“The Labor-Greens government had the opportunity to achieve so much, to build a Canberra that was a nation and world leader. They missed the opportunity “to make Canberra a city that is befitting the capital of the best country in the world,” writes MICHAEL MOORE.
THE vision “for a better Canberra” was presented at the Press Club by Elizabeth Lee, the leader of the Canberra Liberals. It carried one huge omission.
She failed to take into account that the chances of either of the major parties gaining a majority in their own right at next year’s election is minimal.
Should a chief minister come from the Canberra Liberals, it will be with the support of a minor party. Just as Labor has become dependent on the Greens, the Liberals will need one or more centrist or “teal” independents or small groups to support their bid for government.
Such support will not come from the right of the Liberals. The Liberals in Canberra, like the rest of Australia, are conservative. They already dominate the votes that will come from the right. Their only hope of being able to form a government is to compromise with a politically central group.
The vision for a new direction set by Lee is “For a Better Canberra”. She told the Press Club: “We can set a new direction for the Canberra of tomorrow”. Her direction includes leading the nation in health, education, home ownership, safety and “pride in our neighbourhoods”.
The question that needs to be answered is how much of her vision is likely to be supported by centralist or “teal” candidates. Without their support, the vision is meaningless. However, the vision was designed to have broad appeal.
It is on the progressive issues that Lee and her team will have to negotiate.
Her vision included a Canberra where “we lead the country in tertiary education and vocational training”, where “we support small businesses to thrive and celebrate innovation”, where “we protect and look after our green spaces, waterways, woodlands and wildlife”. This has appeal.
Lee promises to develop a place where “Canberrans can create a home because it’s the best place in the country to raise a family”.
Her personal story of arriving from Korea as part of a migrant family and watching her parents’ successes in bringing up their family provides an understanding of her motivation for supporting other families to do the same.
It seems the motivation for her proposed policy of “Putting Your Suburb First”. This policy is a direct appeal to Canberrans who wish to protect the positive aspects of their suburbs from the over development and infill that has been the mark of the Labor-Greens government.
Her speech started with the failings of the “arrogant, out-of-touch Labor-Greens government” over what will be 23 years by the time of the October election. She pointed out that for some this 23 years was “an entire lifetime” and for others “seems like their entire lifetime”.
Through this period, the Labor-Greens government had the opportunity to achieve so much, to build a Canberra that was a nation and world leader. They missed the opportunity “to make Canberra a city that is befitting the capital of the best country in the world”.
Much of her speech, therefore, is motherhood about building a better Canberra. However, she does attempt to set out a plan. It starts with “investment in our people” such as support for nurses, junior doctors, teachers, police, paramedics, and firefighters.
There will be a boost for apprentices and skills that are needed by local businesses. The goal is to support “the Canberrans that keep the heart beating in our local economy, and we will value them”.
There will be a Royal Commission into the health system “because Canberrans deserve greater transparency and accountability when it comes to the delivery of healthcare in the capital”. And the Liberals will “abolish Andrew Barr’s GP Tax”.
But her vision is conservative. It is highly unlikely that centrist candidates will believe that decriminalisation of drugs, for example, will be “keeping parents awake at night; that have police worried; and that have businesses feeling vulnerable”. Such candidates are much more likely to wait until a proper evaluation of the policy of decriminalisation has been carried out and decide accordingly.
The vision that has been set out by Lee provides Canberrans with an opportunity. However, the opportunity will be to vote first for centralist or “teal” candidates and expect that they will hold a Lee government to account to deliver on these promises and ensure that it remains reasonably progressive.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.