Deciding vote must be visionary
In the box seat ... Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury. Photo: Jeffrey Chan JCC
The Greens' lone representative in the new ACT Assembly, Shane Rattenbury, will soon decide which of the two major parties governs the territory for the next four years.
The ACT Greens have set up a party sub-committee to assist Mr Rattenbury in his deliberations, and while the former speaker had expressed hopes of making a decision ''in a timely manner'', he warned yesterday that a decision may still be several days away.
With the declaration of the poll tomorrow, the parties have seven days in which to negotiate a modus vivendi before the new Assembly sits next week. Nonetheless, it is important an agreement is reached promptly - if not for the sake of the ACT Greens, then certainly for the people of the ACT.
That Mr Rattenbury should find himself a kingmaker is ironic given the Greens' abysmally poor showing on election day - and his intention to seek the counsel of his federal colleagues before making a final decision could invite further derision from voters. It will be a difficult process all round, made more so by the fact that the ACT Greens are still in shock at the loss of Caroline Le Couteur, Amanda Bresnan and former party leader Meredith Hunter. Though obviously playing his cards close, Mr Rattenbury has revealed that he will not be seeking a return to the speakership. But he remains open to the offer of a government ministry, arguing that as the Greens' sole voice he now needs to have more input into legislation.
It's an argument that's unlikely to wash with many voters who, on October 20, sent a clear message that the Greens deserve less of a say in governing the territory. Whether a new agreement between the Greens and either the Liberals or Labor would give Mr Rattenbury a stronger voice and more input into legislation is yet to be seen. The 2008 deal with Labor was neither a formal Coalition nor a Tasmanian-style accord, but a written parliamentary agreement between Labor's Jon Stanhope and the Greens' Meredith Hunter. It did not allow the Greens ministerial representation, but enabled them to secure a number of important policy outcomes.
Some within the ACT Greens are now arguing that the party's poor showing on election day was partly as a result of being overshadowed by Labor and the Liberals, especially during the election campaign.
If the parliamentary agreement struck in 2008 had the unintended effect of diminishing the ACT Greens as a productive and successful political entity in their own right, it did clear the way for a reasonably stable government, parliamentary reform, and a solid legislative program. Were the ACT Greens to decide after their election post-mortem that a new approach was needed to restore electoral support, the offer of a suitable ministry might indeed be enough to secure Mr Rattenbury's vote on the floor of the Assembly.
If his previous rhetoric about the Greens is any guide, such an offer is unlikely to come from Opposition Leader Zed Seselja. Many believe Mr Seselja's hard-line approach to the Greens during the election contributed significantly to the Liberals' improved vote.
Having thus marginalised the Greens, the Liberals might be considered hypocritical were they to sit down with them and cut a deal. There is another potential stumbling block, too. Mr Seselja and his colleagues have conventional views on social issues such as same-sex marriage and drug law reform, and the idea of them teaming with the representative of a progressive party such as the Greens to form a minority government is implausible. It would be less improbable if the Liberals were still led by Kate Carnell. She was notably liberal on social issues such as needle injecting rooms, but the party has veered right since she and Gary Humphries departed.
Having secured what Mr Seselja described as ''a mandate to lead'' - the ACT Liberals may yet decide that the offer of a ministry to Mr Rattenbury is feasible, especially with the prospect of a further four years in opposition looming. And, as they proved in Tasmania in the late 1990s, the Greens are not culturally averse to backing a Liberal minority government.
In reality, neither Labor nor the Liberals can claim a clear popular mandate to govern. It is incumbent, therefore, on Mr Rattenbury to approach negotiations with an open mind. His decision needs to be made on the basis of which party has outlined the clearest and best vision for the territory's future (particulary its fiscal destiny) and which has the capacity to deliver good and honest government over the next four years.