Jon Stanhope’s Labor government got a whacking on Saturday, going backwards by 9 percent and losing two seats. The Greens did well, getting 16 percent of the vote and ending up with (on current figures) about the same proportion of seats — three out of seventeen.

But the big losers were the Canberra Liberals. Their leader Zed Seselja announced jubilantly on Saturday night that the party is “back in the ACT”, and most of his team seemed happy too. But their vote went backwards, and their seat haul was identical to the last election, in 2004. “Back” from where?

Jack Waterford in the Sunday Canberra Times pointed out that the result threw up little change in “what federal psephologists would call the two-party preferred vote”.

Indeed: a back of napkin, very rough estimate would give Labor about 55 percent of the two party preferred vote to the Liberals’ 45, down from 57 to 43 in 2004. In any other mainland Australian jurisdiction, Saturday would have been a Labor landslide.

The Liberals should have done better. Since the election of the Rudd government last November, all State and territory Labor governments have suffered in opinion polls, and Liberals have benefited.

At the two earlier electoral contests this year, the conservative parties did well. In the Northern Territory in August, the Country Liberal Party got a primary vote swing of 10.8 percent and almost toppled the government. In Western Australia in September the Liberals and Nationals went forward by 4.0 percent in primary support and did just scrape in.

But in the ACT on Saturday the Liberals went backwards by 3.7 percent.

Canberra is a Labor town, and the Libs will always have difficulty winning government. But they have done it before.

The voters were sick of the Stanhope government, but could not come at the opposition and its thirty-year-old, weight-lifting leader.

That’s the main message from Saturday’s result.

Peter Fray

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