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ACT election swing no killer blow for the Greens

As numbers from polling booths across the ACT started to go up on the big screen in the tally room on Saturday night the first and most obvious trend was a huge swing to the Liberals and a correlative…

The ACT election result has produced another hung parliament. ALP leader Kate Gallagher is waiting to find out if she’ll lead it. AAP/Alan Porritt

As numbers from polling booths across the ACT started to go up on the big screen in the tally room on Saturday night the first and most obvious trend was a huge swing to the Liberals and a correlative swing against the Greens.

In 2008 voters were unhappy with the Jon Stanhope government’s lack of public consultation over key issues and were angry with Stanhope himself. They were not, however, prepared to trust an untried and untested opposition with the reins of government. The 2008 result: a huge swing to the Greens at the expense of Stanhope’s Labor. The Greens retained their existing seat and picked up three more: two from Labor and one from Liberal.

The likely result of this election, with final preferences still being distributed, is eight seats for Liberal, seven for Labor and two Greens. The Liberal Party has benefited from a 7% swing, giving them 38.7% of the vote. Labor has gained a 1.6% swing, finishing with 39% and the swing against the Greens is almost 5% leaving them on 10.7% of the vote.

Despite the swing, I contend that the 2012 result is not a desertion of the Greens, but rather a return to status quo. The result is indicative of two separate factors.

First, the retirement of Jon Stanhope last year handed the Chief Ministership to his deputy, Katy Gallagher. In 18 months, and despite criticism of her handling of the health portfolio, Gallagher has gained the goodwill and respect of the ACT electorate and worked well with the Greens – something her predecessor was not able to do. In electoral terms this resulted in voters who deserted Stanhope’s Labor for the Greens in 2008 returning to Gallagher’s Labor.

The second factor accounts largely for the Liberals’ 7% swing. The national trend towards the Liberal party from swinging voters gave them part of that 7%, with the rest from those who in 2008 supported the plethora of minor parties and independents which in the past have peppered the ACT ballot form, but which were oddly missing at this election.

The Greens' probable loss of two seats is being painted as a major disaster. However, while it will be disappointing to those two MLAs and a concern for the party, their overall result of almost 11% brings the ACT into line with national polling for the Greens. This indicates stability in party support, not slippage.

The final seat count of 8-7-2 means that neither of the major parties will have the nine seats required for majority government and the Greens again will determine which party governs the territory for the next four years.

Liberal leader Zed Seselja was somewhat contradictory in his claims on election night, at once disparaging the minor party and then claiming that he would expect their support to govern. Federal Liberal leader, Tony Abbott, also weighed in, suggesting that Seselja’s Liberals have a “moral claim” to government and that the Greens should support them on that basis. Gallagher has been more reserved, saying she will initiate talks with the Greens over the coming days and has not ruled out offering the Greens a ministry.

The Greens’ parliamentary leader, Meredith Hunter, has indicated that her party will approach negotiations openly and assess each of the contenders on their willingness and capacity to deliver on the Greens’ agenda, which includes a light rail system for Canberra and emissions reduction as part of a climate change policy.

It is not unprecedented for the Greens to support a minority Liberal government: Christine Milne led the Tasmanian Greens in Premier Tony Rundle’s Liberal-Green minority government from 1996 to 1998 with mixed results.

With that precedent in mind, how likely is it that the ACT Greens will put the Liberals into government? Seselja’s claim rests on the eight seats his members will occupy in the 17-seat Assembly. However, his party received less of the vote than Labor. Gallagher’s claim rests on a four year record of working with the Greens, a relationship that while generally positive, has not necessarily met the terms of the agreement made in 2008.

The Greens are not likely to be tempted by the smell of ministerial leather unless it comes as part of a package to deliver on their agenda. During the campaign Labor promised a huge renewable energy development and a light rail system – policies that looked custom-designed to form the basis for negotiations with the Greens. The Liberals’ policies, on the other hand, included investment in roads and no mention of climate change.

The onus is now on Gallagher and Seselja to negotiate a deal that will not only suit the Greens but provide stable government to the ACT for the next four years. Judging on the basis of policy alone, it is likely that Canberra will see a return of the Gallagher-Hunter Labor-Greens government.

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22 Comments sorted by

  1. Roger Davidson

    not really a Student

    The Greens in Tasmania, currently, are in minority government with labour under the party leader, Nick Mckim, and have two green ministers appointed.

    1. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Roger Davidson

      And that is why poor Tasmania is an economic basket case. Any bright, ambitious young Tasmanian is inexorably drawn to the bright, brown coal fired lights of the supercity, Melbourne.

      Poor little Tasmania.

      Gerard Dean

  2. John Newton

    Author Journalist

    Disclosure: I'm a Greens supporter. Can someone out there with greater political an analytical skills than i have tell me why they seem to stall at 11 per cent of the vote? Don't tell me it's because of their 'loony policies - that will just show you haven't read them.

    It is the only party that wants to reverse the order and have the economy serve the society rather than the other way around - c.f. Labor's mid-term budget shenanigans.


    1. George Takacs


      In reply to John Newton


      My take on the Green vote staying around 11% is because we (I am a member of the Greens) are still a relatively new party. The two older parties between them consistently get around 75-80% of the vote, approximately evenly divided. So the Green vote represents represents around half of the remainder.

      Michael Wilbur-Ham's analysis above is in my opinion pretty spot on. As time goes on and currently rusted on Labor and Liberal voters realise we are more realist than the ideologically inclined members of the older parties, and less extremist than the extreme wings of the older parties, that vote should go up.

    2. Mike Butler Snr

      Managing Director

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      I have read some interesting hypotheses in my 67 years, but I never thought I would live long enough to see someone propose that "evil" Rupert Murdoch was in cahoots with that "evil" ABC! Whoever would have thunk it?

    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Mike Butler Snr

      I never said that the ABC was in cahoots with the ABC. Just that both are biased (albeit in different ways and probably for different reasons).

      Do you seriously think that the ABC is not biased against any views to the left/progressive of Labor?

      As we are not in an election campaign, the idea that the alternative view to Labor is what is said by the opposition is a strong bias towards the opposition. Also the idea that most stories are now just about the political battle of each issue is a major new form of bias - the facts no longer matter, the ABC now just give Gillard and Abbott an equal say and they think 'both sides' have been covered.

      I'm sure that there will be at least one great example of ABC bias in tonight's 7pm news.

    4. Mike Butler Snr

      Managing Director

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Yes, Michael, I WAS putting words in your mouth, but I was just amused that the ABC and Rupert Murdoch could be construed as having a common enemy. The ABC has always leaned to the left, and on most occasions Rupert is to the right (except when as another correspondent has pointed out, he backs someone like Whitlam). The problem is that when you go out to the far right you find nutters like the Tea Party and Republican billionaires, and when you start to get too far left of the ABC, you find impractical…

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    5. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Mike Butler Snr

      If policy is a bell curve, then Labor are on the right, and the Liberals further to the right.
      (Labor are proud that taxation as a percentage of GDP under them is now the lowest it has been in 20 years. Particularly as Australia's taxation rate is already below the OECD average, this is the biggest indicator that Labor are a right government and not progressive.)

      The main bias of Murdoch is promoting fairly extreme right wing views.

      The main bias of the ABC is their new policy which defines…

      Read more
    6. Roger Crook

      Retired agribusiness manager & farmer

      In reply to George Takacs

      "My take on the Green vote staying around 11% is because we (I am a member of the Greens) are still a relatively new party."

      I suppose they are 'relatively new' compared to the others, they, the Greens, were only formed 28 years ago. How long do they, or you, need?

      They get 11% of the vote because 11% of the people believe them, that the size of their vote is declining is not worthy of serious discussion because the answer is obvious.

    7. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Mr Wilber-Ham

      " My guess is that in a fully informed electorate the Green vote would be 20 to 30%"

      You guess wrong Mr Wilbur-Ham. All you have done is betrayed your contempt for the Australian electorate's ability to elect sound governments.

      Just because I don't vote Green, doesn't mean that I am stupid, ignorant or easily lead by the media outlet I choose to read or watch. It just means I don't vote Green.

      Just because I don't vote Green, doesn't mean I think you are stupid or easily lead, so why do you claim that about me.

      Gerard Dean

    8. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      Gerard -

      If, in my hypothetical fully informed electorate, 30% voted Green, then that leaves 70% voting for other parties.
      I never said anything about those 70% being "stupid or ignorant". And in a my hypothetical fully informed electorate that means that no-one is being lead by any media.

      My justification for thinking more people would vote Green is that many surveys show that when taken out of a political setting there is good support for most Green policies. For example, many (over 30%) of people will support increased taxes to fix health/poverty/environment/education.

      If you think that our current electorate is fully informed, that our media isn't biased, and/or that this bias doesn't effect people's voting intentions then we must agree to disagree.

      And I'm curious to which "sound government" you refer to. Is the Gillard government sound or is it a possible future Abbott government that is sound?

    9. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Mr Wilbur-Ham

      In my lifetime of voting, Gough Whitlam's government was astoundingly reformist and incompetent. His legacy in the education and medical areas of our nation lives on. His legacy is also the ashes of the Australian electronics industry which he decimated by dramatically cutting protective tariffs overnight, instead of following John Button's easing of tariff

      Malcolm Fraser was a right wing nutter, who, on leaving office morphed into a left wing nutter so he could keep is profile…

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    10. James Walker

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Newton

      The Greens have been growing at the expense of the Democrats - once the entire Democrat vote has been eaten, the Greens stall.

      Going beyond that requires reaching different demographics - who have different base assumptions and beliefs. That means effectively translating policies into what is in effect a new language: and doing this for each group.

      Also, there is the small party/big party divide. Small parties thrive by annoying large sectors of the public: the annoyed voters wouldn't vote for them anyway, so nothing is lost, but this gains media attention that can attract the handful of votes they need. Large parties though already have the media spotlight, so thrive by being cautious, and not offending any potential support base. No one has yet worked out how to cross this divide: attempting to do so helped kill the Democrats.

  3. John Coochey


    The reason there has been a massive swing away from the Greens is simply that times are too hard for a protests vote which is all the Greens represent. Without compulsory voting no one would vote for them except a few naive idealists. The best way of sending them to oblivion would be to give them government just once and watch the economy be it state or national collapse.

    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to John Coochey

      It is pretty easy to argue that Liberal and Labor are sending us to oblivion.

      The environment with increased development and little action on climate change allowing short term gains to make things worse for future generations.

      The decline in government investment in education will also have long term consequences.

      Both Liberal and Labor are moving a country that is already by OECD standards a low tax country to an even lower tax base. And this means less income redistribution and less…

      Read more
  4. Luke Weston

    Physicist / electronic engineer

    Do you think the Greens would do better in the polls, particularly amongst the scientific community, if they backed away from the fervent science denialism entrenched within the party and their stated policies, on biotechnology, nuclear engineering and other issues?

    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Luke Weston

      Isn't it amazing how rationality is the first victim of political discussion in Australia.

      It doesn't take much examination to see that both Labor and Liberal are far less scientifically rational than the Greens. Take for example the most important issue of our time - climate change. The Greens have always based their targets on the science. Labor and Liberal pretend that their promised 5% cuts will make a significant difference, and meantime both are working hard to expand Australia's coal exports…

      Read more
    2. Garry Claridge

      Systems Analyst

      In reply to Luke Weston

      I'm a scientist and a member of the Greens. It is generally the "application" of some sciences that people object to.

  5. Gerard Dean

    Managing Director

    "ACT election swing no killer blow for the Greens."

    So what is a killer blow, Robin?

    If the Greens lose another seat, which looks likely, then I say that losing 75% of your seats in an election is, if not a killer blow, a death struggle.

    Spin how you may, Mr Tennant-Wood, the Greens got a well deserved thumping.

    Ahhh, I love the smell of democracy on Monday morning.

    Gerard Dean