OPINION

Significant choices await ACT voters

While Canberrans may feel they have little sway over the final result of Saturday's federal election, for the first time in decades many will find themselves weighing up hard choices - to vote in their own interest, or that of the nation.

On first blush many of Labor's policies will appeal to Canberrans - a pause in the widely hated 0.5 per cent government efficiency dividend and refocusing government jobs away from contractors to full-time employees. The Coalition's poorly conceived decentralisation program that has treated the ACT as a cache of jobs to be raided and spread across marginal coalition-held electorates will also be a vote-changer for some. Thursday's announcement of a $1.5 billion cut to public service spending will do little to help local senator Zed Seselja.

Cuts to the public service won't help Zed Seselja's Senate bid. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Cuts to the public service won't help Zed Seselja's Senate bid. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

There's some goodies on offer for the city, in the form of a $200 million federal Labor commitment to the second stage of Canberra's light rail, a pledge towards duplicating the Barton Highway towards neighbouring Murrumbateman and $1 billion towards securing land for a high-speed rail corridor that would connect Canberra to the east coast capitals.

Many have dubbed this election the climate change election, and both major parties trail a long way behind the policies of the Greens or some others who would see the country transition quickly away from fossil fuels.

The flinch point for many Canberrans will come with the hit they face to the hip pocket

Labor is promoting renewables - 50 per cent of electricity generation by 2030, support for transition to electric vehicles and a greenhouse gas emissions target of 45 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030, expanding to zero net emissions by 2050. The Greens would bring that target forward by a decade, while the Liberals would stick to Australia's current Paris targets of 26 -28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 - and no more. The Liberals say they will meet climate obligations without wrecking the economy.

But the flinch point for many Canberrans will come with the hit to the hip pocket. The Coalition has promised to put more money back in taxpayer pockets - particularly in the second and third stages of its $300b tax plan, while Labor has launched an ambitious program to redistribute much of the largesse from the most wealthy to pay for a major spending program on social issues, ranging from tackling cancer to driving up wages for some of the nation's least well-off.

The difficulty for Canberrans is that many of them fall squarely into the group that stands to be affected financially by this election result. One in three Canberrans identified as professionals in the last census and a family here has an income of $700 a week more than average Australians.

For weeks the letters pages of this newspaper have been filled with bitter debate about Labor's plan to end tax refunds on unused dividend franking credits. A winding back of negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts will also potentially hit the finances of hundreds of Canberra households looking to buy investment properties. Family trusts, superannuation and many of the other financial vehicles that tend to disproportionately benefit the well-off also stand to be affected by the policies put forward.

And of course, those on incomes of $100,000 or more - more common here than in most parts of the country - will be looking at the Coalition's promised second and third stage tax cuts and deciding whether they are willing to forego that windfall.

Many Canberrans face a real choice on Saturday. To vote for changes that may benefit them personally. Or to vote for change that has the potential to benefit those less fortunate than they are.