The Green wave that swept the 2020 A.C.T. Election

In a result almost none saw coming, the A.C.T. Greens have tripled their seat count in the A.C.T. Legislative Assembly following the Election on 17 October.

Going from two seats to six, stealing two seats each from A.C.T. Labor and the Canberra Liberals in the process.

From an Assembly comprised of 12 Labor, 11 Liberals and two Greens last term, after the count was finalised on Friday night, 23 October, the result is Labor: ten, Liberals: nine and Greens: six.

Many people had expected Labor to be returned to government this election, especially with the effect of the pandemic incumbency factor. What was not so predictable was the swings against both Labor and especially the Liberals in the process.

Whilst the Liberals on the final count had a Territory-wide swing of -2.9% against them to Labor’s Territory-wide swing against them of only -0.6%, it is the massive individual swings in Brindabella and Yerrabi of -7.1% and -9.8% respectively against Labor that cost the party the most.

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The swings against the Liberals ranged from -3.4% against them to -7.2% against in the various seats and overall added up to a much larger loss of votes Canberra-wide. The saving grace for the Liberals is the result of nine seats in total — up from eight during most of the count progress.

The one party that is, of course, overjoyed with the vote is the A.C.T. Greens.

This election, the Greens picked up the second and fourth seats in order in the very Left-leaning city electorate of Kurrajong, along with the fourth seat in order in Murrumbidgee and Ginninderra, in addition to also taking the fifth seat (out of five) in Brindabella and Yerrabi as well.

Clearly any party which manages to increase its representation by 300% in a single election has done an excellent job, appealing to the voters not only as a party but as credible individual candidates as well.

Newly elected MLA Johnathan Davis, who was in a very tight race for Brindabella but emerged the victor at the final count, had this to say on behalf of the Greens:

“The A.C.T. Greens are so grateful for the support we’ve received from Conder to Kippax, from Forde to Fraser. Every single Canberran is now represented by the Greens. We commit to working hard and honouring the support offered to us. Together, we’ll work every single day to build a better normal.”

This is not the first time the Greens have reached this vote level in the A.C.T., however. In the 2008 Election, under the then smaller 17-seat Assembly, they reached a similar vote total and four members from the Greens were elected.

At the time, the party could not seem to retain that level of support, losing three-quarters of those seats at the 2012 Election, with only leader Shane Rattenbury re-elected that time. In 2016, when the Assembly expanded to 25 seats, the Greens managed to elect two members in total.

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The challenge for the Greens this time around is to demonstrate to Canberra that they can play a productive and positive role in government with Labor and retain or even grow this new voter base before the 2024 Election, lest history ends up repeating itself.

Having served in a coalition government with Labor the past two terms, it is fairly likely they will do so again, this time with Labor being in minority government once more with only ten seats out of 13 needed for a majority.

Whether this would take the form of all six Greens members sitting in government for a coalition of 15 seats, or whether some of the Greens will sit on the crossbench and some in government is a question currently being fiercely negotiated by the two parties.

There is also the possibility the Greens could sit entirely on the crossbench, forcing Labor to govern as a minority government of ten against an Opposition with nine seats. This is considered the less likely outcome but should not be dismissed entirely as an option either.

The challenge for Labor now is to show that it is not just a lapdog of the Greens during this next term, while still working with them to implement both their party’s agenda for Canberra. It will be a tricky balancing act for both.

The Liberals campaign in this election was disjointed and narrowly focused on a cost of living message about rates charges and punctuated by gimmicky stunts along the way. It’s a message that clearly turned off some previous Liberal voters.

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Labor ran a fairly boring, lower-profile campaign focused mainly on outstanding voter issues and combating the loss of any Left-leaning votes to the Greens, making some key policy announcements with the Greens just prior to the campaign commencement on issues like pill testing.

The Greens ran a solid issues-based campaign but seemed to fly under the radar to an extent, foregoing roadside signs entirely for the first time in an A.C.T. election. With a much smaller budget to work with than the two major parties, the Greens’ focus was heavily on social media.

While Labor did reasonably well in retaining government, it was instead the Greens’ message which most struck a chord with a particular key segment of voters across the entire Territory this time.

The Greens, as a result, are in an extraordinarily strong position now for the next four years, whether they join Labor in government or sit on the crossbench, or a combination of both.

They hold a significant amount of the cards in this equation. They could even choose to form government with the Liberals, were it not for the fact that Rattenbury ruled this out specifically during the campaign.

A question remaining is will the Liberals ditch Alistair Coe as leader and seek a more moderate path forward this term, or will they consign themselves to irrelevance by digging in even further despite the result due to sheer stubbornness of ideology?

This A.C.T. Assembly is going to be quite interesting to watch. Like cannabis legalisation and the planned pill testing facility, we will likely see some new bold legislative positions taken thanks to the Greens’ influence, as the A.C.T. continues to set an example for other jurisdictions in Australia.

The Australian Greens will certainly be examining in detail how the local party pulled it off to see how they might replicate this result in other parts of the country. For now, the A.C.T. is once more the greenest jurisdiction in Australia.

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You can follow Chris Mordd Richards on Twitter @Mordd_IndyMedia.

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