Leaders in the pack reveal a proud history of political comment
ACT Liberals leader Zed Seselja suggested yesterday that The Canberra Times, which endorsed Labor in its editorial, was ''not conducive to the conservative side of politics''.
''I think they have done it probably every ACT election, including ones that Kate Carnell won, so I don't think there are any surprises there,'' he told Ross Solly on ABC morning radio.
It is not true that this newspaper has generally, or always, supported Labor. Usually we have endorsed no one but, on the one earlier occasion in which we have done so, we recommended a vote for Kate Carnell and the Liberal Party.
On a number of other occasions we have acknowledged what opinion polls had already indicated - that Labor was likely to win the election, and said, without any necessary enthusiasm, that this seemed a reasonable verdict. But, we have emphasised, the verdict was one for voters, not us.
News coverage, and opinion articles and commentaries, have never been slanted by endorsements. We are a forum newspaper, with room for all views, not a propaganda sheet.
Our general editorial tone was set with the first election in 1989, when we said that The Canberra Times did not presume to tell voters how to vote. We urged, however, that voters go for stable government, and that they not vote for essentially negative parties such as any of the three no-self-government parties.
In 1992, we again did not take sides, pointing out, however, that while the major parties and some of the minor parties had comprehensive views about government, some independents and other combinations were focused on narrow issues and had little, and even less that was sensible, to say on broader questions.
In 1995, we did not take sides but argued strongly that voters had to be realistic and to recognise that outcomes matter. We criticised Labor for unsustainable finances, the Liberals for glib views about how reform might be achieved.
In 1998, we said: ''Kate Carnell deserves to be back in government today, not only because she has a good record of achievement as Chief Minister but because the only alternative Chief Minister, Wayne Berry … is not up to the task.'' We did not normally advocate a vote for particular parties, we remarked, ''but we would be failing in our duty to readers if we did not underline what has been obvious throughout the campaign: Wayne Berry does not have what it takes to manage the ACT's finances, to articulate a vision of Canberra adapted to changed conditions, or to promote that climate of business and consumer confidence which is necessary to make the economy continue to bounce back from the very tough hits it has taken as a result of federal cutbacks.''
In 2001, we were neutral again, both praising Gary Humphries, the Liberal Chief Minister, but also remarking that the Labor challenger, Jon Stanhope, and his deputy, Ted Quinlan, had reformed their party and made it electable again.
In 2004, we again praised and criticised both sides but remarked that ''given the predisposition of the community, Labor has probably done enough to expect, and even to deserve'' re-election.
In 2008, we predicted (though did not urge) that Stanhope would defeat Seselja - and discussed that prospect with equanimity, though we recited a good many criticisms of Stanhope's government. But we praised Seselja as a credible alternative leader, if one with a weak team.
How influential were these editorials? As the author of a good number, I doubt they made much difference. This is not, as some suggest, because no one reads them. It is rather that those most likely to read them are those most likely to have minds and opinions of their own. They listen to other views, and are often informed by fresh facts, but they make up their own minds.