Last weekend’s ACT election results have again revealed how out of touch our nation’s capital city is with mainstream Australians. While it is tempting to write off the ACT Legislative Assembly as little more than a glorified city council, ACT elections are one of the clearest indicators of elite opinion that we have – and the results are alarming.
ACT Labor will continue to govern, as it has done since 2001, but the big winners were the Greens, who have more than doubled there representation. The 25 seat ACT Assembly will have ten Labor members (down from 12), nine Liberals (down from 11), and six Greens (up from two). The Greens already have a seat in cabinet, in exchange for propping up the minority Labor government, and will now be even more influential. The radical Greens are a party of government in the ACT.
Overall, the ACT electorate is markedly out of step with the country. Labor, the Greens, and minor left-wing parties received more than 58 per cent of the first preference vote – a tally even exceeding the left’s primary lower house vote in Victoria’s landslide 2018 election (approximately 56 per cent).
Of course, this pattern diverges wildly from that seen in more conservative states. At the 2019 New South Wales election, left-wing parties received only 44 per cent of the first preference vote (in the lower house), and at the 2017 Queensland election, the figure was 45 per cent.
Many Canberrans are transplants who have moved to the city to work in the federal bureaucracy, so the political differences are quite striking. Canberra, it seems, both attracts a certain type of person and instils in people a certain set of beliefs and attitudes. These sorting mechanisms have gradually separated the capital from the country over which it rules, encasing it in a bubble of ideology.
The left’s stranglehold on Canberra poses two big problems for the rest of the country.
The first is that the residents of the Canberra bubble make policy for all of us. Their detachment from the preferences and values of mainstream Australia has led to a range of policy disasters.
Perhaps most seriously, economic policy in this country increasingly favours the public sector and the corporate bureaucracies that oversee the enforcement of government regulation.
As Institute of Public Affairs research has demonstrated, the COVID recession has made this trend worse. Our country increasingly has a K-shaped economy, in which bureaucrats thrive even as the productive economy that sustains them is hobbled.
At the height of the recession, public sector wages in the ACT increased by 6.5 per cent. The average wage in the ACT is $102,000, far exceeding other states and territories. While the country has seen 600,000 private sector jobs lost this year, the ACT has largely been insulated from the fallout.
We also seem to be developing a K-shaped culture. Consider, for example, the obscene and embarrassing fiasco that is national arts funding. The ruling class amuses itself with deranged art, obscure research projects, and the self-flattery of the ABC, while traditional and elevating cultural pursuits are shunned and shuttered.
The second problem emerges from the unavoidable fact that the ACT electorate is highly educated. The Canberra bubble represents, to a worrying extent, the best that our systems of education and moral instruction can produce, and they are turning against the values of the rest of the country.
This is one way that Canberra is similar to the rest of Australia: educated people are radicalising. Just as we have seen in some wealthy parts of Sydney and Melbourne, the Greens in Canberra picked up votes mostly from the Liberal Party. Our inner suburbs are filled with spiritual Canberrans.
Somehow, we have created a system that selects for these kinds of beliefs, or that fills the heads of many of our brightest people with bad ideas. Maybe both.
The elite, the attitudes of which are made plain at ACT polling booths, is the main reason that elections in this country never seem to change anything – a reminder that democracy means more than just elections. If we want a democratic country in which policy aligns with mainstream values, our highest priority should be ending the miseducation of our ruling class.