In the deep south, grumbles run deeper
Unhappy valley... the view from the top of Urambi Hills Nature reserve looking down on Oxley and Wanniassa. Photo: Colleen Petch
Tuggeranong - the deep south. At least in ACT terms it is.
Once it was Canberra's burgeoning satellite town with a sprawling suburban reach. New homes, new estates, new localities, new shops, new service centres. It was referred to as "nappy valley" due to the number of first-home buyers and young families who flocked to establish themselves in the area.
But as Canberra's population grew and many more working and middle-class people began to call Tuggeranong home, infrastructure and services could not keep up.
Canberra Liberals leader Zed Seselja chats to Martin Tribe from Holder and Rachelle Henderson from Farrer while campaigning in Tuggeranong. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
More recently, the Tuggeranong population has begun to decline.
Nappy valley has evolved in many respects into "unhappy valley".
Federal member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann walks down Anketell St Tuggeranong. Photo: Colleen Petch
There is a strong sentiment in Tuggeranong that when it comes to attracting new facilities, resources and services, it is being left behind.
Are the residents of the Tuggeranong valley Canberra's forgotten people?
The ACT Government says not, but the election threw up some very blunt messages.
Once a Labor heartland, Tuggeranong is now home to many voters who have hardened their hearts against Labor.
There is no doubting that the ALP was delivered a clear "not-happy" message by Tuggeranong voters at the October poll.
Liberal leader Zed Seselja attracted a huge personal vote in the Brindabella electorate, which takes in all of Tuggeranong.
The electorate also returned an 11 per cent swing to the Liberal Party.
"To be honest that result probably had much more to do with Zed running a good local campaign than it did with anger towards the government," one Liberal operative said.
"But yes, there was a noticeable unease about the area being left behind when it comes to infrastructure and the like.
"Zed was able to tap into that sentiment and promise more for the people of the electorate. Don't forget he had made the switch from the seat of Molonglo and was a fresh face for Brindabella.
"Don't forget, too, that Zed was campaigning to be chief minister. That alone, you would expect, was going deliver him a good personal vote."
Despite his high polling, history records that Seselja didn't quite get the chief minister's gig he covets.
Now firmly ensconced back in the Opposition Leader's chair, Seselja is contemplating his future and - thanks to Tuggeranong voters - he has a few options available to him.
If he wanted to make the transition to Federal Parliament he could. There is a strong view that he has the numbers inside his party to win any preselection contest against the incumbent, Liberal senator Gary Humphries.
But going after a sitting MP from your own side is a big thing. The usual course of action is to wait until the incumbent retires or steps aside.
Humphries won't comment too much about it except to say two things: it's a matter for the party and he never takes his preselection for granted.
Seselja has put it on the record that he is not considering a move into federal politics at this time.
Yet he and his closest confidants have been up to the big house on the hill and discussed scenarios with some of the Liberal Party's federal leadership.
Humphries' Senate seat was not the only scenario discussed.
With Seselja's profile lifted so high in Tuggeranong, and with a clear mood for more attention to be given to the area, a tilt at the House of Representatives has been considered.
The seat of Canberra, currently held by Labor's Gai Brodtmann, is a temptation and would be a rich prize.
But can Tuggeranong voters carry Seselja over the line in a federal election?
And that is the conclusion the Liberal Party has come to.
While Brindabella returned a swing against Labor and a significant swing to the Libs at the ACT election, the electorate of Molonglo delivered a swing of 4.3 per cent to Labor.
"Tuggeranong is only half of the seat of Canberra," Brodtmann said when asked about the likelihood of a Seselja move on her federal electorate.
"I think what happened in the ACT election was a focus on local issues. I have held a number of mobile offices since then and what people come up to me about are mostly federal issues.
"I do think Canberra people can differentiate between local and federal issues."
But just in case they can't, Brodtmann makes sure she is a highly visible and accessible member for Canberra, willing to listen to all manner of concerns and gripes.
She said: "I have said this before and I will say it again: I campaigned as if this was a marginal seat and I continue to work as if it is a marginal seat."
Labor Party strategists are satisfied Seselja won't be putting his hand up for the seat of Canberra.
But for some, that poses a new problem.
"The fear is that the party thinks Canberra is safe and so there won't be any resources directed towards it to fight next year's [federal] election," one ALP source said.
"But even if Zed doesn't go for it - and it's a safe bet he won't - what the ACT election showed and what Tuggeranong voters proved was that if someone runs a good campaign on local issues they will do well.
"So a well-run Liberal Party campaign against Gai could do some damage to the Labor vote. Tuggeranong voters have already let their anger be felt."
Which brings us back to what the anger is all about in the Tuggeranong valley and what, if anything, has Labor been ignoring.
"In general terms I feel a lot more needs to be done down here," the acting president of the Tuggeranong Community Council, Russ Morison, said.
But the community council is reluctant to be too critical of the government, insisting it has a healthy relationship with Chief Minister Katy Gallagher - particularly when it comes to the controversial development plans for Tralee.
The community council has put forward a suggestion that land at Tralee be developed for industrial and commercial purposes instead of housing.
Such a development would put an end to the arguing over aircraft noise and the possible re-routing of flight paths and how it would all impact on homes if they were built there.
"One of the biggest issues we're locked into has to do with Tralee," Morison said. "We have an open dialogue with Katy Gallagher. She tells us that [federal Infrastructure Minister] Anthony Albanese is looking into it."
Others members of the community council, under the promise and freedom of anonymity, are a little more forthright.
"Yes, we do need to have some things done in this town and, yes, I think we have been neglected," one said.
"There have been very few resources put in this place for 30 years now," said another.
The general sentiment among those spoken to was that the whole Tuggeranong valley had been forced to take a back seat to the ACT's northern and newer suburbs.
Residents in the south are waiting on master plans for Kambah, Erindale and Tuggeranong.
Waterways and lake clean-up action is needed.
Infrastructure projects for roads, government buildings and residential estates are all lost somewhere in a pipeline.
And public transport problems raise the ire of locals almost more than any other issue.
"Despite all the talk about public transport it's not achieving the goal of more bums on seats," one said.
"There should be links for quick travel into the city and it shouldn't take close to an hour to get there from Tuggeranong.
"The ACT government should be a big advocate of park'n'rides, at least along the main arteries."
Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr insists the ACT government is listening and that it has taken notice of the message sent it at the election.
"I certainly understand that there are concerns in Tuggeranong. People probably see significant initiatives underway north of the lake, particularly in Gungahlin, and ask why it's not the same in the south," he said.
"I would make the point that things like a college, a swimming pool, an enclosed oval and such were things that Gungahlin didn't have, whereas Tuggeranong already had these things.
"You can't leave one area of the city without those kinds of facilities. But I can see how that would create a sense of being neglected.
"But yes, we are looking at where the gaps are in service provision for the southern part of the ACT.
"There was a swing against the government at the election and we certainly heed the verdict of the voters."
Barr said that, for the Tuggeranong area, the government is looking at a post-secondary education presence, more investment in sport and recreation facilities, and a new residential mixed-use area in the town centre.
"People need to live close to services and we want to support the retail and hospitality sectors there by having more people living closer to them," Barr said.
"Public transport has presented a challenge because, as we know, Tuggeranong's town centre isn't really in the centre of the town. So we have a major bus interchange at the edge of town.
"But all these things do have our attention and we are addressing them."
In the deep south, all those things also have the attention of disgruntled voters. They vented their frustration against Labor in October when deciding the make-up of the ACT Assembly. Who knows what they will do when the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, sends them back to the polls next year to have their say in a federal election.