Canberra Liberals’ blue campaign goes green with promises of trees, nature spaces and bike paths


September 20, 2020 10:13:00

The Canberra Liberals’ election platform has been driven by policies like freezing rates, lowering taxes and upgrading roads. But among the more foreseeable campaign slogans, some unusual themes have emerged — blue policies that have been dressed up as green.

The current ACT Opposition has even used the colour green instead of Liberal blue, creating memes about the environment and colouring in candidate’s avatars.

In a socially progressive city that cares deeply about protecting its environment, the party is keen to show its green credentials, particularly with a conservative figurehead in Alistair Coe.

But really how green are the Canberra Liberals?

A million trees in a decade, but at what cost?

The washes of green began in early June when the party declared that its key pillar in its environment plan was to plant 1 million trees over the next decade, including promising every child in kindergarten would be given a tree to plant from their local nursery.

Details on how the lofty target would be achieved were sketchy. Coe estimated each tree would cost between $10 and $20.

Labor quickly fired back, labelling the policy half-baked, saying each tree costs $380 plus upkeep.

The party also promised a so-called “green space guarantee”, pledging that everyone would live within a 10-minute walk of an oval or a park, playing into fears that the bush capital was being lost to developers.

It was a curious start to their policy promises and signalled a clear intention.

Then, sprinkle in plans to deliver a mindfulness and meditation program for primary school kids and a ‘poverty taskforce’ to investigate rental stress, and we arrive at this week when they announce grand plans for Canberra’s bicycle network.

A day after promising to create more carparks, slash registration fees and encourage transit lanes, the Liberals said they would build 100 kilometres of dedicated bike paths by 2030, linking town centres and making cycling road-free.

The extent of the commitment appeared to take cycling advocates by surprise, who welcomed the plan but questioned why the party had only put forward $500,000 for a study into how the improved network might work.

And, again, it offered Labor a chance to stick the boot in, arguing the previous day’s financial commitment — a $50 million parking fund — was proof the Liberals didn’t actually care about bikes.

Permission to vote Liberal in a progressive city

In Labor’s camp, their campaign themes have emerged as more predictable.

Current ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr declared this October would be an election about jobs.

Not “jobs and growth” exactly — the catchcry made famous by Scott Morrison during the 2016 federal budget — but jobs and infrastructure, as the ACT plots its economic recovery from the damage inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while Labor’s policies also have a tinge of green, that’s to be expected from a Government that prides itself on delivering 100 per cent renewable electricity to the ACT.

After 19 years in power, Labor persistently touts just how progressive the ACT has become, often citing the territory’s record-high ‘yes’ vote and participation rate in the same-sex marriage postal survey.

For Liberal voters it prompts the idea that they need permission to vote Liberal.

And while there’s no suggestion the Liberals are competing with the ACT Greens for votes at October’s election, perhaps the party’s greener policies are a way in for shy supporters to turn into unabashed ones.

Meanwhile Labor has yet to detail its environmental policies and, while they wait, there’s an opportunity for soft Labor voters to become Liberal voters too.

After almost two decades in opposition, the Canberra Liberals will need Labor voters to win this thing, after all.

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First posted

September 20, 2020 10:07:50

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