The Real Battle for the Seats of Kurrajong

rattenburyburch

With one of the most tightly contested elections ever fought in the ACT being decided this Saturday the 15th of October, the need for well-informed voters on the major issues in Canberra is essential. Students at ANU and surrounding areas will be faced with two choices: vote to continue Labor’s 15 year hold on the ACT, or welcome in a new government led by the Canberra Liberals’ Jeremy Hanson.

For students at ANU, the seat of Kurrajong will be the electorate being called home by many. Due to the socio-demographical layout of the electorate however, it is highly likely that proportional representation will mean two Liberal Candidates, two Labor and one Greens Candidate will win the five seats available.

Many students at ANU are therefore left with the option of choosing who will occupy these five seats available to the various parties.

Enter Candice Burch, Liberal candidate for Kurrajong and Greens candidate Shane Rattenbury MLA. Both candidates represent two choices we have in Kurrajong this election, representing a potential Liberal government and another Greens-Labor coalition respectively.

Both representative candidates agreed to sit down with Woroni to discuss the coming election.

It became clear that issues such as the Greens-Labor Government’s Tram proposal are at the forefront of many constituents’ minds in Kurrajong. Additionally, Labor’s ‘lockouts in disguise’ debacle, and the Liberals’ hospital plans are also key issues young people care about, and are keeping in mind when deciding who to vote for on Saturday October 15.

Rattenbury, one of the most outspoken members of the current Greens-Labor Government for the $1.78 billion tram from Gungahlin to Civic, maintains that his tram proposal is part of Canberra’s “plan for the future.” He attributes its unpopularity (48% of Canberra oppose the tram according to a poll conducted this year) to “lies” and “furphy’s by the Liberal Party”.

Burch, a past Economics student at ANU, disagrees. Working in the Department of Finance on Budget policy, she explains that building this tram is just not feasible. Citing increases in rent in properties running along Northbourne Avenue and surrounding suburbs, and further rate increases Canberra wide, Burch believes that building a tram is not worthwhile for students, or for the 97% of Canberrans who don’t live within walking distance of the proposed line.

“The Tram will increase congestion, especially around the lights and intersections on Northbourne Avenue, and will cost $1.78 billion. Canberrans can also expect a 7 minute longer journey from Gungahlin to the City by tram, compared to a bus journey in a dedicated bus lane. The operating costs alone of the Tram is equivalent to 400 buses per year. It just is not worth it, especially for young people”.

Rattenbury, also graduating from ANU with an Economics degree, doesn’t believe the Tram network will raise rent prices along Northbourne. This is even though the prices of properties themselves are expected to rise dramatically, making investment properties extremely valuable for  individuals fortunate to have one (or two).

Burch did not discuss in detail her thoughts on Shane Rattenbury’s Northbourne properties, only saying that she was disappointed in his hypocrisy in utilising negative gearing on his two investment properties (an investment strategy that the Greens campaigned heavily against during the federal election).

The Liberals alternative to the Tram is a rapid-bus transit plan. The Liberals have pledged to introduce a fleet of new buses, 8 new rapid routes across Canberra, and late night public transport services on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Labor has since released a similar plan that Deputy Leader of the Canberra Liberals, Alistair Coe, has labelled as an attempt to “play catch-up with a plan of what we released six months ago”.

The choice of the Greens-Labor Government in committing to stage 2 of the tram network without doing a business plan or any formal costing has also added to the debate.

Pending on whether or not the Liberals win government this Saturday, the Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Hanson has pledged to invest the money his government will save from scrapping the tram into areas such as health and education. The Greens-Labor coalition has since dismissed these election policies of investing in health and education as “proof the Liberals will do anything they can to get into government” as stated by Shane Rattenbury.

Burch was perplexed that investing any amount of money into the health sector and education sector can be dismissed as this by the Greens. Burch appeared strongly to believe in building the foundations of Canberra’s future from improved education and health sectors.

The Canberra Liberals have taken to the election a promise to build an extension to the Canberra Hospital if they win government, as well as build two Emergency centres in Tuggeranong and Gungahlin. Shane Rattenbury described these as “mini-hospitals” and described his position as not being “sold” on the proposal. The Canberra Liberals’ proposed extension to the Canberra Hospital is the very same policy that was shelved by the Greens-Labor government in their last term, in order to make room for the tram.

Burch described this move as an example of how “out of touch the Government is with Canberrans”, citing the fact that they chose to invest in a $1.78 billion tram network rather than in Canberra’s poor health system – when Canberra has the worst hospital emergency waiting times for the sixth year running.

One issue that seems to have the support of both the Liberals and the Greens is opposition to any form of lockout laws affecting Canberra’s nightlife. Before Labor’s Andrew Barr reneged on his “lockouts in disguise” proposals, the Greens and Canberra Liberals worked together in rejecting Labor’s stance.

Shane Rattenbury’s stance on the issue came from the ‘protecting the arts’ angle, whereas the Liberals seemed to oppose Labor’s commitment to increase licensing fees by up to 500% due to the harm doing so would cause local businesses which rely on Canberra’s nightlife to survive.

Burch cited the restriction of the personal liberties of young people trying to have a good time out at Civic as an additional reason for opposing Labor’s implicit lockouts. It is common consensus in Canberra that Labor still support theses ‘lockouts in disguise’, but after the strong community backlash to the proposal, have reneged on their proposal to save face before Election Day.

Whatever the result of this Saturday’s election, Kurrajong will be tightly contested. The choice voters will be making is whether to back another Greens-Labor Government for a total of 19 consecutive years in power, or give the Canberra Liberals a shot at delivering all of their election promises including scrapping the tram. This seems to be the real battle for the seats of Kurrajong.

Brandon Bodel is a member of the Liberal Party.