Barton Deakin Brief: ACT Election Analysis
16 October 2020
The Australian Capital Territory election will be held on 17 October. All 25 seats of the Legislative Assembly are in contention with a total of 137 candidates contesting them.
The Labor Party has been in government since 2001, currently led by Andrew Barr. He will be contesting his third general election as the Chief Minister.
The unicameral Parliament uses the Hare-Clark voting system. The system provides proportional representation (like the Australian Senate) using preferential voting (like the Australian House of Representatives). This system involves counting the first preference votes of each candidate against a quota which is determined by the number of valid votes against vacancies. Once a candidate reaches the quota, they are determined to be elected and their surplus votes are distributed to the continuing candidates according to preference flows.
There are five districts in the ACT and each has five representatives in the Legislative Assembly.
As at 15 October 2020, pre-polling surpassed 50 per cent of enrolment, as many ACT residents utilise the COVID safe Electronic Voting Centres for pre-poll.
According to polling by a uComms survey of 1048 residents across the ACT in July, Labor is set to secure a minority government with a reduced primary vote. Labor’s primary vote is at 37.5 per cent. The Liberals will receive an increase of 1.5 per cent from the 2016 election to take their primary vote to 38.2 per cent. The Greens are predicted to secure a primary vote of 14.6 per cent.
With both major parties polling below 40 per cent, it would appear that the fifth seat in each of the five districts will be up for grabs.
In the last nine ACT elections, only one has seen a single party secure a majority government.
Current composition of the Legislative Assembly
The 25 members of the current Assembly were elected on 15 October 2016 and comprise:
12 members of the Australian Labor Party
11 members of the Canberra Liberals
2 members of the ACT Greens
- Vicki Dunne will not be recontesting her seat for the Canberra Liberals in Ginninderra after nearly 20 years in the Legislative Assembly. She inspired a strong personal vote.
- Caroline Le Couteur will not recontest her seat for the Greens in Murrumbidgee after having served eight years in the Legislative Assembly in two non-consecutive terms.
- Liberal Vicki Dunne will depart the Legislative Assembly after 20 years. She inspired a strong personal vote.
- The performance of the newly formed Belco Party may alter the way votes are cast. Three prominent candidates are Bill Stefaniak, who is a former Liberal Party Leader, Vijay Dubey, who contested the seat at the 2016 election and was chosen at the Liberal preselection for this election before withdrawing, and Alan Tutt, who also stood for Liberal preselection at this election. If the Party wins a seat, it may enter a supply agreement with the Canberra Liberals.
- A recent redistribution in Murrumbidgee appears to favour the Liberals and the Greens
- The Greens seat is placed in contention with the retirement of incumbent Caroline Le Couteur.
Key Election Themes
COVID-19 has changed the ACT election landscape to a handful of key issues.
Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates 8,700 people lost their jobs in April. Almost all of them were in casual or part-time jobs. The number of people now under-employed, working less hours than they would like, has nearly doubled to more than 22,000.
Ageing infrastructure in public schools has come into the spotlight now that three schools have discovered lead dust contamination since the July school holidays.
The ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations has called for a clear, long-term strategy to replace some of the oldest school buildings, particularly in the inner north and inner south of Canberra.
Liberal education spokeswoman Elizabeth Lee has announced her party would commit to an audit of all school infrastructure and an extra $15 million for maintenance. However, a much larger bucket of funding – possibly in the billions of dollars – over many years will be required to get every school up to the desired standard for modern learning spaces.
Labor’s Yvette Berry has not made any election commitments in this space, other than to say it will be “much more than $15 million”.
A report also suggested that childcare in Canberra has been as much as $1.30 per hour more than the national average cost. Childcare affordability may feature as an important cost of living issue.
Climate Change & Environmental Policy
The centrepiece of the Canberra Liberals’ environment policy is the planting of one million trees.
Labor is proposing a $150 million solar panel and battery loan scheme and will create and protect 2000 local jobs.
ACT Labor’s ‘Big Canberra Battery’ is purported to deliver at least 250MW of battery storage to ensure lower electricity prices and stability in the power grid.
Healthcare – Investment in Canberra Hospital
The Canberra Liberals largely support the planned investment in the Canberra Hospital, arguing while plans can be tweaked, the upgrades are long overdue.
The long-held Canberra Liberals policy of freezing residential rates remains, and significant action is being promised on commercial rates too.
Light rail network
The Canberra Liberals launched campaigns in the last two elections that opposed the proposed light rail connection between Gungahlin and the City. Planning for a light rail to Woden is underway. The voters in the northern electorate of Yerrabi responded well to the light rail and gave strong support to Labor. The route to the north is now in operation and may leave voters expecting more from the government they elect.
Andrew Barr MLA (Australian Labor Party)
- Incumbent Chief Minister.
- Mr Barr has been incredibly focussed on the ACT response to the coronavirus pandemic.
- Key promises include: building the light rail to Woden, opening more walk-in health centres, 400 more teachers to increase capacity at colleges, the Big Canberra Battery, and jobs growth.
Alistair Coe MLA (Liberal Party of Australia)
- Liberal Leader since 2016.
- Mr Coe has been highly critical of the ACT Government’s handling of the pandemic.
- Key promises include: driving down the cost of living and creating jobs, freezing rates, more spending funded by growing the population and increasing the number of rate payers, planting one million trees in a decade and a ‘green space guarantee’ so all Canberrans are within a ten minute walk of a park or oval.
Shane Rattenbury MLA (Greens)
- Most senior Greens MLA.
- Held major portfolio positions since becoming the first ACT Greens Minister.
- Key promises include: a $450 million housing package, climate action, urban biodiversity, 4,500 ‘green’ local jobs, walking and cycling path connectivity, and reducing incarceration by raising the age of criminality to 14.
For more information, contact David Alexander on +61 457 400 524, Grahame Morris on +61 411 222 680, Tahlia Robertson on +61 438 259 671, Cheryl Cartwright on +61 419 996 066, John Fitzgerald on +61 488 111 568, or Georga Nonnenmacher on +61 457 662 422.