface, the most passionless election I have ever been in.

  32. Antony Green in Canberra Times (presumably ABC didn’t ask for his opinion):

    ABC election analyst Antony Green said Canberrans would get a good indication of whether or Liberal had won the primary vote within about hour of polls closing on Saturday, but the closer the result, the longer it would take to discover who would form government.

    The major parties could be expected to win 10 seats each, with the election down to who won the final, seat in each of the five electorate, he said.

    The Liberals were expected to win the final seat in Tuggeranong. Murrumbidgee looked to be a race between the Greens and Liberals. In Ginninderra, the final seat could be a tussle between Labor and the Greens. In the central seat, the Greens were expected to win the final seat. That scenario would see the election hinge on the result Gungahlin.

    One possibility was that the Liberals would substantially outpoll Labor but be unable to form government because the Greens backed Labor.

    Mr Green said among factors this year was the loss of some of the big vote pullers from the 2012 election, including Katy Gallagher, Zed Seselja, Brendan Smyth and Mary Porter, with voters facing a number of candidates they didn’t know or recognise. That could see more “linear voting” down party columns and would play against the independents.


    How To Best Use Your Vote In ACT (and Tasmanian) elections

    This voting advice is more than a little late since I’ve been busy with fieldwork, but might help anyone who still hasn’t decided how to vote! I’m recommending voters in both the ACT and also Tasmanian lower house elections (when those are held) number absolutely every box if they want to make their vote as powerful as possible. (If they don’t want that, fine.)

  34. ACT Labor have run a good Government for many years. Went off the rails when they went down the Green track over the last few years…

  35. Unless something major changes with 30% counted Labor plus Greens are heading for 13 or 14 seats, 10 Lib and a couple unsure. Lib vote down 2.7%.

  36. Much the same with 75% counted. Libs down about 3.5% but no doubt getting a bit better with postals. Labor up 0.3%. Greens down 0.3% but no doubt affected by Animal Justice and Sex Party running this time and getting 1.5 and 3.3% to date.

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