It’s risky taking a Green for granted. There’s almost a smug complacency about the Labor Party in the Australian Capital Territory as the people of Canberra get ready to vote on Saturday for their local government combining state and municipal type powers. The opinion pollster for the Canberra Times might be predicting a marked drop in support for the team of Chief Minister John Stanhope but Labor has got used to dominating politics in this town. It expects to still be in government on Monday even if it has to rely on support from some representatives of the Greens to do so.

That Green support is very much being taken for granted but funnier things than an unholy Liberal and Green Coalition have occurred in politics before. The sight of a National Party Cabinet Minister in a South Australian Labor Government suggests that in state politics anything is possible. And the Greens, I note, have just issued their policy on creating a stable and accountable government for the ACT without making any commitment as to which party it would support as a minority government under what circumstances.

The policy document is called “Commitment to Canberra” and copies were delivered yesterday to Chief Minister Stanhope and Opposition Leader Zed Seselja. The Greens want, the commitment says, to foster Canberra’s most cooperative, consultative and innovative Legislative Assembly. It also aims to improve and strengthen the open, community-consultative style of government.

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The Greens are seeking “an all party pledge”:

  • to respect the vote of Canberrans at the election, and to agree to work positively in minority government, if elected;
  • to not make misleading statements, misrepresent the policies of other parties or place misleading advertising;
  • to explore areas of policy agreement after the election in order to formulate an agreed policy programme for the benefit of Canberrans, which recognises the challenges of climate change and financial uncertainty;
  • to outline the Government legislative and executive program at the beginning of each year to be submitted for community consultation;
  • to support a review of Assembly procedures to ensure adequate scrutiny of Government is occurring and to increase public participation in decision making, including improved oversight of legislation by the community and cross-benches;
  • to guarantee that new legislation be publicly released prior to introduction to the Assembly with sufficient time to allow community input.

I can see nothing in that lot which would deter a Liberal Party desperate for a taste of ministerial office from making the required promises. And a sensible Liberal leader — and Seselja appears to be that — would offer the carrot to the Greens of supporting an increase in the size of the Legislative Assembly from 17 to 21 members which would make future Green representation much more assured. Labor continues to cling to the idea that the normal state of affairs is having a majority in its own right.

Rent seekers quick off the mark. It does not take long for the shouts of “what about me” to be heard around Parliament House when a government uses the public purse to extend largesse to one interest group or another. And so it was yesterday following the announcement on Sunday of measures to support Australian Authorised Deposit-taking Institutions bu guaranteeing deposits placed with them. In question time in the Senate, Senator John Williams. National Party, New South Wales sprang to his feet to put the case for aid to be extended as well to “other financial institutions, including debenture-issuing companies that are securing against real properties and are at arm’s length.”

These are the kind of institutions, you might recall, who have fleeced thousands of greedy Australians who risked their life savings for the promise of an interest rate that seemed to be too good to be true which it was. When Senator Stephen Conroy, the Minister representing the Treasurer in the upper house, ducked and weaved and avoided the question, Senator Williams tried again:

Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In all seriousness, this really is an important issue. My supplementary question goes to these debenture-issuing companies. I know of one group that has lent up to $1.3 billion, 40 per cent of it to agricultural properties. They need to have some assurance that their investments are safe; otherwise, those investors will withdraw their money and people will simply have to sell up or pay up. Will the minister look at these debenture-issuing companies to see that they can get the same guarantees as banks, building societies and credit unions?

It was a nice try but Senator Conroy, while still waffling along, did not take the bait.

“The guarantee does not extend to debenture issues. Following a number of high-profile corporate collapses in recent years, the government acted earlier this year to improve retail investor protection in this sector through improved disclosure, investor education and access to appropriate advice.”

Man of action wins support. It never pays to ignore the advantage that comes from being in office. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown might have looked a bit of a bumbling incompetent a month ago but he clearly learned something during all those years as Chancellor the Exchequer under Tony Blair. In the last week during the world’s financial crisis he has looked positively statesmanlike and there are already signs from the market that his political fortunes will improve along with the FT index. Our Crikey UK election Indicator has him improving from a 22% of remaining PM at the next election to a 27% chance and I would punt on a further marked improvement.

Malcolm will learn the lesson too. Australian Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull will learn that lesson about incumbency too when the Labor Government brings down its package of economic stimulation. Malcolm and his predecessor might have been quick in latching on to giving pensioners an increase but the thank yous will not go to the Liberals when the money is delivered.

Onwards and upwards. Those American opinion polls just keep moving onwards and upwsards for Barack Obama and the Iowa Electronic Market expects the Democrat vote to end up even higher than the pollsters are showing now:

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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