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State of the states: Australian Capital Territory voters face two elections in 2016

Both ACT-based seats in the federal parliament are held by Labor MPs. AAP/Mick Tsikas

State of the states: Australian Capital Territory voters face two elections in 2016

Ahead of polling day on July 2, our State of the states series takes stock of the key issues, seats and policies affecting the vote in each of Australia’s states and territories.


The Australian Capital Territory comprises just two House of Representatives electorates: Canberra to the south and the recently renamed Fenner (formerly Fraser) to the north. A redistribution has changed the boundaries somewhat.

As they are both very safe Labor seats, political attention is usually focused instead on the contest for the second Senate seat, as well as on the bellwether seat of Eden-Monaro across the border in New South Wales.

Key seats

The sitting members are running on national issues, including housing affordability and federal support for major road works. Their Liberal opponents have highlighted the leadership of the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull – counting on his Canberra appeal to lift the party vote.

The sitting Labor MPs, Andrew Leigh and Gai Brodtmann, are well-established members of the shadow ministry. They were both first elected in 2010. Leigh is the shadow assistant treasurer and Brodtmann is the shadow parliamentary secretary for defence. Their Liberal and Greens opponents are all first-time candidates, which should advantage the incumbents somewhat.

The Australian Electoral Commission categorises the seats – among the largest in the lower house by population – as inner metropolitan: that is, situated in a capital city and with well-established built-up suburbs. The ACT is also demographically quite homogenous, with a highly educated white-collar workforce.

The safer of the two seats is Fenner, in which Leigh holds on a very substantial margin of 12.5%. The recent redistribution may eat into that margin somewhat, though, as the suburbs lost in the inner north were strong Labor-Green areas.

The seat, which covers Gungahlin, Belconnen and parts of the inner-northern suburbs, also includes the Jervis Bay Commonwealth Territory on the south coast. First established in 1974, Fenner has always been held by Labor.

The Greens’ heartland is the inner north, which is now split between the two seats. In 2013, the Greens candidate polled 14.1% of the first-preference vote.

The seat of Canberra, held by Brodtmann on a margin of 7.5%, has never been quite as safe as Fenner. The Liberals have held it twice: between 1975 and 1980 and 1995 and 1996.

As well as the inner south, which includes Parliament House itself, the electorate includes Woden, Weston Creek, Tuggeranong, and the industrial districts of Fyshwick and Hume. Norfolk Island residents entitled to vote also vote in Canberra.

The southern suburbs of Tuggeranong are slightly less rusted-on Labor voters. In recent times the perception they have been neglected by the territory government has taken hold.

The strong likelihood is Labor will easily hold both ACT seats, possibly with increased margins over the Liberals. The redistribution may even out the voting across the two seats. The Greens will again poll strongly.

The two ACT senators are the former chief minister, Katy Gallagher, and the former ACT opposition leader, Zed Seselja. Both are relatively new. For years there has been most interest in the ACT in the contest for the second of the two Senate seats, invariably held by the Liberal Party.

The challenge for the Greens, and previously the Democrats, has been to reach the quota of 33.4% with the assistance of Labor preferences. On several occasions, high-profile candidates have come quite close, but it is a near impossible task.

In 2016 Seselja, an unabashed Tony Abbott supporter, is being challenged by the Greens’ Christina Hobbs, a UN food security expert. But he should hold the seat.

Key local issues

Federal politics is intertwined with local ACT politics more than usual this year: there is a territory poll due on October 14 for the ACT Assembly. The Barr Labor government is under pressure.

Local politics is dominated by one big issue: Labor’s plans to build an expensive light rail system from the city to the northern district of Gungahlin.

The plan is very divisive – especially in southern Canberra. It could feed into the federal election against Labor.

Policy proposals

As neither ACT seat is marginal, major election promises from either major party are not expected.

Canberra is a public-service city. So, one big issue is the Abbott-Turnbull government’s cuts to the federal public service, though the impact on the local economy has not been as drastic as many feared – and Labor’s record is not entirely clean. The recent federal budget has been calculated to mean a loss of 1,400 public-service jobs in Canberra.

Associated with these cuts are the efficiency dividends imposed on the national cultural institutions such as the Australian War Memorial, the National Library of Australia, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. These institutions are not only of cultural importance in Canberra but, as tourist destinations, increasingly significant in the local economy.

The ACT’s demographics, with Greens support above the national average, means policies such as action on climate change, same-sex marriage, and refugee and asylum-seeker policy also have a particular impact.


Catch up on others in the series.

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