Canberra Liberals Believe They Are 'Within Striking Distance' Of Seizing Power

The fate of the ACT hangs in the balance

13/10/2016 3:12 PM AEDT | Updated 14/10/2016 11:36 AM AEDT
Rohan Thomson, Fairfax
ACT Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson says there is "clearly a mood for change."

CANBERRA – It has been 15 years since the Liberal Party last governed the national capital and Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson can finally sniff victory.

"There are a lot of people dissatisfied with the Labor and Green coalition government and they understand that after 15 years governments start to smell, and this one stinks," Mr Hanson told The Huffington Post Australia.

Roads, rates, rubbish and ruling Canberra is up for grabs tomorrow as Canberrans go to the polls for the first time since Labor was given a scare by the Liberals in 2012.

Rohan Thomson, Fairfax
Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson in the ACT leadership debate

In the lead up to the vote HuffPost AU spoke to Mr Hanson about the yet to be built $930 million light rail project which is polarising the territory, the accusations of being a branch of arch conservatives and the Liberal's prospects of bucking the usual ACT result of a minority government.

"We are very optimistic because across town there are lots of people who are saying to us that normally they are Labor voters, but not this time," he said.

"There is clearly a mood for change."

"We will have to wait till Saturday to see the result, but it is clear ... we are within striking distance."

The tram is the issue which is widely expected to decide the election. The public transport project, which will service Canberra's rapidly expanding northern suburbs, is about to start. Labor is campaigning to expand the current plans, while the Liberals are focusing on roads and want to rip up the contract.

One of the main problems with the light rail project is that Canberra's southern suburbs miss out on the service, but southern rate payers must still help pay for the project.

image supplied
An artistic rendering of who the light rail is expected to look in Canberra

Labor regards the light rail project as an important city building project and the best way to avoid traffic gridlock, but Mr Hanson regards it as the wrong transport option for Canberra. The Liberals are campaigning to expand the road lanes of Northbourne Avenue and add extra bicycle lanes, while stating "buses are the optimal solution."

The Liberals transport alternative has been ridiculed by Labor as a "road based, car-based solution," but Mr Hanson is forging ahead.

"We are a very spread out city," he said. "Trams work in other cities with high population densities. That are compact."

"That is simply the wrong option for Canberra which is better suited to take part and lead the way in the revolution in the automotive industry with electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles."

The Opposition Leader also predicts the light rail will send the territory broke claiming it will cost a massive 14 times the current price tag of $930 million.

Rohan Thomson, Fairfax
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson at the ACT leadership debate

Labor disputes the Liberal figure on total cost and insists it is spreading the $930 million over 20 years. There is also a mismatch on how much taxpayers will be charged if the Liberals rip up the contract. Mr Hanson claims the $300 million that Labor has cited is a "nonsense figure deliberately designed to scare people," but he won't say what he is expecting to charge taxpayers if he wins government.

"We are not putting a figure on it, but I am anticipating it will be in the order of 20 percent of the figure being put forward by the government," he said.

"But I am not going to nominate a figure, because their figure is made up."

"Yes, there will be a cost and I disappointed by that, but it was the Labor Party and the Greens who decided to sign the contract on the eve of the election as a reckless selfish act."

Jeremy Hanson does actually like light rail, just not for Canberra. And he's certain that's also the position of tram fan and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

"We had discussion about it at the campaign launch last week and he interjected in my speech to say "don't do it!"

Jamila Toderas, Fairfax
Canberra Liberals Jeremy Hanson and The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the Canberra Liberal Campaign Launch

The Opposition Leader insists he is cut from the same mold as Mr Turnbull, a renowned moderate. And he's taken umbrage at the Chief Minister Andrew Barr's casting of the ACT Liberals, as a branch of "hard line" arch conservatives.

"Well the Liberal Party has people who are socially conservative, people that are socially moderate," Mr Hanson declared.

"I am socially moderate. I support same sex marriage. I am on the moderate end of the party."

"So given that I am the leader of the party, and my views are more socially akin to those of Malcolm Turnbull, his criticism is ill-founded."

Mr Hanson is wont to proffer his 22 year Army career as good background for his current political career.

Canberra Liberals
ACT Liberal Leader Jeremy Hanson appearing in army fatigues in a campaign advertisement

He served in East Timor and Iraq and reached the rank of lieutenant colonel.

"A principle that stays with me from my Army days is put people first and leave no one behind," the Opposition Leader said.

"So I am personally very excited and very positive about the prospect of forming government and I hope to do that on Saturday because Canberra needs change."

More On This Topic