Michael Inman August 12, 2012
ACT Legislative Assembly leaders at the Assembly in Civic: Greens Convener, Meredith Hunter, Labor leader and Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, and Liberal opposition leader, Zed Seselja. Photo: Graham Tidy
The battle for ACT government will soon heat up and key issues will include leadership and planning.
CANBERRANS could be forgiven for forgetting there's a territory election on the horizon.
With 69 days to go until the October 20 poll, the usual advertising blitz, door knocking, soap box speeches and promises of a better city are yet to eventuate.
While there have been various policy announcements and plenty of grip'n'grin by candidates at the city's suburban shops, the high- paced campaigning often seen at election time is notably absent.
Instead, the major parties have drip-fed policies to the electorate, seemingly holding fire on grander visions for the city's future.
Labor has made several announcements, including free Wi-Fi in town centres, a mobile dental clinic, and money for education.
The Greens pledged Wi-Fi on ACTION buses, to save the ACT's waterways, cash for the Kingston Arts Precinct, to boost funding to the Human Rights Commission and plan to make Canberra the Work Safety Capital.
The Liberals plan to set up Infrastructure Canberra to investigate Canberra's ailing schools and are considering repealing the ban on plastic bags at supermarkets.
Academics and veteran political analysts were split on big issues for the 2012 poll, but all agree the quiet phony campaign will soon give way to an all-out battle for Canberrans' votes.
Here is their forecast for the key issues.
Nine political parties and several independents will contest the ACT poll this year.
But while the options are varied, the majority of Canberrans will view the election as a two-horse race between the major parties.
The capital's voters will be asked to choose between Labor incumbent Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, running for the top job for the first time, and Canberra Liberals challenger Zed Seselja in his second bid for power.
Policies and promises will be redundant in the content, with the vast majority of Canberrans voting according to who they prefer as Chief Minister, former ACT leader Jon Stanhope says.
Stanhope says pledges can count for very little when a voter enters a polling booth, instead casting their preference according to their personal attitude towards the leader.
Stanhope stood down as chief minister in May 2011, allowing Gallagher time to build her profile as leader.
He says the question for voters is: has Gallagher established herself as a good leader who can be trusted?
''You can't underestimate that people will weigh up the two leaders,'' Stanhope says.
''When people walk into the polling booths to cast their vote, most people will think whether they want Katy Gallagher or Zed Seselja as their chief minister.
''People want to be able to trust their leaders and want them to stand for something.
''People vote according to the extent that they recognise their leaders as one of them, someone they can trust who understands what they want and their concerns.''
The toxic world of federal politics will hang heavily over the ACT election, just as it has in recent state elections, according to elections expert Malcolm Mackerras.
Labor is on the nose in the federal polls and has been swept from power in Queensland, NSW and Victoria. Some pundits are predicting a similar result at the looming Northern Territory election on August 25.
But Opposition leader Tony Abbott's plans to slash the federal public service - and the expected economic downturn in Canberra as a result - have acted as a foil to local Liberals' aspirations.
Mackerras says many Canberrans will vote in the ACT according to their outlook on federal politics.
''To what extent is the ACT different to the rest of Australia?'' Mackerras says. ''Abbott's going to bash Canberra in the form of massive cuts to the public service.
''It's quite possible that the ACT will end up with a Labor chief minister and everywhere else will have Liberal leaders.''
Former ACT Liberals chief minister Kate Carnell says the economy will be a huge factor in the coming election skirmishing.
Carnell says controlling the skyrocketing cost of living, job creation and providing an attractive business environment should be top priority for prospective MLAs.
''[Julia Gillard's or Tony Abbott's] plans to bring the budget into surplus and keep it there doesn't spell jobs for the public service in Canberra.
''So we've got to look at a different approach.''
Carnell says a policy to break the ACT's reliance on federal government employment is crucial for the long-term health of the capital.
''[We need to be able to see] a policy direction that will encourage job creation in the ACT at a time when the Commonwealth will be reducing their employment in the ACT.
''The private sector needs to pick up the difference so Canberra needs to be a good place to do business.
''We need to look at ways to make Canberra a better destination for business than other states.''
Carnell says bringing the ACT budget under control should be the first step. The policy should also outline methods of attracting businesses to Canberra, controlling the cost of living and invigorating the local job market.
''When business decides where to set up, they look at cost of living for their employees.
''If Canberra property cost is high it undermines the business case.''
Roads, rates and rubbish.
It's a mantra drummed into politicians.
Collective wisdom claims voters will spurn a government that can't deliver on the three Rs.
But Carnell says health and education will also be high on voters' lists when marking the ballot papers in two months.
''The ACT Legislative Assembly is a mix between a state government and a city council.
''Canberrans want an efficient government focused on service delivery.
Carnell says the capital deserves a government that manages and runs the ACT efficiently. ''The parties need to focus on the things that matter, like jobs, education, health, roads, rates and rubbish.
''Canberra's a great place to bring up kids but it's got to have an education system that is better than everywhere else.
''It's the same case with the health system, it's not acceptable that Canberra has waiting lists longer than other states.''
Australian National University political commentator Professor John Warhurst says planning will be an important element in the election race.
Because of a growing population and limited space, building up and not out has been floated as the only solution to the ACT's growing pains.
Suburban infill - a process that adds dwellings into established areas, leading to higher density - has become a dirty word in the capital with detractors claiming the process threatens heritage and amenity of Canberrans suburbs.
''There will be questions about high rises and the balance between commercial development and the traditional bush capital plan,'' Warhurst says.