By Tony Iltis
CANBERRA — Following elections which gave a parliamentary majority to neither major party, ACT Liberal leader Kate Carnell has formed a minority government.
The Liberals won seven of the 17 seats in the ACT Legislative Assembly, the ALP gained six and the ACT Greens two. Independents were elected to the remaining two seats. Carnell was elected chief minister by a vote of 11 to six.
Newly elected Green MLA Lucy Horodny told Green Left Weekly that the result came as "a pleasant surprise" but that her party had aimed to win between one and three seats. "Having two Green MLAs will force the other parties to lift their game with respect to the environment", she said.
The Green MLAs were hoping to raise parliamentary standards by educating other politicians on environmental issues, Horodny explained. She added: "We want to continue having dialogue with people in the community; we want their input".
She talked of using newsletters, forums and open working groups to allow groups and individuals in the community to help formulate policy. "People were heard but ignored in the past", she said.
The decision by the Green MLAs to vote for a Liberal chief minister has surprised many. On the environmental and social issues that the Greens stand for, the Liberals' record is even worse than the ALP's.
"It was a very, very difficult decision", said Horodny. "Allowing the Liberals to govern in no way implies support for their policies." She pointed out that the Green MLAs had made an announcement to this effect from the Legislative Assembly floor soon after the vote for chief minister was taken.
She told Green Left that a third of the people who voted Green gave their preferences to the Liberals. "We needed to give the message that we were not just another faction of the Labor Party", she said.
These sentiments were echoed by James Warden, ACT Greens candidate in the March 25 by-election for the federal seat of Canberra. "The ALP goes on behaving as if we're there to serve their interests and we're not", he told Green Left.
He described the vote in the Assembly as "token" because Carnell would have been chief minister whichever way the two Green MLAs voted. "This is in no way an endorsement of Liberal policy, you can underline that!", he said, adding that the Liberals were on notice that they would be opposed on every issue where they were against the Greens' social and environmental principles.
He said that the Greens had remained distant from the negotiations that followed the ACT elections. "We never discussed government with the Liberals and independents. We didn't want to engage and weren't invited ... It was [independent MLAs] Moore and Osbourne who did all that, and we don't know what deals they made."
The ACT Greens will not be directing preferences in the by-election. "The two parties stand for the same thing: economic rationalism, controlled destruction of the environment and attacks on social welfare, health and education", Warden told Green Left.
He described the tactic of working within the ALP for progressive change as "totally futile". He pointed to the federal government's recent decision to reduce the number of protected forest coupes and questioned how bad things needed to get for progressives to stop looking to the ALP.
His ALP opponent in the by-election, Sue Robinson, is from the left of the party. He described her as "sympathetic" to the concerns of the Greens, but added: "We've had enough of sympathy. We want action." Pointing out that 45 federal ALP backbenchers had recently signed a petition against the destruction of high conservation value forest, he asked, "Would 46 make a difference?"
Alison Dellit, who ran for the ACT parliament as a Democratic Socialist, welcomed the election of the two Green MLAs, who she said could use the Assembly "as a platform for the demands and ideas of the environmental and progressive movements".
Dellit told Green Left that the election results were contradictory. "On the one hand, the vote for the Greens, and to a lesser extent, Michael Moore, represents a growing rejection of the no-choice political set-up we live under. On the other, we now have Liberal government.
"The experience in other states has taught us what to expect. While Kate Carnell may not be Jeff Kennett, the ACT Liberals campaigned on slashing over $25 million off both the health and public transport budgets. Furthermore, immediately after gaining office they foreshadowed even greater cuts by discovering multimillion-dollar 'holes' in the budget. Exactly the same tactic was used in Victoria and South Australia. We should expect intensified attacks on the environment and on the living standards of ordinary people."