Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

The slow death of ACT Labor ?

Whilst everyone’s atwitter about the sideshow named disaster that is the Rees NSW Labor government, there is another Labor Government, just across the border that is equally starting to show its age and developing a bad smell: The ACT Labor Government.

In power since November 2001, the ACT Labor government under Jon Stanhope has been a remarkably sucessfull government. Canberra has its share of problems, but it has continued to expand and most residents feel fairly happy about the city’s overall direction. But where there used to be energy and enthusiasm, the government has come to be protective, painfully slow, and precious in its reaction to criticism. Its current strength in the polls and recent re-election were largely due to the ineptness of the opposition, but that’s slowly changing and the government isn’t responding well.

* Several months ago came the news that the ACT Labor Party was going to sell its four Labor Clubs to the CFMEU netting it $20 million. Normally these clubs bring in $4m profit a year, donating hundreds of thousands to both ACT and Federal Labor. This has now been squashed by the Federal party, who suspect the deal should be worth up to $50million.

* In light of these changes the Federal Labor Party is taking over the ACT Branch calling it “Hopeless”.

* The Territories budget has sored and dipped without any sense of control. Great deficits are predicted (as in 2006-7 and again in 2009-10) only for it to be announced that the Government is suddenly back in the black with millions to spare. To its credit the Government used the former downturn to announce a controversial closure program reducing the number of schools based on clear census figures. This predictably caused a great storm of controversy, but seems to have been accepted by the community at large. Yet so much of the argument at the time was based around current costs, and many of the properties still sit idle, awaiting government action.

* On Civil Unions the Government has maintained the same policy of clear support, but it is obvious that the energy and wind has gone out of the government. Denied any scope while John Howard was Prime Minister, the election of a Federal Labor Party was seen as a golden opportunity to enact this important point of progressive legislation. While Rudd initially said he would accept the laws in 2007, and then turned around in 2008 to block them, it appears the Government isn’t even going to try again in 2009. This despite a clear minority developing within Federal Labor that is supporting not just Civil Unions but full equal marriage. Right now the Greens are about to put a bill before the Assembly allowing public ceremonies for the recognized civil partnerships, but ACT Labor is threatening to vote against it. It would almost assuredly be overturned by the federales, but right now the ACT is the only place in the country making noise in this direction, and if they go quiet then the battle will just be set back for another 5-10 years.

* Ask most Australians to describe Canberra and inevitably you hear three things ‘Politicians, Porn, Fireworks’. Well scratch that last one as the ACT government has now decided to ban fireworks. Without any community consultation or debate (despite the issue simmering up each Queens Birthday) The minister for stopping fun dragged out stories of his poor cat, to announce all fireworks would be banned with a limited (and largely ignored) amnesty period. Even the Chief Minister has announced he publicly regrets the decision. This was announced just days after essentially cancelling the much loved Fringe Festival because of a $30’000 cost, whilst splurging several times that on other sports and art.

* Which leads me to my final point: That Stanhope, despite a lot of successes is starting to feel like common furniture for the city and as such his rivals are beginning to make moves. His chief head kicker John Hargraves has said repeatedly that he gives Jon ‘as much loyalty as he gives me’. The rumors are beginning to swirl that Andrew Barr, rising young minister for Education, Planning, Tourism & Sport is planning his own assault towards the leadership. To get there however he will have to climb over the anointed one Katy Gallagher, who Costello like has done a decent job as the #2, seems sure of her deserving the leadership but has thus far done little to assure her success, or even great public support. To date these tensions have been kept from the public, but just as in NSW where bad polls saw the Party encourage the move on of Carr, the dumping of Iemma and now the (welcomed) execution of Rees, a rising challenge could see this break out very publicly.

Personally, I was proud to vote for the ACT Labor party in 2007, they have done well by the city and seem competent and progressive. But by the time of the next election, I, like many canberran’s will be seriously re-visiting that vote to wonder if there is any fuel left in this governments engine whilst it tackles the Sisyphean task of rising towards the light on the hill. Having likely gone as far as they can under current leadership, now should be the time to think of putting a new fresh tank in, or at least ensuring they know how to work the park break.