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Canberra letter

Four weeks into the election campaign, and there are two local issues emerging above all others in the nation's capital. Both will have implications for the rest of the country.

The first is the contest for two seats that will point the way to the victor on 24 November.

Though it is perhaps the most over-used word of the election campaign, 'bellwether' is the most appropriate word for the seat of Eden-Monaro, which is across the border in Queanbeyan. At a recent barbeque for the local Labor candidate, Mike Kelly, Kevin Rudd remarked 'where Eden-Monaro goes, goes the government'.

The facts bear this out, with Eden Monaro having been held by every incumbent government for time immemorial.

Labor was clearly aware of this fact — the choice of Eden-Monaro as the place to launch the sensitive and potentially vote-winning childcare policy was no accident.

Initially touted as a simple barbeque with Mr Kelly, and a guest appearance by Maxine McKew, the arrival of Mr Rudd, the shadow minister for families and community services, Jenny Macklin , Bob McMullan, Annette Ellis and Kate Lundy (the last three being local members and a senator, respectively) sent hacks into overdrive and left locals highly amused as the scrum followed Mr Rudd around.

Major issues in Eden-Monaro, according to Mr Kelly, are health and welfare, and he seems to have his finger on the pulse of his would-be constituents, with polls predicting he will claim victory on election day.

The other major contest in the ACT race is for one of the two senate seats the territory holds. The incumbent Labor senator, Kate Lundy, looks comfortable.

But the second seat is shaping up to be a very sharp contest between Kerrie Tucker, the local Greens candidate, and Gary Humphries, the incumbent Liberal member. The ACT has only ever had a Labor and Liberal incumbents; if Ms Tucker won it would be quite a coup for the Greens.

Current polling puts Mr Humphries' vote at around 23%, and Ms Tucker's at around 17%. Where things will get tricky for Mr Humphries is in the flow of preferences, with the majority predicted to run to Ms Tucker, quite possibly tipping her over the line.

In an unprecedented step, Greens Leader Bob Brown, Democrats Leader Lyn Allison, and ALP Senator Kate Lundy have banded together for a campaign ad, in new media and on television, organised by Getup.org.au. The ad urges people in the ACT to 'take back control of the senate' and make sure that the Liberals' majority is abolished.

The ACT's second seat is crucial because ACT senators take their seats immediately, rather than waiting until 1 July in the next year to be sworn in. The Getup website says 'All it will take for them to lose majority control of the Senate is for progressives to gain back one of those 20 seats [that are up for election]. That's could mean as little as 11,000 voters changing their mind in the ACT.'

At a recent announcement for $10 million in federal funding for the Tharwa road duplication in far-out Tuggeranong, on Canberra's fringe, Mr Humphries was on the front foot, unwilling to predict victory in the ACT but vowing to fight until the last for the seat. He got stuck into the Territory Labor government for mishandling the road, and praised the Federal Government's willingness to intervene. The Member for Canberra, Annette Ellis, claimed Mr Humphries was trying to pull an electoral rabbit out of his hat. Some say he has the look of a haunted man at the moment, but time will tell, with two and a half weeks still to go in the campaign.

The other issue which could swing things in the ACT is the mooted cuts to the public service under Kevin Rudd. In a recent editorial, Jack Waterford wrote that Mr Rudd was notorious, when Chief of Staff for former Queensland premier Wayne Goss, for keeping a tight rein on public servants. The current talk is perhaps shades of this approach.

Canberra is public service central. The Federal Government is the largest employer in town. News that a 'razor gang' will be on the way if Labor wins will not go down well. A claim by Lindsay Tanner that, even from a position in opposition, he can see how to save $3 billion, will not go down well, and could, perhaps, help Mr Humphries' re-election chances to boot.

With two and a bit weeks to go until the election, there is still plenty of time for a knock-out blow to be landed by either side. Both sides have tried, with Peter Garrett, Malcolm Turnbull, Robert McLellan and Tony Abbott all having borne the brunt of opposition attacks so far. More will be forthcoming. In the meantime, we watch and wait for November 24.

James MassolaJames Massola is the former Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is now a journalist with the Canberra Times. He also holds a Masters in International Relations.





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Existing comments

An enjoyable article. I was amazed to hear that three parties joined up to say "don't vote for the Liberals". I am interested to see what will happen.

Peter Hodge | 09 November 2007  

Pity that Humphreys made it back in. Now Labor will have to fight until July in the senate.

Andy Cornes | 05 December 2007  

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