Australian Capital Territory election: October 20

Election result from 2008
Labor Liberal Greens
Votes Seats Votes Seats Votes Seats
BRINDABELLA 36.5% 2 35.3% 2 13.6% 1
GINNINDERRA 40.2% 2 27.8% 2 13.9% 1
MOLONGLO 36.1% 3 31.5% 2 18.2% 2
Total 37.4% 7 31.6% 6 15.6% 4

OVERVIEW

Voters in the Australian Capital Territory go to the polls on October 20 to determine the fact of an 11-year-old Labor government headed by Katy Gallagher, who took over the reins when Jon Stanhope stepped aside in May last year. The electoral system for the 17-member chamber is the Hare-Clark model of proportional representation familiar from Tasmania, with the territory divided into three regions of which two (Brindabella and Ginninderra) return five members and a third (Molonglo) returns seven. As is the case for Tasmania and the Senate, this system usually delivers a substantial cross-bench, making majority government difficult to achieve. The present government came to office after the 2001 election and secured the chamber’s first and so far only parliamentary majority when it was re-elected in 2004, before reverting to minority status when the Greens achieved an electoral breakthrough in 2008.

Self-government for the ACT was established under the Hawke government in 1989, and the unpopularity of the move locally was indicated by an election result in which over 60% of voters opted for minor groupings who collectively returned eight members, including four who ran on a platform of abolishing self-government. The shifting sympathies of these members produced two changes of government during the first term: Labor’s Rosemary Follett held the reins from May to December 1989 and again after June 1991, with Trevor Kaine leading a Liberal administration in the interim. Three opponents of self-government held the balance of power after the 1992 election, and sustained Follett’s minority government throughout the following term.

The territory had consisted of a single 17-member electorate at the first two elections held under the “modified d’Hondt” system, but an overhaul of the electoral system in 1995 raised the bar for minor party candidates. The territory was broken down into its present three regions, considerably pushing up the quota for election. The introduction of Hare-Clark also entailed the “Robson rotation” system of rotating ballot paper order, which forces party candidates within each region into competition with their colleagues. The first election under the new system delivered seven seats to the Liberals, whose leader Kate Carnell was able to form a government with support from two independents. Carnell retained office after achieving a status quo result in 1998, before resigning in 2000 to head off a no-confidence motion resulting from an unfavourable auditor’s report into the redevelopment of Bruce Stadium. Her successor Gary Humphries led the government to defeat in 2001, and moved to the Senate a year later where he has remained ever since.

Labor came to office at the 2001 election after gaining two seats at the expense of Liberal-leaning independents, leaving them with eight seats to the Liberals’ seven and one each for the Greens and Democrats. New Chief Minister Jon Stanhope introduced four-year terms effective from the 2004 election, which was held one week after the federal election on October 9. The election saw Labor win majority government by gaining the requisite extra seat at the expense of the collapsing Democrats. The 2008 election saw the Greens’ representation grow from one to four on the back of a vote increase from 9.3% to 15.6%, reducing Labor from nine seats to seven and the Liberals from seven seats to six. The four Greens members, all of them new to parliament, declined an offer from the Liberals for a coalition government in which the Greens would take two cabinet positions including the deputy chief ministership, instead agreeing to support a Labor minority government on the basis that more of its agenda would be put into effect. This went against the advice of Bob Brown, who said his “counsel throughout this election was for the Greens to take ministries, to share government”.

Katy Gallagher came to the chief ministership following Jon Stanhope’s unforced departure in May 2011, having been anointed as his preferred successor. Gallagher entered parliament in 2001 after earlier working as an organiser for the Left faction Community and Public Sector Union. She served as Education Minister from December 2002 until April 2006, when she moved to health and assumed the deputy chief ministership in place of the retiring Ted Quinlan. Further indication of her future leader status came when she replaced Stanhope as Treasurer after the 2008 election. Her opposite number, Zed Seselja, has been leader of the Liberals since December 2007, at which time he was 31. Despite a mediocre showing for the Liberals at the 2008 election, he has survived the ensuing term without facing serious leadership speculation.

Peter Jean of the Canberra Times reported in August that Liberal internal polling had them hopeful of gains at the expense of a declining Greens, said to be in danger of losing 4% of the vote and as many as three of their four seats. Emma Macdonald of the Canberra Times reported in September that a poll of 400 voters conducted by Qdos Research for the Australian Education Union found 28% support for Labor, 27% for the Liberals, and 10% for the Greens, with a full third of the sample undecided – indicating there was no follow-up question as to which way undecided respondents were leaning, as public pollsters conventionally do to shake them off the fence.


BRINDABELLA

The five-member electorate of Brindabella covers southern Canberra together with the unpopulated balance of the ACT, including Chifley and Farrer at the city end and Tuggeranong to the south. It was the strongest of the three electorates for the Liberals at both the 2004 and 2008 elections, despite a 5.1% drop in their primary vote on the latter occasion. This occurred in the face of strong results from the Australian Motorists Party (7.0%) and the Community Alliance (7.6%), whose strongest performing is contesting the current election as a Liberal. However, the decisive shifts were the 9.2% drop for Labor and the 6.3% gain for the Greens, securing the latter their first ever seat in Brindabella at the expense a third seat for Labor.

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, who supported 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 2004 election produced a status quo result, barring Mick Gentleman election in place of retiring Labor member Bill Wood.

Together with the Greens’ gain from Labor, the 2008 election saw incumbents from both Labor and Liberal defeated by rivals from their own ticket. Labor’s Joy Burch was elected at the expense of Mick Gentleman, while Liberal member Steve Pratt, who had come to national prominence in 1999 after being imprisoned in Yugoslavia on spying charges while working for aid organisation CARE, was unseated on the second attempt by Steve Doszpot.

With the retirement after 14 years of Right faction stalwart John Hargreaves, the only Labor member seeking re-election is Joy Burch, who gained her seat at the 2008 election after outpolling Labor incumbent Mick Gentleman 7.8% to 7.3%. Formerly a nurse and director of the Australian Rural Health Education Network, Burch was elevated to cabinet in October 2009 when John Hargreaves stood aside after an accumulation of heavily publicised indiscretions. Some interpreted Hargreaves’ determination to see out the term on the back bench as motivated by a desire to ensure that Mick Gentleman did not gain his seat in the recount, which would have altered the party room’s factional balance. Mick Gentleman, who is the Left faction’s convenor, is will attempt a comeback at the election. Also on the ticket are Karl Maftoum, a protege of Hargreaves who has strongly supported his campaign; Rebecca Cody, a “former hairdresser, small business owner and now a public servant”, and Mike Kinniburgh, subject of a rather nebulous write-up on the ALP website.

Liberal leader Zed Seselja has chosen to run in Brindabella after two terms as a member for Molonglo, as part of a seat swap with Steve Doszpot that will allow each to contest the electorates where they now live. Seselja came to parliament after polling 6.1% in Molonglo when first elected in 2004, emerging the second best performing Liberal candidate ahead of incumbent Jacqui Burke. Facing re-election as party leader in 2008, his vote swelled to 19.0%. Joined Seselja on the ticket is Brendan Smyth, who has served as his deputy since he assumed the leadership in December 2007. Smyth first came to prominence after winning the federal seat of Canberra at a by-election in 1995, but the seat provided Labor with a rare bright spot when it reverted to type at the otherwise disastrous 1996 election. Smyth then ran in Brindabella at the ACT election in 1998, scoring a resounding 16.5% of the vote on his debut. Eighteen months later he became Deputy Chief Minister when Kate Carnell was succeeded as leader by Gary Humphries, and he in turn assumed the opposition leadership when Humphries moved to the Senate a year after leading the Liberals to defeat at the 2001 election.

The result of the 2004 election created a leadership stand-off between Smyth and ambitious newcomer Richard Mulcahy, who each claimed two supporters in a party room of seven. However, Smyth would instead be deposed by Bill Stefaniak, after Mulcahy fell in behind him in May 2006. The balance was again disturbed when Mulcahy was expelled from the parliamentary party in late 2007 when he reacted badly to being stood aside from his portfolios while an inquiry was conducted into his activities as executive director of the Australian Hotels Association (for which he would be cleared). In the interests of clearing the air, Stefaniak and his deputy Jacqui Burke stood aside for what has proved to be a durable Seselja-Smyth ticket, despite the Liberals’ mediocre showing at the 2008 election.

The non-incumbent Liberal candidates are 77-year-old Val Jeffery, who polled 6.5% as a candidate of the Community Alliance in 2008, and is noted locally for his work as a firefighter during the 2003 bushfires; Nicole Lawder, chief executive of Homelessness Australia; and Andrew Wall, who works in a family construction business.

Amanda Bresnan, formerly a policy officer with the Mental Health Council of Australia, won her seat in 2008 with 8.3% of the vote against 5.3% for running mate Sue Ellerman. She had earlier run in Molonglo in 2004, polling 3.4%, and was the party’s candidate for the federal seat of Canberra in 2007. Also on the ticket are Johnathan Davis, a 20-year-old gay rights advocate and public policy student at the University of Canberra who also works as a real estate agent, and Ben Murphy, an electrician.

OTHER CANDIDATES: Michael Lindfield, organiser of the Tuggeranong Community Festival, is running as an independent after failing to win Labor preselection. Other independents are ACT Pirate Party deputy president Mark Gibbons and 21-year-old politics student Calvin Pearce. Bullet Train for Canberra and the Australian Motorists Party are each fielding two candidates. Burl Doble of the Australian Motorists Party ran as candidate of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation at the 1998 federal election.


GINNINDERRA

The five-member electorate of Ginninderra is centred on the Belconnen district in Canberra’s north-west. It has been Labor’s strongest seat at all but one of the five elections held since the introduction of the present system in 1995, remaining so in 2008 despite recording the biggest anti-Labor swing (10.0%, reducing the party vote to 40.2%). The first election under the current system in 1995 delivered a seat to Lucy Horodny of the Greens, together with two seats each for the major parties. The major party status quo remained at the 1998 and 2001 elections, but on the former occasion the remaining seat was won by conservative leaning independent Dave Rugendyke, while on the latter it was won by Roslyn Dundas of the Democrats. Dundas finished 48 votes ahead of Shane Rattenbury of the Greens, who would have better luck two elections hence in Molonglo. The 2004 election result gave Labor a primary vote equal to 3.01 quotas and the Liberals 1.95, producing a clean split of three Labor and two Liberals with all minor players well out of contention. The Greens were finally able to return in 2008 with a vote increase from 8.2% to 13.9%, gaining a seat at the expense of Labor. Further contributing to a solid drop in the major party vote were strong performances by radio announcer Mark Parton, who polled 6.3% as an independent, and the Australian Motorist Party (6.1%).

The two Labor members elected in 2008 were Jon Stanhope and Mary Porter, the former of whom quit the chief ministership and the parliament in May 2011, to be succeeded in the latter role by Chris Bourke. Mary Porter was first elected in 2004 with 3.8% of the vote, which she increased to 6.2% in 2008. 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. Now 70, she was reportedly assisted in her endeavour to run again for election by affirmative action rules along with ongoing factional and branch support. Labor’s website identifies Chris Bourke as “the first Aborigine to complete a dental degree”, a job he practised in Canberra for 17 years. Bourke’s primary vote was the weakest of Labor’s five candidates in 2008, but the recount was conducted on the basis of Stanhope’s preferences which favoured Bourke over his one rival contender, Adina Cirson. Another candidate from 2008, David Peebles, did not nominate for the recount as he preferred to continue in his position as Deputy High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands. Other candidates on the Labor ticket for the coming election are Yvette Berry, United Voice union official and the daughter of former Labor MP Wayne Berry; Jayson Hinder, solicitor and Bendigo Community Bank chairman; and Glen McCrea, an economist who works for Bill Shorten.

The two Liberals elected in Ginninderra in 2008 were Vicki Dunne and Alistair Coe, both of whom are seeking re-election. Previously a staffer to the then Chief Minister, Gary Humphries, Vicki Dunne was first elected in 2001 at the expense of Liberal incumbent Harold Hird by a margin of 55 votes. Her vote has since progressed from 3.6% to 5.7% in 2004 and 7.1% in 2008. Dunne was associated in the previous term with the ambitious Richard Mulcahy, who entered parliament in 2004 and immediately asserted his leadership ambitions. In February 2006 she was stripped of her portfolios by the then leader, Brendan Smyth, after refusing to assure him of her loyalty. She returned when Bill Stefaniak deposed Smyth as leader three months later with Mulcahy’s support, and fell in behind Zed Seselja after Mulcahy was expelled from the parliamentary party in December 2007. Alistair Coe came to parliament at the 2008 election at the age of 24, doing exceptionally well to top the Liberal vote in Ginninderra with 9.8%, despite being a late inclusion after Bill Stefaniak’s unanticipated retirement announcement. The other candidates on the Liberal ticket are Merinda Nash, a one-time police officer and current owner of a florist shop; public servant Matthew Watts; and Jacob Vadakkedathu, president of the Federation of Indian Associations.

Former Youth Coalition of the ACT director Meredith Hunter, director of the Youth Coalition of the ACT, won the Greens seat in Ginninderra at the 2008 election with 10.2% of the vote. Her running mate on that occasion was James Higgins, who polled 3.7% and will join her again this time. Higgins was then a 23-year-old field organiser for the Community and Public Sector Union, and is now a 27-year-old staffer to Queensland Senator Larissa Waters. The third candidate is Hannah Parris, an “eco-entrepreneur” with a doctorate in public policy who was number two on the Senate ticket at the 2010 federal election.

OTHER CANDIDATES: Ginninderra has attracted the biggest crop of minor candidates out of the three electorates, with the Marion Lê Social Justice Party staking their sole claim here in addition to the Liberal Democratic Party, the Australian Motorist Party and Bullet Train for Canberra. The first of these is, self-evidently, an outlet for Marion Lê, who has built a high profile nationally as a refugee activist. Independent candidates include Darren Churchill, an Australian Democrats Senate candidate in 2010 who bothered some in his party by directing preferences to the Liberals ahead of the Greens.


MOLONGLO

Covering Canberra’s central, northernmost (Gungahlin) and westernmost (Weston Creek) areas, Molonglo is the territory’s one seven- rather than five-member electorate, having an enrolment of 108,194 compared with about 75,000 for the others. It is comfortably the strongest of the three for the Greens, who polled 18.2% here in 2008 compared with 13.6% in Brindabella and 13.9% in Ginninderra, scoring particularly well around the Australian National University campus. They have won seats here at all five elections since the current system was introduced in 1995, and achieved a breakthrough in 2008 to win a second seat.

Molonglo has served as a bellwether of sorts in that Labor has always formed government when it has won a third seat. They failed to do so in 1995 and 1998, being edged out on both occasions by independent Michael Moore, who served as Health Minister in the Liberal government and retired in 2001. Labor was then able to gain its crucial third seat, producing a result of three Labor, three Liberal and one Greens that was repeated in 2004. The surge to the Greens in 2008 gave them a primary vote equal to 1.46 quotas against 2.52 for the Liberals, with favourable preferences allowing a second Greens candidate to overtake a third Liberal. Labor meanwhile scored sufficiently close to a third quota to retain its third seat, despite a decline in their primary vote from 45.3% to 36.1%.

Labor has three members in Molonglo standing for re-election, including the Chief Minister and two other members of cabinet. Katy Gallagher entered parliament at the 2001 election, her success in winning a third seat for Labor a crucial element in their victory. A member of the Left faction, she was promoted to cabinet in December 2002, becoming Deputy Chief Minister when Ted Quinlan quit in January 2006. Despite the factional ascendancy of the Right, Gallagher’s status as Jon Stanhope’s heir apparent was confirmed when she took over the Treasury portfolio from him after the 2008 election, and she was unopposed to succeed him after his departure in May 2011.

Andrew Barr came to the parliament in March 2006 after replacing retiring former Treasurer Ted Quinlan, winning the seat on a countback having polled 3.8% at the 2004 election. A former adviser to John Hargreaves and leading figure in the Right, Barr was immediately promoted to fill Quinlan’s vacancy in cabinet, and became deputy to Gallagher upon her ascension to the leadership, as well as taking over the Treasury portfolio from her. Simon Corbell is a leading figure in the Left who entered parliament since 1997, and has been a minister since the election of the Stanhope government in 2001. He agreed not to contest the deputy leadership when Gallagher became leader as part of a factional arrangement in which he resumed the planning portfolio, which he had lost in 2007.

The newcomers on the Labor ticket are Meegan Fitzharris, a former public servant in the Attorney-General’s Department said to be well-connected in the Right; Angie Drake, a staffer to Katy Gallagher; Mark Kulasingham, a former staffer to John Hargreaves; and David Mathews, manager of an IT services and consulting business, who polled 2.3% as a candidate in 2008.

Zed Seselja and Jeremy Hanson were the only two Liberals elected in Molonglo at the 2008 election, and with the former moving to Brindabella, the latter is the only incumbent on the ticket. Jeremy Hanson was a lieutenant-colonel in the army and decorated Iraq war veteran before entering parliament in 2008. In a field dominated by Zed Seselja, who polled 19.0%, Hanson’s 3.7% secured him a seat at the expense of incumbent Jacqui Burke, who managed a meagre 1.8%. Seselja’s move to Brindabella forms part of a seat swap with Steve Dozspot, who succeeded in unseating Liberal incumbent Steve Pratt in Brindabella at the 2008 election after narrowly falling short in 2004. Also on the Liberal ticket is Giulia Jones, a staffer to Tony Abbott who polled 2.6% when she ran in 2008, making her the third highest polling Liberal, and who has kept her local profile up by contesting the federal seat of Canberra in 2010; Murray Gordon, a former air force group captain; Elizabeth Lee, a law lecturer or part Korean extraction; James Milligan, a small businessman who ran Fraser at the 2010 federal election; and Tom Sefton, who works with the Department of Defence.

The two successful candidates from 2008, Shane Rattenbury and Caroline Le Couteur, are both seeking re-election. Shane Rattenbury, business director of Greenpeace International before entering parliament, was designated by the party as its lead candidate in 2008, and polled 10.8%. He had earlier sought election in Ginninderra at the 1998 and 2001 elections, falling short on the latter occasion by 48 votes. Caroline Le Couteur was an ethical investment manager before narrowly winning her seat at the 2008 election ahead of another Greens candidate, circus organiser and performer Elena Kirschbaum, whom she outpolled 3.8% to 3.6%. Also on the Greens ticket for the coming election are Alan Kerlin, a Gungahlin Community Council activist and former member of the Democrats, and Adriana Siddle, a public servant and refugee activist.

OTHER CANDIDATES: Bullet Train for Canberra, the Australian Motorist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party are each fielding two candidates, together with independents Stuart Biggs, the ACT branch president of the unregistered Pirate Party, and Philip Pocock, who wants homosexual acts to be recriminalised.

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