Morrison v Shorten not the only battle for Canberra


Kristen Butterworth

Housing is a key issue in Canberra which is the most expensive city in Australia to rent.

A redistribution has changed the geography and demographics of the seat of Canberra, long considered a stronghold of the Labor Party.

The new boundaries mainly encompass the national capital’s inner suburbs and with the retirement of popular sitting member Gai Brodtmann, the Greens believe they have a real chance of breaking the ALP’s grip on the seat.

Beyond the inner city, the electorate stretches west to the district of Belconnen, south to the new town centre of Molonglo Valley as well as Weston Creek and Woden Valley, and east to the sparsely-populated nature reserve areas of Kowen and Majura.

The electorate was first-called the seat of Canberra in 1974 and along with Fenner and Bean makes up the three electorates within the ACT.

More than 133-thousand people live in the seat of Canberra, 22.5 per cent of them are aged 18 to 34 which is slightly below the national figure of 24.5 per cent.

According to the Australian Electoral Commission, notional post-redistribution margins give Labor nearly 63 percent of the vote, the Liberal Party is at 33.3 per cent and the Greens at 18.7 per cent.

The Greens believe they would need a 13 percent swing to have a chance of winning the seat. But the party is buoyed that the new electorate encompasses suburbs that strongly support the Greens in the local parliament, the ACT Assembly.

Kristen Butterworth
The rainbow roundabout in the central suburb of Braddon was installed after the same-sex marriage plebiscite.

The issues

The cost of housing, particularly affordable options for renters, is an issue that affects a significant portion of the voters in Canberra.

The nation’s capital has now overtaken Sydney as the most expensive city in which to rent.

According to the Domain Group, Canberra prices have risen 3.7 per cent over the past year, with the average rent for a house at $560 per week – the most expensive in the country – and units up 8.1 per cent to $465 per week.

Those figures are relevant to the seat of Canberra where 41 per cent of the residents are renting.

The Greens have jumped on the issue, citing their policy to introduce laws into parliament that would limit rent rises and put an end to no-grounds evictions.

The Liberal Party has announced a plan to assist housing affordability while also increasing housing for the homeless and those in crisis. It has also announced $1 billion for a National Housing Infrastructure facility to expand housing in the capital.

The Labor Party’s policies on housing include a ten-year plan for more affordable housing.

Much of the focus has been on the party’s plan to cut negative gearing and capital gains tax. Analysts say this might bring down rental prices – in Canberra, the predictions are for modest drops of one or two percent – but the impact won’t really be known until, and if, the policy is implemented.

Yikai Li
Housing affordability is an issue for students in Canberra.

A contentious issue in the seat of Canberra is the recently-launched light rail service that runs through the northern part of the electorate down the city’s main thoroughfare, Northbourne Avenue.

Stage two of the service is already in the planning and its construction to the inner south town centre of Woden will be entirely within the boundaries of the Canberra electorate.

The Federal Labor Party has promised $200 million for stage two but the Liberal Party has refused to match the funding pledge on the basis of the party’s opposition to the project at the local political level.

During stage one construction, community sentiment on the high-cost infrastructure project was divided. Labor’s support for light rail might well sway votes but for those still opposed, it could entrench the animosity about the contentious use of taxpayers’ money.

The Coalition also owns unpopular policies that will affect the voters of Canberra.

Budget papers last month revealed plans to relocate more than 100 public service jobs to regional locations in Australia.

Since the Coalition came to power in 2013, figures from the Public Service Commission show the number of APS jobs in Canberra has reduced by 11 per cent.

Regardless of the issues that influence voters in the seat of Canberra, they will have a new federal member and first-time politician as their representative in parliament.

Alicia Payne (ALP), Mina Zaki (Liberal Party) and Tim Hollo (Greens) are all having their first tilt at running for office.