BY PAUL OBOOHOV
CANBERRA — The October 20 elections in the Australian Capital Territory are being contested by far more than the usual major party candidates. Nurses angry about the meltdown in health, outer suburbanites disgruntled with service provision, small business pressure groups, free market liberals, ex-cops and Christian fundamentalists are all competing for support.
Through it all it seems Labor might win. The ALP is ahead in polling and the Liberals have only been able to govern up until now with the support of two conservative independents in the 17-seat Legislative Assembly.
The major parties are running campaigns which are true to form.
The Liberals are promising to boost funding to the Catholic Calvary Hospital and what they say is a better deal for nurses, but are weighed down by a long succession of scandals and unpopular funding cuts.
The ALP is also promising extra funding to health, in the form of $6 million for Canberra Hospital, and is benefiting from voters' disenchantment with the Liberals.
Of more interest is the campaign by the Nurses for Good Government, which has helped make the state of the territory's hospitals such a major issue.
Many nurses are walking away from their profession, aggrieved by low pay and low staffing levels, double shifts and overwork. So bad has the situation become that Canberra Hospital has threatened to invoke its emergency plan, due to lack of staff and resources. There are currently 5000 job advertisements nation-wide for nurses that are not being answered, 5% of the national workforce.
Nurses for Good Government's Phillip Hickox believes that if only governments listened more to them, issues such as low pay, bad conditions, low staffing and poor resourcing could be resolved.
The ticket is also backing the provision of extra public services in local health centres, such as free dentistry, which would give the poor greater access, and have also taken a stance on issues outside the sector, including calling for more public housing and a more equitable distribution of education funding.
Ex-cop Dave Rugendyke and ex-footballer and fundamentalist Christian Paul Osborne are seeking re-election. Rugendyke and Osborne are responsible for many punitive law and order initiatives and some of the harshest anti-abortion legislation in the country. After a failed attempt to draft highly popular ex-footballer Mal Meninga onto the ticket, Osborne is trailing the Greens in his multi-member electorate.
The Greens, who are campaigning primarily on "open government" and an anti-poverty plan, are hoping to get two candidates elected. They were reduced to one MP in the 1998 election, following their 1995 decision to vote in a Liberal government. The Democrats, campaigning under the slogan "change politics" and promising "never, ever" to block the government budget, may get one or two candidates elected. The Socialist Alliance is not fielding candidates.