Who has right to power?
Liberal leader Zed Seselja enters the Liberal post-election party and is greeted by Kate Carnell. Photo: Colleen.Petch@canberratimes.com.
ZED Seselja has the moral victory in the election, with a personal triumph and looking to have wrested two seats from the Greens. But he has failed to take votes from Labor, and, bar an unlikely courtship between the Liberals and the Greens, has neither the numbers nor the right to claim government.
Labor won more votes, even if, as seems likely, the Liberals, thanks to Seselja's own efforts in the electorate to which he switched, have a seat more. The Liberals would probably need a further swing of 10 per cent to be in striking distance of government in its own right, or to make an alliance with a party capable of taking probably two further seats from Labor and the Greens. At the end of the day, it must take votes from Labor. It failed to do so; indeed the Labor Party increased, marginally.
Put another way, Labor and the Greens collectively won about 50 per cent of the vote. The Liberals were only three-quarters of the way to that, with an eighth of voters preferring other groupings or Independents. That's a very good showing for the Liberals, but does not entitle them to the keys of the ACT Treasury - unless they do a deal with the Greens.
Overall Labor candidates secured nearly one percentage point more of the vote than Liberal candidates, even if Seselja's shift to the Tuggeranong seat of Brindabella saw his team 10 per cent ahead of Labor in that seat. The Labor vote was up 1.5 per cent, and if the Liberal vote was up 6.5 per cent, its gains came from a 4.7 per cent swing against the Greens, and a decline in the vote for independents.
While it seems quite clear that a Labor-Greens coalition has the capacity to govern, the numerical outcome is still uncertain. While the net Liberal vote in Brindabella should produce three Liberals and two Labor, the third Liberal's election is by no means certain, and it is far from impossible, though unlikely, that the Greens candidate could struggle over the line. Likewise, the election of three Liberals in Molonglo is the most likely outcome, not one Liberal has a quota, which means that election depends primary on the redistribution of the lowest scoring Liberal candidates. Likewise, Katy Gallagher's coattails should see three Labor members from Molonglo, but only Andrew Barr can confidently expect he has been returned. Simon Corbell, the Attorney-General, will be lucky to be returned, being replaced, probably, by Meegan Fitzharris.
If the Liberals fail to take three Molonglo seats, they will have lost the opportunity created by their exceptional success in Brindabella. The beneficiary would probably be one of the Bullet Train candidates, though that grouping has made things more difficult for itself with each candidate getting a similar vote, rather than having its votes concentrated in one person. When that happens, there is always the risk of early elimination, to someone else's benefit, probably the Liberals.
What is not clear is what message the parties can take home. The Liberals campaigned strongly on a claim that Labor had a plan to increase rates, and, at a pinch can probably claim their supporters wanted lower taxes, and, no doubt, the retention of payroll taxes and stamp duties. That is a message that certainly seemed to come loud and clear from Tuggeranong.
On the other hand, Katy Gallagher campaigned strongly on a traditional health, education and jobs model, and won more votes, (and more votes personally than Seselja) and had a swing to her party. Any swing to the Liberals was not at Labor's expense. It is hard to say that she was repudiated by the electorate.
Support for the Greens fell by nearly 5 per cent, most likely costing them two seats. It is by no means clear that former support drifted to Labor or to the Liberals, given the traditionally strong showing of minor parties and ungrouped candidates. And, given they got one in every seven votes in Molonglo, it may be too early to read the last rites, or to announce that they are now in decline.
At their inquest, however, they will no doubt be asking whether the problem was that their message was rejected, that it did not get heard, or that they failed to get enough credit for things they had done. No doubt they will select the last option, arguing that this means they should demand a ministry - and a significant one such as education - as the price of supporting Labor. With Gallagher probably down an existing minister in Corbell, she may well be inclined to think that a good idea, both in binding the Greens to her, and making government stable.