ACT Election Breakdown: Senate Candidates and Policies

On 14 September ANU students will have the chance to give four politicians a job. They can vote for their representative in one of two A.C.T. electorates and give two other people a job in one of Canberra’s two senate seats.


The Canberra Choice

Since the birth of the Australian Capital Territory’s senate rights, Labor has always gathered the most votes, the real battle is for the second seat, the Liberal seat. For the first time in 10 years, the relatively-liberal-Liberal, Gary Humphries will not be running for the Senate, he was shuffled out by Zed Seselja. The Liberal’s new candidate wants to make the 3 1/2km move to the Federal Senate from the A.C.T. Legislative Assembly, where he received the most first preferences last year but only has a 37% favourability rating.

In the green corner is Simon Sheikh, the former national director of GetUp director is new to the Senate scene but not new to Canberra popularity, 3.3% of Canberrans are GetUp members, more than any other city.

However, history is not on his side ….

The 2010 Election

A vote in the A.C.T. is often labelled as inconsequential. In 1949 (the first election since ANU was founded) we had one seat and in 1974 we were divided into two – we had a brief stint with three House of Rep seats in 1996 but we are now back to two federal electorates. If you add it all up, we’ve been given 106 years in the Lower House, 99 of those years were in the hands of Labor. Our Senate tells a different story – in 39 years we have always have one Liberal and one Labor in the red-house, which is how we are represented at the moment.

Simon Sheikh is always quick to point out that the Liberals only reached the senate quota by 38 votes. However, that number is problematic. When the Liberals won their seat (in the fifth round of preference distributions) the leading Greens candidate were still over twenty-five thousand votes short of quota – but 16000 Labor, 4000 Democrats and 2000 Independent votes had not been transferred to preferences. It was close but it is unclear how close.


The Policies

So how should you vote? I asked Zed Seselja and Simon Sheikh what their views are issues that are important to students in the A.C.T. it was not based on a survey (no such survey exists) but rather student protests and movements that gained momentum in the past few years. Namely: The Education Cuts, Gay Marriage, Refugees and a Bullet Train for Canberra

The Education Cuts

$2.3 billion will be cut from universities and given to schools under the implementation of Gonski – providing that the states sign on. The Liberal government has publicly criticised the cuts but have stopped short of blocking them in the Parliament.

Both candidates were quick to voice their support for universities. However, Seselja also added “I understand that there are budgetary constraints… an incoming coalition government will of course have to find savings as well.” Sheikh was more aggressive, “we’re going to do everything we an in the Senate to try and stop these cuts hurting universities.”

Gay Marriage

73% of Canberrans support it and Simon Sheikh has put his supportive thoughts into a blog post. Even though the Liberals have historically opposed marriage equality, there have been signs that Mr Abbott could be shifting. Would Seselja follow in Humphries’ famous floor-crossing footsteps on the subject of gay rights? Absolutely not, “I do accept the view that marriage is between a man and a woman… it is primarily in relation to its traditional role with the raising of children.”


7952 people are in immigration detention, 96% arrived by boat. More than ten thousand other asylum seekers are on bridging visas. Our very own refugee lawyer Matthew Zagor recently told Sydney Morning Herald readers a clear fact: that seeking asylum is legal and yet the Liberal Party still refers to them as illegal and the Federal government’s own website classes them as “unlawful”.

Last year, the Greens refused to support the Malaysia Solution and the Labor Party consequently concocted a Howard-era plan with the Liberals. Sheikh has no regrets, “both the major parties have determined the policy in this area…. and when they gang up they can do whatever they want.” Seselja is the nephew of a refugee and wants to change the rhetoric but still uses the term “unlawful”, “I think people who come here unlawfully are coming here unlawfully and we need to be clear about that… sometimes I think the rhetoric is unhelpful.”

Bullet Train:

The $114 billion eastern seaboard fast-rail could get us to Sydney one hour and 20 but that link would not be complete until 2035 and the entire network would not be finished until 2060. Seselja is hesitant about the price-tag “I think it is one of those things that all of us in theory would like to see… the real question we have to ask as a nation is can we afford it.” Sheikh is convinced we have the money, ”the evidence is in… for every dollar we invest, we will get more than $2 in economic benefits back…. it means spending less than what we already spend in roads.”

Your Vote

You may be enrolled somewhere else, you may not be enrolled at all but your vote in the A.C.T. is certainly not inconsequential. With the rickety popularity of Senator Hanson Young, both candidates and respective parties are desperate that Senate seat and both are certain they have a chance to win. The only question that matters: whom would you rather employ?


Interviews with Simon Sheikh and Zed Seselja:

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