The Choice at the 2024 ACT Election

29 April 2024

As the ACT’s election season gets underway, it is important to think about the process of the election, and what the ACT needs from this process. The election can be a contest of bold ideas about the sort of society we want, or a series of largely unsubstantiated assertions about which party can deliver city services more efficiently.

Part of the ACT’s unique potential is that it is the only city in Australia that has the power to make state-level decisions. We are the best “laboratory of democracy,” able to forge innovative social policy to answer longstanding social problems here and across Australia. At our best, we act as a beacon to the rest of Australia.

The community is at a critical juncture following bushfires and the pandemic, and amidst cost-of-living and housing crises, with rapidly deteriorating mental health. Our community is changing rapidly, and many feel that this change is being imposed on them, especially as income inequality and intergenerational inequity skyrocket.

The election is our community’s best chance to actively shape our future. To vote is to lead, and many Canberrans take this responsibility seriously. Our voting leadership needs to use the election to decide what kind of society we want to be.

Political parties and candidates have a large role to play in deciding whether to give Canberrans this sort of election.

They can appeal to the intelligence of the voting public by formulating and articulating clear views on our community’s future, supported by specific policies that are linked by evidence to their intended outcomes.

They can take seriously the role of the voter as community leader, with responsibilities beyond their own narrow self-interest.

They can harness the ACT’s potential as a model for the rest of Australia, a jurisdiction educated and nimble enough to lead the country.

Or not.

They can alternatively get bogged down in the smaller responsibilities of a city council, hoping that voters will care more about shaving a week off the time it takes to fix a pothole than having a fairer, safer city.

They can make unsupported claims that their party will govern more effectively and efficiently. A city with so many public servants knows the critical role public servants play in government efficiency, and is unlikely to be swayed by such arguments. However, such an emphasis during the election could still crowd out more important discussions.

They can shut down discussion by labelling innovative ideas as impossible or untested. Yet humanity reached the moon generations ago.

Canberrans can have virtually anything we want, but we cannot have everything we want. It is time for a frank discussion about priorities.

I believe that improving equity should be our primary goal.

Like most Canberrans, I believe that the 9,000 Canberran children who live in poverty should not need to worry about getting enough food or where they will sleep. Poverty, and its eradication, are political choices.

Even those unmoved by arguments about the welfare of others should be aware of the significant international evidence for the psychological, social and health benefits of greater equity. Greater equity is a tide that lifts virtually all boats.

At its core, Canberra is a city that knows the value of working together for a common good like greater equity. Many Canberrans did not realise their attachment to the city until the pandemic emphasized the extent to which “We are all Ken Behrens”.

This election season is the time to affirm what that really means.

Opinion piece originally published in The Canberra Times on April 29th, 2024.
Read the editorial here.
For more information or comment, please contact
Devin Bowles, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0413 435 080 or 02 6202 7200

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