With the dust settled on the October 20 ACT election, it’s another four years of a Labor Green partnership on London Circuit. So can it work, is there a chink of light between the two parties, and who has the most to lose?
In demanding a ministry as a part of the deal, lone Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury has attached himself and his party to the credibility and record of Labor Chief Minister Katy Gallagher until 2016.
Under similar circumstances in 1998, independent MLA Michael Moore was given a ministry by the Kate Carnell Liberal minority government. He served as minister for health until his departure in 2001. Moore writes in City News this week about the challenge Rattenbury faces balancing the role of Green MLA and minister in a Labor government, noting that the outcome of the Labor-Green partnership “will better serve the community… than had Rattenbury remained on the cross-benches”.
“However, the primary challenge for the Labor Party and the Greens will be about retaining strong, positive relationships within the cabinet while being able to air differences of opinion in the chamber of the Legislative Assembly and in the public arena,” writes Moore.
So can this close power deal work? “Yes. The earlier example of Michael Moore seemed to work,” ANU Emeritus Professor John Warhurst told NextACT. “Both sides need to be sensible and I think they will be.”
City News editor Ian Meikle also believes “it will work because Labor needs the Greens as much as the Greens need Labor … Rattenbury can exclude himself from cabinet decisions he doesn’t agree with. Independent Michael Moore was able to manage this situation when he was health minister in the Carnell Liberal Government.”
2CC broadcaster Mark Parton — who ran as an independent in 2008 — is optimistic that it can work for Canberra, but perhaps not for Rattenbury come next election. “I think it will work for this Assembly … Shane’s a balanced pragmatic individual and he’ll make sure it works,” Parton told Crikey.
“I don’t know if it will work for him. There will be mistakes made by this Assembly. There will be mistakes made in the portfolio he is managing. How he will disassociate himself from Labor at the 2016 election is beyond me.”
With the agreement between Gallagher and Rattenbury now finalised, it would appear Labor and the Greens both come out winners. Warhurst says it will be a while though before we know who got away with the better part of the deal. ”Time will tell. Labor got what they needed. Shane Rattenbury will have to translate his ministry into Green success in 2016,” he said.
Meikle is more certain of who is popping champagne. “Gallagher, by a country mile,” he said. “Rattenbury was always going to hold the balance and get the Greens agenda up no matter who got in; he couldn’t lose. Gallagher could though, despite being the favourite in the two-horse derby for power.”
Parton differs. “Shane Rattenbury has got the better deal. Zed [Seselja, ACT Liberal leader] made it clear that the Greens were not going to to get a ministry. It’s not as if he was ever going to go to the other side. I don’t believe there was any need for Labor to offer him a ministry,” he said.
The way the Chief Minister treats her minister for TAMS — the de facto “Mayor of Canberra” ministry — will be watched closely. “Gallagher will run a disciplined show and he will be treated like any other minister [more or less],” Warhurst said.
Parton thinks that the Labor cabinet and Rattenbury will butt heads eventually. “At some stage there will be a clash of wills. Its going to be great theatre,” he said.
But the Green will have to be a team-player, says Meikle. “Rattenbury is part of a ministry that runs a government that runs the Territory. He cannot become a one-man-ministry and just suit himself in his portfolios. He has to have regard for cabinet unity and in signing on to the ministry, he identified the areas he would not be in step with the Labor government. Gallagher knows and, presumably, accepts those issues. Outside them, he has to play with the team.
“If there is any tight leash to be applied, it will be because of Rattenbury’s inexperience as a minister. Beyond that, I doubt it will come to ultimatums.”