CIMF 2018 Masthead

ACT Election: What you need to know

Emma Macdonald

Canberra votes on 15 October and HerCanberra has put together an election Guide of things you need to know ahead of polling day.

It’s an election that seems to have been hijacked by debate about a tram, even though there is so much more to it than that – health, education, rates and urban development, for instance.

On 15 October, Canberrans will need to trot down to their local school to vote for the next batch of ACT politicians. This election, things are a bit different due to the Legislative Assembly getting a lot bigger. Not only are we expanding from having just three electorates to five, but we are going to need to vote for 25 politicians, up from the previous 17.

Yes, it’s going to cost the taxpayer more (about $6 million a year) to increase the number of our political representatives. But there are genuine arguments in favour of having more MLAs to spread the work of running the ACT. It also gives parties a larger talent pool from which from which to pluck ministers.

Despite these changes, the system will still favour the major parties. The likelihood is that the Greens will hold the balance of power and deliver their numbers to Labor – which is what we have now.

Which electorate are you in?

The five new electorates for the 2016 ACT election will each return five elected members to make up the 25-person assembly. Based on where you live, they roughly work out to be:

Brindabella – Tuggeranong

Murrumbidgee – Woden-Weston

Kurrajong – the Inner North and South

Yerrabi – Gungahlin

Ginninderra – Belconnen

But you can check your address to find out which electorate you are in here.


Labor’s Andrew Barr has been in the Assembly for 10 years but this is his first campaign as Leader since replacing the popular Katy Gallagher. His biggest challenge is convincing Canberrans to  return a Labor Government after 15 years in power. This means the Territory will have been run by the same party for a sum total of 19 years and counting, which is a lot, even for this Labor town. Barr is aided by the support of the ACT Greens, which have delivered him a majority in the Assembly. The centrepiece of his Government has been bringing a light rail project to Canberra and this will be the biggest focus of the campaign. Barr has also sought to increase Canberra’s “cool” quotient and liveability, investing considerable personal energy in helping secure international flights, attracting big sporting events and tourism drawcards.



Liberal Leader Jeremy Hanson wants the electorate to vote on the tram and on rates – both issues he says have become lightning rods for anger within the community. He says Labor has a “smell” about it after 15 years – a claim boosted by the recent and damning Auditor-General findings on the Government’s handling of land purchases. Hanson replaced Zed Seselja as leader in 2013 and has played small-target politics in the lead-in to the campaign. Prior to politics he served for 22 years in the Army, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. And despite leading the more conservative party, Hanson is considered a moderate – supporting same sex marriage, the republic and being pro-choice on abortion.



Greens Leader Shane Rattenbury has given his support to Labor to form government and accepted frontbench ministerial portfolios out of the deal. He is currently the Minister for both Education and Corrections. This has made it difficult for the Greens to differentiate their brand from Labor or to argue the party can hold Labor to account. That said, Rattenbury is a strong parliamentary performer who is seen as practical, sensible and less excessively left than others in his party. He has also done a more competent job in managing his portfolios than many of his Labor predecessors.



The issues in a nutshell

Light rail

Labor has pledged to improve Canberra’s public transport by building a light rail line snaking 12 kilometres from Gungahlin to the city. Second stage plans will extend it in coming years to Woden.

But the concept has been hugely controversial. The cost is calculated to escalate to $939 million in today’s dollars once operations, capital and financing are factored in, and established trees will need to be removed on Northbourne Avenue in order to build it.


Public transport supporters believe the tram is a vital start to moving Canberrans away from car-dependency and connecting the booming suburbs of Gungahlin to the inner city.

Meanwhile, the Liberals have vowed to block the tram – promising to cancel the contract despite the fact that it will have to pay fees as a result. Labor estimates the net loss will be as high as $280 million, while Hanson says the contracts will be re-scoped to reduce those losses to somewhere in the “tens of millions”. The Liberals have now promised a bike lane down the middle of the Northbourne median and additional bus lanes running either side.


Rates have increased under Labor by 10 percent each year for the past five years as part of Barr’s plans to phase out stamp duty over 20 years and make up for the lost income. It has been a huge impost on many families.

Voters were given a breather in this, an election year, when rate rises were scaled back to 4.5 per cent. Hanson says the Liberals will freeze rates at indexation levels – around 4 per cent – and stop the stamp duty phase out. By cancelling the light rail he has promised to prevent the ACT from accruing a debt it cannot afford to repay.

Image: Martin Ollman

Image: Martin Ollman


The Liberals have sought to elevate health as their major election platform, forcing Labor to match them on a major Canberra hospital investment.

In August the Liberals unveiled a $395 million proposal to build a new operating suite, medical imaging suite, intensive care unit and outpatient floor as part of a major Canberra Hospital upgrade.

Labor said at the time it was extravagant and unnecessary but by September it promised to spend $650 million on a new building at the hospital including a new emergency department and an expansion to the recently completed women and children’s hospital.


Both parties have been focused on delivering the recommendations of a review of how children with special needs are supported and educated in Canberra schools, as well as necessary upgrades to ageing buildings. The most fundamental difference is the Liberals have promised to spend more (because their Budget won’t factor in a tram) and are spreading those dollars across Independent and Catholic schools as well as the government sector.

Urban development

The Liberals have promised to focus attention on upgrading Civic, shelving Labor’s plans for the City to the Lake Development.

canberra autumn martin ollman feature

Labor has consistently come under fire for being too close to developers and failing to consult the community – the Manuka Oval redevelopment bid being just one example. It is also now facing serious questions about its handling of land sales, with the ACT Auditor-General finding a number of flawed processes within the Land Development Agency. The Greens, meanwhile, have put pressure on both major parties to ban developer donations. Labor has now promised an integrity commissioner while the Liberals have promised to increase the powers of the auditor-general and introduce a corruption commission. 

Meet the candidates

There are 141 candidates vying for your vote, which is a record field, with 51 women.

The Labor Party is running 25 candidates, as is the Liberal Party. The Greens have 15, while the Liberal Democrats have 17.

Six minor parties are also fielding candidates – these include the Sex Party, Animal Justice, Canberra Community Voters, Like Canberra and the Community Alliance, while 17 independents are also running.

To find out which candidates are running in your electorates, you can go here.

Candidates to watch

Labor candidate for Ginninderra Tara Cheyne: A former Belconnen Community Council Chair, and UC MBA graduate, Tara has a strong record of community service and is well-connected across the city. She’s the proud local behind the blog In the Taratory.



Liberal candidate for Kurrajong Elizabeth Lee: A second time candidate, the ANU law lecturer and vice-president of the ACT Law Society is a long-time resident, whose legal career has honed her analytical and debating skills.



Greens candidate for Yerrabi Veronica Wensing. A former manager of the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, Manager for Office for Women and Gender Advisor to the National Disability Insurance Scheme Taskforce, Veronica has a track record in public service and service for women.


How do you vote?

A valid vote requires just a “1” next to your favoured candidate. Elections ACT recommends you mark as many boxes as there are vacancies (that is, five) but you can mark as many preferences as you like. If you want an independent to get in, stay away from the major parties or the Greens in order for your preferences to have the biggest impact.

You can read up on all of Labor’s election pledges here,  the Liberals’ election pledges here, and the Greens here. Don’t forget to look at what the independents and minor parties are delivering too. You can find them here. And on Saturday October 15, don’t forget to vote! For a list of polling booths in your local area, go here.


Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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