ACT Election wash-up

Labor looks to have won the first-ever absolute majority in the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly, appearing set for nine or 10 seats in the 17-seat chamber. While the Democrats predictably collapsed, the Greens hardly improved at all and can only be confident of winning one seat, that being the one they held already in Molonglo. With the independent vote also in decline both major parties increased their primary vote, Labor looking set to pick up the Democrats’ seat in Ginninderra while retaining their third seat in Brindabella. They are also a chance of winning a fourth seat from the Liberals in Molonglo. What follows are the primary vote figures from the end of the evening with about 85 per cent of the vote counted, with the Poll Bludger’s best guess of the likely seat outcomes in brackets.

Total (17) ALP LIB GRN DEM OTH
2004 46.9 (9) 34.7 (7) 9.3 (1) 2.3 (0) 6.8 (0)
2001 41.7 (8) 31.6 (7) 9.1 (1) 8.1 (1) 9.5 (0)
Molonglo (7) ALP LIB GRN DEM OTH
2004 45.6 (3) 32.2 (3) 11.6 (1) 1.4 (0) 9.2 (0)
2001 39.3 (3) 34.0 (3) 12.6 (1) 7.7 (0) 6.4 (0)
Brindabella (5) ALP LIB GRN DEM OTH
2004 46.0 (3) 40.3 (2) 7.1 (0) 1.5 (0) 5.1 (0)
2001 44.0 (3) 31.8 (2) 5.5 (0) 6.9 (0) 11.8 (0)
Ginninderra (5) ALP LIB GRN DEM OTH
2004 50.0 (3) 32.3 (2) 8.3 (0) 4.3 (0) 5.1 (0)
2001 42.8 (2) 28.0 (2) 7.9 (0) 9.7 (1) 11.6 (0)

Molonglo: The only electorate in which the Liberal vote fell, no doubt due to the 3 per cent polled by Liberal-turned-independent member Helen Cross. Her preferences will probably save the Liberals from dropping a seat to Labor, although they are not out of the woods yet. Labor incumbents Katy Gallagher, Ted Quinlan and Simon Corbell are all set for re-election, but Liberal member Jacqui Burke has again failed to impress voters, being outpolled by Liberal newcomers Richard Mulcahy and Zed Seselja. The Greens have gone backwards on the primary vote and have fallen well short of their stated hope for a second seat. They are nonetheless assured of one seat, with Deb Foskey having the edge out of those seeking to replace the retiring Kerrie Tucker.

Brindabella: The Liberals have performed much better than expected here, but not well enough to be in contention for a third seat. Opposition Leader Brendan Smyth has been easily re-elected but his fellow incumbent Steve Pratt has performed disappointingly and is in a wrestle for the other position with Steve Doszpot. The last seat emerges as a contest between the Greens and a third Labor candidate, and at present Labor appears to have the edge. John Hargreaves has been easily re-elected but colleague Karin MacDonald holds only a narrow lead over challenger Mick Gentleman, although the most likely result is that both will get up.

Ginninderra: Labor looks well placed to win a third seat at the expense of the Democrats, the other two staying with the Liberals. Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has dominated the Labor vote with a personal total of 35.2 per cent. It is not clear who the other Labor winners will be, incumbent Wayne Berry having attracted only 4.6 per cent. Liberal Bill Stefaniak has achieved a quota in his own right but colleague Vicki Dunne has not done as well, holding only small leads on the primary vote over the remaining Liberal candidates.

ACT Election: Conclusion

A word about that Canberra Times poll. The sample of 327 isn’t much, but it’s not completely useless and even the extreme end of its margin of error is still good news for Labor. After allocation of the undecided it has Labor on 55 per cent, Liberal on 30 per cent and the Greens on 11 per cent. This puts the Liberals roughly level with their 31.6 per cent from 2001, and it’s far from the only reason to think they won’t improve this time. For the Greens, 11 per cent feels a little on the low side, but only a little. The federal election demonstrated that the dividend they will receive from the decline of the Democrats has been over-estimated, and while they should improve on their 9.1 per cent from 2001, Senator Bob Brown’s prediction of four seats may be dismissed as another of his extravagant boasts. No doubt Labor’s score is excessive, but probably not to the degree that many would assume.

There are a number of good reasons to expect a particularly strong showing for Labor. Firstly, it would be a bit out of character for the voters of Canberra to deliver yet more power to the Liberal Party in the week that the Coalition secured a historic majority in both houses of federal parliament. Secondly, there has been a long term trend of "normalisation" in the ACT since the first election was held in 1989, when eight of the 17 members returned represented groups cranky about the establishment of self-government. The influence of independents has since progressively declined which is always good news for the traditionally dominant party, that being Labor in Canberra’s case. Thirdly, to an observer of recent state elections there seems to be a familiar pattern at work – the Labor Government that came to power in a minority position, and went on to win the following election in a landslide. Outstanding examples include Bob Carr in 1999, Peter Beattie in 2001 and Steve Bracks in 2002.

For these reasons, the Poll Bludger’s tips are as follows. Molonglo: Labor 4, Liberal 2, Greens 1. Brindabella Labor 3, Liberal 2. Ginninderra: Labor 2, Liberal 2, Greens 1.

ACT Election: Molonglo

Taking in the central part of Canberra, Molonglo returns seven rather than five members and has a lower quota of 12.5 rather than 16.67 per cent. Voters in the electorate have backed the Liberals and the Greens in slightly higher numbers than elsewhere at each of the three elections under the current system. Labor enters the race with its three elected members from last time present and correct – Deputy Chief Minister Ted Quinlan, Health and Planning Minister Simon Corbell and Education Minister Katy Gallagher. For the Liberals the story is unhappily more complicated. Their only competing incumbent is Jacqui Burke, who initially failed to retain her seat at the 2001 election, losing out to Liberal newcomer Helen Cross. Burke recovered her seat by filling the vacancy created by defeated Chief Minister Gary Humphries’ move to his current position in the Senate when Margaret Reid retired in 2002. Cross has since quit the Liberal Party and now sits as an independent; the other Liberal, Greg Cornwell, is retiring. Should Cross retain her seat she will presumably do so at the expense of the cast of unfamiliar Liberal candidates. The Greens too are fielding three little-known candidates with their member Kerrie Tucker retiring, having just failed in her bid to win Gary Humphries’ Senate seat. Even so, Senator Bob Brown has fantasised out loud about winning a second seat here, and it must be conceded that this is at least technically possible if they can pick up a reasonable surplus from Labor. But the Poll Bludger thinks he has caught the whiff of a landslide at this election, and not just because of yesterday’s poll in the Canberra Times. He accordingly predicts that Labor will win four seats in Molonglo, confining the Greens to one and the Liberals to two. The identity of the newcomers is anyone’s guess.

ACT Election: Ginninderra

Ginninderra covers the northern part of Canberra, including Belconnen and Nicholls. Its voting habits have been little different from those at the other end of town in Brindabella (the other five-member electorate), except that Labor didn’t quite get over the line to win a third seat here in 2001. It instead was taken by Roslyn Dundas of the Australian Democrats, the party’s first ever seat in the Assembly and probably also its last. Labor’s two members are senior Government figures certain of re-election – Chief Minister John Stanhope and Assembly Speaker Wayne Berry. Liberal front-benchers Vicki Dunne and Bill Stefaniak also appear safe, although they would be mindful of the outcome in 2001 when Dunne defeated Liberal incumbent Harold Hird, who is contesting again as an independent. Nobody expects the Liberals to be in contention for a third seat, and it also appears certain the Greens will overtake the Democrats (they respectively polled 7.9 and 9.7 per cent in 2001). It will then come down to one of the Greens (Meredith Hunter or Ben O’Callaghan) and a third Labor candidate. Assuming no leakage of preferences (a wrong assumption, but still useful for broad outline purposes) that will mean a contest between the total Greens vote and Labor’s surplus over 33.3 per cent (i.e. two quotas). Crispin Hull of the Canberra Times is convinced the Greens can’t lose, but having seen what stable first-term Labor governments could do to their opponents in Queensland and Victoria, the Poll Bludger is not so sure. Despite its modest sample of 327, yesterday’s poll in the Canberra Times offers further evidence to this effect.

ACT Election: Brindabella

The electorate of Brindabella covers the rural areas in the south of the Territory and outer southern Canberra including Tuggeranong. Five members are to be elected under the Hare-Clark system, with a quota of 16.67 required for election. It is only compulsory for voters to number one candidate for each vacancy (so five in Brindabella and Ginninderra and seven in Molonglo), after which they have the option to exhaust. At the first two elections under the current system Brindabella returned two members for each major party plus independent Paul Osborne. In 2001 Labor broke through to win a third seat at Osborne’s expense, their primary vote increasing from 28.5 to 44 per cent. Their challenge this time is to try and hold that seat against the rising tide of the Greens.

In this respect the bar has been raised by the retirement of member Bill Wood, a veteran of the first ACT Legislative Assembly in 1989, who will take with him a name recognition that is very important in these elections. Incumbents John Hargreaves and Karin MacDonald are assured of re-election while the remaining Labor candidates, Mick Gentleman, Paschal Leahy and Rebecca Logue, appear from this distance to have about as much chance as each other of taking a third seat. To do this they will also need to overcome the two Greens candidates, Graham Jensen and Kathryn Kelly. Crispin Hull of the Canberra Times argues that Labor will need to substantially improve on the 44 per cent of the vote they received to win the third seat in 2001, when the non-major party vote split in several directions and petered out through exhaustion and leakage to the major parties. This time they will face a consolidated Greens vote. However, Antony Green notes that the 6.9 per cent vote for defeated independent Paul Osborne, who is not contesting this time, "is more likely to return to the major parties than to go to the Greens".

There are also two sitting Liberal members who appear certain to be re-elected – Opposition Leader Brendan Smyth, who held the federal seat of Canberra for one year after the 1995 by-election that lit the fuse on the Keating Government, and Steve Pratt, the CARE aid worker who was imprisoned in Yugoslavia on spying charges in 1999.