Saturday's local election gave a result that I don't even believe that the Greens expected; however, it is very telling of the future of our territory's politics.
Being a café owner, I speak to hundreds of people every day, in the past days I have been asking people why they voted the way they did. An overwhelming amount of people suggested that they abandoned the Liberals because they were seen as "not having a chance", people voted for Labor because they "liked the vision of Andrew Barr", and people voted for the Greens as a "protest" and "for the environment".
So, what are the lessons to be learnt from all of this?
Canberra is one of the most, and if not the most, progressive electorates in the world. This shouldn't come as a shock to people, the widespread publication of Canberra's progressive views and policies will only do more to drive similarly minded people to Canberra, increasing this section of the community.
Light rail is a done deal. The liberals have now lost two elections on light rail. The question should not be "if" we build the next stage; it should be "how soon" and "where" we build it.
Too many people earn enough money in Canberra not to vote on cost of living. Voters are more concerned about getting their money's worth, i.e. local footpaths, roads, and freshly painted hospitals when they need it.
Canberrans want a clear and positive vision for the future of their city. The anti-development lobby is loud, but unrepresentative of the broad views of Canberrans. Many Canberrans like the Chief Minister's vision of a bustling and tall CBD, town and group centres, with businesses thriving and an active nightlife until late. I often suggest that one of Andrew Barr's greatest successes in the last term was the birth of two, almost 24/7, kebab shops.
The Greens are a safe protest vote. Voters who are looking to protest against the mainstream parties and the government often look to minor parties; however, voters want to back winners, the Greens provide an alternative which allows one to protest, and to be a winner.
Canberra is the most educated electorate in the country. Canberrans aren't fans of political ideas, nor of media releases, Canberrans want to see graphs, detailed analysis, costings, careful thought, and sketches. To appeal to voters, you need to do more than just appeal the punters; you need to appeal to families, academics, business people, public servants, students and young people. A variety of backgrounds, races, and religions - the base is ever-changing.
Voters aren't interested in stunts, slogans, and negativity. Another thing that is often mentioned over my bar, is that voters hate negativity; they want to hear more out of the opposition than just "No. No. No.". At the end of the day, the opposition is vying to be an alternate government. Voters want to hear what you're going to give them, and they want you to answer the question, slogans don't win votes from Canberrans - unless you're "Julia with a G", "Zed Instead", "Go for Coe", or "Gordon Ramsay's Right Recipe for Belconnen" - although we're still waiting to see if that recipe did work out...
In a world of pandemics, technology, and fires, the environment is an important issue. Globally, the environment has become a bigger and bigger issue, this even impacts on voters in Canberra and for those who are not convinced by the climate change argument, they are often won on the argument that environmental policies make economic sense or can provide them with another revenue stream. This coupled with the most significant fires in a decade, and a global pandemic just adds to the mix. However, fires and a pandemic cannot solely be blamed for a Green victory.
Voters are self-interested. As mentioned above, voters are only interested in what affects them; if light rail is slated to go within 1km of their house, they are more likely to vote for it. Health, education and transport is only a priority for the few that use it. City services are more likely to be a more prominent seller for voters.
Our electoral system preferences incumbency, as well as those with spare time, secure jobs and without school-aged children. The challenge of running for an election is a feat in itself, and by all means, it is tireless. A smart incumbent finds ways to use their office and their party to assist in their re-election, this option isn't available to many of the candidates. Building a strong community profile is important but is often encumbered by the exact things that make a person a good member; family, kids, community involvement, business, volunteering, work and career. This is not true in every event, but it would be great to see a greater diversity of people in our assembly.
- John-Paul Romano is a local businessman, advocate, commentator and spokesman for the ACT Council of Minor Parties and Independents. Twitter: @johnpauldromano