ACT Labor wins a historic fifth term

ACT Labor’s decisive victory on Saturday in the Australian Capital Territory took many commentators by surprise. The predicted backlash and much touted “It’s Time” factor did not occur nor did any independents or other minor parties get elected. The campaign by ClubsACT and Canberra Community Voters fizzled.

In an election where there were no public opinion polls, the commentary was dominated by feelpinions. Former Liberal Senator Gary Humphries and former Minister Michael Moore were predicting a Liberal Government with non-Green cross-benchers. The vocal minority opposing Labor mistook having a platform through a supportive Canberra Times and institutional support through the clubs with public support.

Labor not only ran a strong campaign but was strategic in making Civic to Gunghalin the first stage of light rail. Gunghalin has traditionally not been the strongest base of support for Labor, however, its vote surged, making it the electorate with the highest Labor primary vote. Furthermore, the second stage of the light rail will go to Murrumbidgee where Labor and the Greens must improve its vote to entrench three out of five MLAs.

It was the third election in a row where the Liberals have attempted to get into power through anti-Labor forces establishing a front party. In 2008, it was the Community Alliance Party. In 2012, it was the Australian Motorists Party. These parties have not come close to winning. The reality is reaching a quota is hard and the fact that they are a front with little community support means they do not get many votes. On reflection, it makes the decision of the Liberals to support five member electorates quite strange.

Post-election there are a number of things to watch beyond which candidates win. Firstly, Labor will elect a new Deputy Leader. The caucus is likely to be six Right, five Left and one unaligned, however, factional considerations means the Left’s Yvette Berry will become Deputy Leader. Secondly, how the Greens manage if they have members outside the Ministry and one inside will be important.

While some praised the ACT on social media as a model for Labor and Greens co-operation, there are unique factors that make it difficult to emulate elsewhere. Labor and the Greens have no major disagreements on social issues, resource extraction is not a big issue, minority government is the norm and it is not a zero-sum game over seats under Hare-Clark.

By the time the next election comes, Labor will have been continuously in power for 19 years and will be the longest serving Government in Australia. Despite claims it was a “pyrrhic” victory, the fact is ACT Labor is a different creature to NSW Labor. 2020 will be difficult but unless the political landscape drastically changes, it is hard to see how the Liberals win.

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