Tomorrow’s Australian Capital Territory election looks likely to maintain the remarkable continuity in Australian electoral politics that began in 1998.
Prior to Kevin Rudd’s win last November, Labor won 22 successive state and territory elections, starting with the election of Peter Beattie’s government in Queensland.
Two elections and numerous opinion polls since have indicated that John Howard’s demise has broken the circuit, notwithstanding that Labor made it to 23 in a row when it scraped home in the Northern Territory on August 9.
This was achieved in the face of an 8.8 per cent fall in the Labor primary vote and the near-defeat of a government that went into the election with 19 seats out of 25.
Labor’s winning run finally came to an end a month later when Alan Carpenter’s Western Australian government was dumped from office after shedding 6.0 per cent on the primary vote.
The other story to emerge from the two elections was the strong performance by the Greens, who demonstrated an ominous capacity to siphon votes from ageing Labor governments.
The Greens’ vote in Western Australia was up from 7.6 per cent in 2005 to
11.9 per cent, and its average vote in the six seats it contested in the Northern Territory was over 16 per cent.
The one public opinion poll to emerge during the ACT campaign makes it very clear that both trends are going to be replicated tomorrow.
The Patterson survey published in the Canberra Times a fortnight ago suggested that a 12 per cent drop in the Labor vote has been harvested almost entirely by the Greens.
In other jurisdictions, Labor could console itself with the thought that most of those votes would return to them as preferences – but the ACT’s Hare-Clark system of proportional representation means the shift in votes will translate into seats lost to the Greens.
As Chief Minister Jon Stanhope freely admitted on Monday, Labor has no chance of repeating its feat in 2004 when it became the first government to win an outright majority since self-government began in 1989.
The Greens stand to increase their representation from one seat to three or even four: one each in the five-member regions of Brindabella and Ginninderra, and possibly two in the seven-member region of Molonglo.
Labor would thus be reduced from nine seats to six or seven out of 17, with the Liberals down from seven to six.
This makes life very interesting for the Greens’ senior candidate for Molonglo, Shane Rattenbury, who has been designated his party’s presumptive leader following the retirement of its sole sitting member, Deb Foskey.
Rattenbury looks set to enter parliament not only as kingmaker between Stanhope and Liberal leader Zed Seselja, but also as a potential Deputy Chief Minister if he pushes his party’s claim with sufficient force.
The money, smart or otherwise, suggests a Labor minority government is a lay-down misere: Centrebet is offering $1.19 on a Labor win against $4.35 for the Liberals.
However, one precedent exists in Australia for a Greens-backed Liberal minority government, albeit a rather unhappy one.
This happened after the 1996 election in Tasmania, when Labor refused to take the reins due to ongoing bitterness over its experience of relying on the Greens (then led by Bob Brown) between 1989 and 1992.
The Labor and Liberal parties then contrived to put an end to the situation by agreeing to reduce the size of the lower house from 35 seats to 25.
The idea was that the Greens would be reduced from five seats (one in each of the five seven-member regions) to one or two if they were lucky, but their ongoing electoral strength in Tasmania has been such that it hasn’t quite worked out that way.
William Bowe will be liveblogging the ACT and NSW results tomorrow. Visit his Poll Bludger blog for his up to the minute commentary.