ABC CANBERRA BREAKFAST
WEDNESDAY, 28 JUNE 2017
Subjects: Census results and a third MP for Canberra.
ADAM SHIRLEY: The territory briefly had three seats in the House of Reps, between 1996 and 1998. They were the seats of Fraser, Canberra and Namadgi in the day. A current serving MP in the House of Reps for the Canberra region is Andrew Leigh, the Labor Member for Fenner and he’s with us on Breakfast to discuss this further. Andrew Leigh, a very good morning to you.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning to you, Adam.
SHIRLEY: So, as far as the work it takes to represent Canberra’s growing population, just how hard is it to represent such a large number of constituents, given the area that you represent and the number of people in it?
LEIGH: Well, Adam, it certainly means that you have a fuller inbox. Your phones are ringing off the hook and people are coming in the door more often than they would be in smaller electorates. I speak a lot with my parliamentary colleagues about the work we all do representing electorates. There are challenges across the board - people in far North Queensland are representing huge electorates, but the sheer population in the Canberra electorates does place strains on. We don’t get any extra staffing resources for that, so I’d very much welcome a third seat for the ACT, because I think that would mean that Canberrans who wanted to raise something with their lower house MP just had readier access.
SHIRLEY: So, as far as you see it, is it simply a matter of opportunity to see your local representative, to raise a problem that you might have?
LEIGH: Well, I’m going first to that issue, because it would occur regardless of who was in there. Gai and I work as hard as we can in order to see people, raising issues in the house, but we’d love to have a third colleague there as well. Then of course, for Canberrans, if that person was somebody who was supporting Medicare, fair funding of schools, egalitarianism, I think that would be a great outcome for Canberra as well.
SHIRLEY: To some of those policy issues that you debate as a Labor member, is this as much about securing another Labor seat in what is traditionally a Labor voting town?
LEIGH: Well, Adam, I’m a Labor representative - of course I would say that having more people on the Labor side of Parliament means we’re more likely to get positive reforms put in place. We’ve seen Labor, for example in the cases of the public service, preside over a government in which public service numbers grew in line with population. Under the Coalition, we’ve seen savage cuts to the public service. We’ve seen a Labor Government make a commitment to climate change and to marriage equality, issues that are very important to many Canberrans. So to the extent that a third representative was making those powerful arguments, I think that would be welcomed by the vast majority of Canberrans.
SHIRLEY: Let’s hypothesise for a moment that it was a Liberal candidate that received the third seat, would you also welcome that?
LEIGH: Well, I think that would bring the electoral benefits, Adam. But obviously I would disagree with them in terms of policy.
SHIRLEY: On the other side of things, in the other house with the red seats, do you think in line with a possible third MP that there should be at least a third Senator for the ACT? Because Zed Seselja and Katy Gallagher both have a lot on their plate as Senators too.
LEIGH: I will never say no to more representation for the ACT, Adam. I think that’s absolutely vital to try to get as many people as we can, but when you look at the number of people represented, where the greatest disparity is is in the House of Reps for the ACT.
SHIRLEY: And as far as conversations you say you have had with your colleagues, do you understand that they’re receptive to this, that they do understand the size of the Canberra electorates and just how many people you and Gai Brodtmann need to represent, at least in the House of Reps?
LEIGH: Absolutely. We’re a ways off this - obviously it’s an Australian Electoral Commission decision and what we got yesterday were comments from the Parliamentary Library and from Antony Green. So we shouldn’t count chickens, but it is a promising sign.
SHIRLEY: As you understand it, Dr, what is their process? Do you and other politicians have the opportunity to lobby or at least make the case to the AEC? How do they follow that process to decide?
LEIGH: Pure maths, Adam. It’s entirely away from the likes of you and me. They’ll just simply look at the numbers and make a decision on that.
SHIRLEY: Being an economics interested researcher, I’m sure you’ll be crunching those numbers as we speak.
LEIGH: [laughter] I might check their maths, but that’s about all the role I have.
SHIRLEY: If they need an oversight, Andrew Leigh putting his hand up. Dr Leigh, interesting though, given our growing population is a significant one and when you compare it to Tasmania and their representation in Parliament. I mean, how strong is the case there, when you look at that comparison?
LEIGH: Look, absolutely Adam. Tasmania is constitutionally protected - they might well have not come into the nation had they not been guaranteed those five House seats. But if you compare across the average, we’ve still got large electorates. For me, it’s been a real privilege serving the north part of Canberra for the last now seven years and I’d really welcome the opportunity to continue looking after that terrific community on the northside. We’ll go through internal Labor processes if there were a third seat. My guess is that Gai Brodtmann would represent the southside, I’d represent the northside and we’d be looking for someone new in the centre there.
SHIRLEY: It’d be interesting to see what borders might be drawn up. But as you say, a ways to go before that step is reached. Andrew Leigh, I appreciate your time on this issue today. Thank you.
LEIGH: Thank you, Adam.