ACT News

New vehicle to elect independents to the ACT parliament

A group of Canberrans is setting up a new vehicle to elect independents to the ACT parliament this year, with no policy platform but an aspiration to bring democracy back to politics.

Vote Canberra has been set up by three Canberrans, including Bruce Paine, who said they were now looking to sign up sufficient members to register as a political party and would then look for candidates to stand at the 2016 election.

But it will be a party without the usual policy platform, with candidates free to put forward their own views and no requirement for them to agree other than on the core belief that diversity makes better parliaments.

Candidates must not belong to other  parties and are ruled out of standing with Vote Canberra if they have contested an election.

Mr Paine pointed to the possibility of two Vote Canberra candidates having opposite views on questions as contentious as the tram. But they would first have to convince the party members – 100 members are needed to register a party – to preselect them, then convince the voters, he said.

Mr Paine and his two fellow committee members, Tim Field and Mark Parsons, have ruled themselves out of voting in preselection under the party's rules to ensure the power stays with the members.

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"The way it's set up is it has a very deliberate set of objectives," Mr Paine said. "We want to improve the government of the ACT by getting a wider range of people elected to the Assembly ...

"Essentially, the ACT is a highly educated, at least in a formal sense, community. There's lots of people with experience in and on government. It's got high levels of internet connectivity and that sort of thing. This is really an opportunity for the community to stand up."

As to the question of how voters would hold elected candidates to a position, given there is no policy platform, Mr Paine said the major parties provided little certainty themselves about what they would do once in government.  And they were increasingly controlled by powerful organisations and small groups of people.

Vote Canberra had no hidden agenda and none of the three founders had links to any other political party, he said.

For independents, the advantage of belonging to Vote Canberra is that parties get their own columns on ballot papers.

As election year begins, the Australian Sex Party has registered and intends to stand candidates. The Animal Justice Party is also looking to register.

The move to five-member electorates across the board this year makes it more difficult for minor parties and independents to get elected, but two have put up their hand.

Public servant Andrew Dewson is standing in Gungahlin, concerned about homelessness, the cost of living and access to cheap and reliable renewable energy, among other issues.

Wildlife rescuer Marcus Fillinger, a long-running opponent of the government's kangaroo cull, has also declared plans to stand.

Labor and the Greens have announced their candidates; the Liberals are yet to choose theirs.

Mr Paine, a retired public servant, is on the Pedal Power council. Mr Parsons worked in land management and forestry, according to the Vote Canberra website. Mr Field is a former public servant.

Former successful Independent Michael Moore described Vote Canberra as a "really interesting concept", akin to the preference whisperer in the way it grouped independents.

"It's a party without a policy and a party where the party people are not allowed to stand for election," he said. "What it's trying to do is compensate for the changes in the Electoral Act that make it harder for independents to run. It actually says to the voter, 'You're thinking of voting independent, look here, this is a group of independents.'"

But the party would need some way of vetting the candidates against some criteria, such as a sense of social justice, or an agreement to vote issue by issue, or not to form a coalition, he said.

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