ACT Senate Candidates Forum Wed 28th August 2013

Twenty seven candidates belonging to 13 political parties will appear on the ACT Senate voting paper on September 7.  An enthusiastic crowd of about 400 Canberrans filled the Albert Hall on Wednesday evening for a Senate candidates forum organized  by a group of volunteers from the activist community group GetUp!  The event was chaired by ABC radio personality Genevieve Jacobs who had already interviewed a number of the ten participating candidates on her radio show.

This was comfortable territory for the Greens candidate, Simon Sheikh, who was a former national director of GetUp!  It was nevertheless surprising that Sheikh’s main rival for the second Canberra Senate seat, Zed Seselja, failed to make an appearance and did not even reply to his invitation. 

With ten outspoken candidates on the podium, the pace was fast and furious.  Each candidate began with a three-minute pitch for their party and candidates were then exposed to questions which had been submitted by email from audience members prior to the forum.  Specific candidates chosen by the MC were given a minute  in which to respond.

Several of the single issue party representatives made it clear that they did not expect to be elected, but were using the Senate race to heighten community focus on their topic and that what was important was to note the allocation of their preferences.  A table of all of the official preferences for each of the 13 parties was distributed to the audience and it was noted that the Liberals are preferencing the Greens last on their list, while the ALP is preferencing them first after their own two candidates. 

As Philip Nitschke (the leader of the Voluntary Euthanasia Party) made clear, he and others are in the race because they are frustrated  by the refusal of either of the major parties to deal with difficult and complex issues about which many in the electorate care deeply.

Paul Cupitt, who leads the Drug Reform ticket said the same. Prohibition has clearly failed and illicit drug use is barely dented by the policy of prohibition.  But the two major parties are showing no signs of adopting  the more sensible approach of regulation of all drugs and abandonment of an ineffective law enforcement approach.

The single issue parties include the Animal Justice party (which has placed the Greens  last on their preference list), the Bullet Train for Australia group (which has the Greens in the middle of their preferences after the other single issue parties), the Drug Reform party which has the Greens at number three after the Sex Party, and  the Sex Party which has the Greens after the other single issue parties, and the Voluntary Euthanasia Party which is doing similarly.

Steven Bailey from Katter’s Australia party brought along his dog as his campaign manager.  Bailey impressed as a young man who is skilled at communicating his passion and wooing an audience.  He had harsh words for Rupert Murdoch and for foreign ownership of Australian land and will be a politician to watch in the future.  Watch out also for Chris Bucknell who leads the Bullet Train for Australia group. He had the audience in stitches while arguing the impeccable logic of a rapid rail transport system.

Irwin Ross for Rise Up Australia made it clear that he is opposed to gay marriage and that his party belongs on the more conservative side of he spectrum.  The party is passing its first preferences to the Bullet Train for Australia group. 

The forum did not hear from Marcus Fillinger from the Animal Justice Party, because he was called out on an animal rescue at the last minute and put his money where his heart is.   Wayne Slattery from Palmer United Party and Deborah Avery from the Sex Party were not at the forum either but both parties have listed the three major parties low on their  preference list.  The Australian Independents were represented by Anthony Fernie whose preferences  listed the Greens, the  Liberal Party and the ALP as the last three in that order. Ungrouped Independent Ezekiel Emmanuel-Hart is a lawyer and community activist who wore a colourful hat to the forum and exhibited his concerns  for the needs of all sectors of the population of his adopted country.

So, what did this forum accomplish?  First, it revealed that large numbers of people, who are dissatisfied with the current policy offerings of both the ALP and the Liberal parties, are hungry for a different approach and that political passion is still alive and well in the community.

It also revealed the importance of preferences in the Senate race and the complexity of predicting who is most likely to win the second seat after Kate Lundy has probably locked in the first.  When the question was asked "why are young people disengaged from politics?” Chris Bucknell replied “We are not, but we need solid issues to work on and The Bullet Train for Australia is a pretty solid issue.”