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Thursday, November 26, 2020
Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts

Are the Canberra Liberals a ‘credible threat’?

Coming up against 19 years of Labor government in the ACT, and a broadly progressive electorate, ACT Opposition Leader, Alistair Coe, says the Canberra Liberals are a “very credible threat” at the 2020 election.

Mr Coe opened his address to the National Press Club, Countdown to October 2020, on Friday 25 October, the way many political campaigns commence, by stressing the credibility of his team and questioning the competency of his opponent.

“Given the money, and 19 years of opportunity, the ACT should be Labor’s version of utopia, instead it resembles an episode of Utopia.”

Without going into the specifics of the policy agenda that will inform his 2020 campaign, Mr Coe’s address gave a broad strokes outline of how he will attack the key issues; including rates, public transport, education, land supply, cost of living, small business, the public service and more.

In doing so, he predictably took pot shots at the government along the way.

“Andrew Barr has done more for the economic development of NSW than the NSW Government has. He may as well be the Mayor of Queanbeyan, because that city is thriving on the back of his policies,” Mr Coe said of Canberra’s rising housing costs pushing people across the border.

The task ahead of the Canberra Liberals

You’d have to wind the clock back to 1998 to find the last time the Canberra Liberals won the ACT election, having gone back-to-back in 1995 and 1998 with Kate Carnell at the helm.

Both of those Liberal governments were minority governments, with the support of independents.

There are currently no independents in the ACT Legislative Assembly, a factor making Mr Coe’s challenge more difficult.

In the entire history of the ACT’s self-government, there has only been one majority government, which was held by Labor in 2004-08. Since the 2008 election, the ACT Greens have held the balance of power in the Assembly.

Currently, the Liberals hold 11 of the 25 seats in Canberra, and need to add two more to hold a majority of 13.

Greens MLA Caroline Le Couter retires at the next election, and Labor minister Megan Fitzharris retired earlier this year, which potentially creates opportunity for the Canberra Liberals.

Social conservatism in a progressive community

It’s safe to say Mr Coe’s social opinions don’t marry well with the wider ACT electorate.

In last year’s same-sex marriage plebiscite, it was widely reported that the ACT clocked the largest ‘yes’ vote in the country.

Conversely, Mr Coe was the only leader of opposition or government in Australia to publicly state they voted no.

Despite this, Mr Coe said he has respect for difference of opinion, and criticised the government for what he considers a lack thereof.

“There will be disagreements, there will be people who have a different worldview to me, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t respect them.

“The Chief Minister described people who voted no in that plebiscite as ‘Neanderthals’. I think it’s a legitimate position to vote no, just as I think it’s a legitimate position to vote yes.”

Coming up against the weight of history and Canberra’s broadly progressive electorate, Mr Coe closed his address on an optimistic note.

“We have the people, the resources and the opportunity to make this place even better … To be a Liberal in Canberra, you have to believe in miracles.”

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Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts