ACT election: late counting

Sunday 26/10. Final result: Labor 7, Liberal 6, Greens 4.

The count has now been finalised and the Greens have indeed won a fourth seat in Molonglo, their candidate leading 9457 to the third Liberal’s 8536 at the key point in the count. As I should have noted in the previous entry, there was also a close race between the second and third Greens candidates which has in fact been won by Caroline Le Couteur, who overtook Elena Kirschbaum late in the count. Kirschbaum had 4203 votes at the point where she was excluded to Le Couteur’s 4285.

Saturday 25/10

In Molonglo, we now have a preference count for 62,577 out of 88,291, and Antony Green’s assessment is that “the Greens are starting to be favourite for the final spot”. On the present projection, second Greens candidate Elena Kirshbaum leads third Liberal candidate Giulia Jones 6660 to 6166 at the relevant count. The Liberals are likely to close the gap in what remains of the count – the primary votes that have been admitted to the preference count have gone 31.3 per cent Liberal and 18.5 per cent Greens compared with 31.4 per cent and 18.2 per cent from the total – but my back-of-envelope calculation tells me they will only be able to close the gap by perhaps 200 votes.

Tuesday 21/10

The count in Molonglo is getting progressively more interesting, with second Greens candidate Caroline Le Couteur just 49 votes behind third Liberal Jeremy Hanson at the crucial point in the count. Le Couteur herself leads the third Greens candidate, Elena Kirschbaum, by 49 votes at the relevant earlier point of the count. So the result could yet be Labor 7, Liberal 6, Greens 4, rather than 7-7-3.

Sunday 19/10

This post will be updated progressively with details of late counting in the ACT election. Two results remain in play: in Molonglo, which could either go Labor 3, Liberal 3, Greens 1 or Labor 3, Liberal 2, Greens 2, and in Ginninderra, which could either go Labor 2, Liberal 2, Greens 1 or Labor 3, Liberal 1, Greens 1. The most likely results will produce an outcome of Labor 7, Liberal 7, Greens 3, but other possibilities are for the Liberals to win as few as five, Labor to win eight or the Greens to win four.

In Molonglo, the Liberals are on 2.48 quotas on the primary vote and the Greens are on 1.48, so whoever does better on preferences will win the final seat. The problem for the Greens is the 2.7 per cent recorded by Liberal-turned-independent Richard Mulcahy, which based on pre-poll votes looks likely to go about 35 per cent to the Liberals and maybe 10 per cent to the Greens. Against that is that the Greens can hope for a strong rate of preference leakage from Labor. There is also an outside chance that independent Frank Pangallo could sneak through and take the seat if he receives enough preferences from minor candidates, but it would have to be rated a long shot.

In Ginninderra, Labor are on 2.41 quotas and the Liberals are on 1.64, the risk for the Liberals being that Greens preferences after the election of their candidate will push them ahead. However, the gap is probably wide enough to get endangered Liberal incumbent Vicki Dunne home.

ACT election minus one day

The following is an article on the ACT election which I wrote for today’s Crikey email. Unfortunately, the article as it appears in Crikey contains two errors, because the wrong number got changed when I pointed out my original error. Note also the new Patterson poll in today’s Canberra Times, which shows Jon Stanhope increasing his narrow preferred leader advantage over Zed Seselja since a fortnight ago. Figures on voting intention will follow in tomorrow’s edition. This site will provide live coverage of the count tomorrow evening; ABC Elections will as always be the best place to go to for results. Official results will be published by the ACT Electoral Commission. Further reading from Mumble, Peter Martin, The Tally Room and Decomposing Trees. For local colour and lots of it, look no further than the excellent coverage at The-RiotACT.

Tomorrow’s Australian Capital Territory election looks likely to maintain the remarkable continuity in Australian electoral politics that began in 1998. Prior to Kevin Rudd’s win last November, Labor won 22 successive state and territory elections, starting with the election of Peter Beattie’s government in Queensland. Two elections and numerous opinion polls since have indicated that John Howard’s demise has broken the circuit, notwithstanding that Labor made it to 23 in a row when it scraped home in the Northern Territory on August 9. This was achieved in the face of an 8.8 per cent fall in the Labor primary vote and the near-defeat of a government that went into the election with 19 seats out of 25. Labor’s winning run finally came to an end a month later when Alan Carpenter’s Western Australian government was dumped from office after shedding 6.0 per cent on the primary vote.

The other story to emerge from the two elections was the strong performance by the Greens, who demonstrated an ominous capacity to siphon votes from ageing Labor governments. The Greens vote in Western Australia was up from 7.6 per cent in 2005 to 11.9 per cent, and its average vote in the six seats it contested in the Northern Territory was over 16 per cent. The one public opinion poll to emerge during the ACT campaign makes it very clear that both trends are going to be replicated tomorrow. The Patterson survey published in the Canberra Times a fortnight ago suggested that a 12 per cent drop in the Labor vote has been harvested almost entirely by the Greens.

In other jurisdictions, Labor could console itself with the thought that most of those votes would return to them as preferences – but the ACT’s Hare-Clark system of proportional representation means the shift in votes will translate into seats lost to the Greens. As Chief Minister Jon Stanhope freely admitted on Monday, Labor has no chance of repeating its feat in 2004 when it became the first government to win an outright majority since self-government began in 1989. The Greens stand to increase their representation from one seat to three or even four: one each in the five-member regions of Brindabella and Ginninderra, and possibly two in the seven-member region of Molonglo. Labor would thus be reduced from nine seats to six or seven out of 17, with the Liberals down from seven to six.

This makes life very interesting for the Greens’ senior candidate for Molonglo, Shane Rattenbury, who has been designated his party’s presumptive leader following the retirement of its sole sitting member, Deb Foskey. Rattenbury looks set to enter parliament not only as kingmaker between Stanhope and Liberal leader Zed Seselja, but also as a potential Deputy Chief Minister if he pushes his party’s claim with sufficient force. The money, smart or otherwise, suggests a Labor minority government is a lay-down misere: Centrebet is offering $1.19 on a Labor win against $4.35 for the Liberals.

However, one precedent exists in Australia for a Greens-backed Liberal minority government, albeit a rather unhappy one. This happened after the 1996 election in Tasmania, when Labor refused to take the reins due to ongoing bitterness over its experience of relying on the Greens (then led by Bob Brown) between 1989 and 1992. The Labor and Liberal parties then contrived to put an end to the situation by agreeing to reduce the size of the lower house from 35 seats to 25. The idea was that the Greens would be reduced from five seats (one in each of the five seven-member regions) to one or two if they were lucky, but their ongoing electoral strength in Tasmania has been such that it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

UPDATE: Ben Raue in comments disputes the assertion that Rattenbury is the “presumptive leader” of the Greens.

ACT election: Ginninderra and Brindabella

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”.

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.

Patterson: Labor 7, Liberal 6, Greens 4 in ACT

The Canberra Times has published a poll of voting intention for the October 18 Australian Capital Territory election, covering 400 respondents in each of the three multi-member regions. The poll appears to confirm what might have been ascertained from anecdotal evidence and recent elections elsewhere: that Labor’s primary vote is down by as much as 10 per cent since the last election; that it has no chance of retaining its majority; and that the dividend from its decline is set to be reaped by the Greens, who have a quota in their own right in each electorate and are looking good for a second seat in the seven-seat Molonglo region. The table below shows results from both the poll and the 2004 election, with the number of quotas indicated in brackets.

2004 Election
Molonglo (7) 33% (2.6) 29% (2.3) 23% (1.8) 16% (1.3) 45.3% (3.6) 32.6% (2.6) 11.5% (0.9) 10.6% (0.9)
Brindabella (5) 38% (2.3) 37% (2.2) 18% (1.1) 7% (0.4) 45.7% (2.7) 40.0% (2.4) 7.3% (0.4) 6.6% (0.4)
Ginninderra (5) 34% (2.0) 34% (2.0) 16% (1.0) 16% (1.0) 50.1% (3.4) 32.4% (2.2) 8.2% (0.6) 7.6% (0.6)

Labor and Liberal seem assured of two seats in Molonglo and the Greens of one, but the remaining two are hard to pick. With seven seats on offer, the electorate has proved attractive to independent candidates including Liberal-turned-independents Richard Mulcahy (an incumbent) and Helen Cross (defeated in 2004), along with high-profile Queanbeyan mayor Frank Pangallo. The poll respectively has them on 2 per cent, 2.5 per cent and 3 per cent, meaning there would need to be tight mutual preference flows if any of them are to be in the hunt (for what it’s worth, Pangallo has been approached by Labor in the past to run in Eden-Monaro). If the figures are accurate, the most likely result would be that the minor candidates’ preferences would spray around enough to deliver one of the final seats to Labor and another to the Greens. The figures from the five-member electorates point to straightforward results of two Labor, two Liberal and one Greens. That means the most likely outcome of the election is that Labor will survive as a minority government with Greens support (assuming a coalition of some description isn’t on the cards). The current numbers are Labor nine, Liberal seven and Greens one.

Further discussion at The-RiotACT.

UPDATE: Remiss of me not to have noticed the accompanying Canberra Times article which reports: “The Greens have made no secret that they would consider forming a coalition with either side of the political equation”. Hat tip to Oz in comments.

UPDATE 2 (5/10/08): The Sunday edition of the Canberra Times provides further figures on leadership perceptions, finding Jon Stanhope is preferred as leader by 41.6 per cent against 40.0 per cent for Zed Seselja. This compares with Stanhope’s 63 per cent to 19 per cent lead over then-Liberal leader Brendan Smyth shortly before the 2004 election. “Just over half” reckon Stanhope suffers from the foible du jour, arrogance.

UPDATE 3 (6/10/08): Adam Carr has some lovely maps at his Psephos website with colour-coded booth results for Labor, Liberal and the Greens.

ACT election: October 18

Voters in the Australian Capital Territory go to the polls on October 18 for the seventh time since self-government was established in 1989, delivering a verdict on a majority government for the first time. Labor won nine of the 17 seats at the October 2004 election against seven for the Liberals and one for the Greens. Such was the unpopularity of self-government when it was first introduced that eight of the 17 members elected in 1989 represented minor groupings committed to its abolition. Their shifting sympathies produced two changes of government in the course of the first term: Labor’s Rosemary Follett held the reins from May to December 1989 and again from June 1991, with Trevor Kaine heading a Liberal administration in the interim. Three opponents of self-government held the balance of power after the 1992 election, sustaining Follett’s minority government throughout the ensuing term.

At the 1995 election the bar for minor party candidates was raised with the abolition of the shambolic “modified d’Hondt” system of Territory-wide proportional representation. It was replaced with the present Tasmanian-style Hare-Clark system based on three multi-member regions, two of five members (Brindabella and Ginninderra) and one of seven (Molonglo). As in Tasmania, the “Robson” system of rotating ballot paper order means candidates are forced to compete against their party colleagues. The first such election produced a Liberal minority government of seven members, headed by Kate Carnell, which was sustained with the support of two independents. Carnell achieved a status quo result at the 1998 election, before resigning in 2000 to head off a no-confidence motion resulting from an unfavourable auditor’s report into the revamp of Bruce Stadium. Her successor Gary Humphries led the government to defeat in 2001, moving a year later to the Senate where he has remained ever since.

The change of government after the 2001 election followed Labor’s gain of two seats at the expense of Liberal-leaning independents, with the Liberals retaining their existing seven seats. Re-elected Greens member Kerrie Tucker had ruled out supporting the Liberals, meaning Labor’s eight seats were enough to ensure a comfortable hold on government without having to rely on the one Democrats member. New Chief Minister Jon Stanhope introduced four-year terms effective from the 2004 election (held one week after the October 9 federal election), at which Labor gained the one extra seat required for majority government at the expense of the collapsing Democrats. The vote for both major parties increased, Labor from 41.7 per cent to 46.8 per cent and Liberal from 31.6 per cent to 34.8 per cent, but the Liberals remained on seven seats with the Greens on one.

There are several reasons to think Labor will struggle to match that feat on October 18, most notably an electoral cycle that has lately shown its force in Northern Territory, Western Australia and various state Newspoll surveys. Stanhope’s government has accumulated a heavy burden of baggage in the last four years, the low-point coming with a horror 2006/07 budget that sought to balance the Territory’s tottering finances by closing 39 schools (nearly a quarter of the total). The ACT edition of the Daily Telegraph reacted by describing the Chief Minister as an “economic vandal” who headed a “disgraced government”, beneath the front-page headline: “STANHOPE-LESS”. A large part of Stanhope’s political strategy consisted of needling the Howard government over terrorism laws and civil unions for same-sex couples, which lost much of its utility after Kevin Rudd came to power.

However, Labor’s woes have been matched by an eerily familiar story of leadership disarray among the Liberals. There have been two leadership changes in the current term: from Brendan Smyth to Bill Stefaniak in May 2006, and from Stefaniak to the 31-year-old incumbent Zed Seselja in December 2007. Both Stefaniak and Seselja were compromise leaders of a kind, Stefaniak taking the reins because Smyth and rival Richard Mulcahy each mustered three party room votes out of seven. Stefaniak’s departure followed a dramatic week that began with Mulcahy being stood down from his portfolios pending a federal tribunal inquiry into his past activities as executive director of the Australian Hotels Association. Mulcahy did not take this lying down, claiming to know of unspecified allegations against Stefaniak and Smyth and calling on them to join him on the back bench. The party room reacted by unanimously voting to expel Mulcahy, who will run in Molonglo at the head of his own grouping. Shortly afterwards Stefaniak and his deputy Jacqui Burke announced they would clear the air by standing aside, and Seselja and Smyth were elected in their place without opposition.

Posts on each of three electorates will follow over the coming weeks. Antony Green offers plenty to keep you going on with in the interim.