Meet the candidates: Canberra Liberals' Elizabeth Lee
With the ACT election due to be held on Saturday 15 October, there’s plenty at stake for the 15-year-old ACT Labor Government. Last time, with the Federal party on the nose, the Liberals came close to wresting power from the incumbents, only to lose out on The Greens’ balance-of-power arrangement.
We sat down with one of the local Liberals’ rising stars, Elizabeth Lee. In 2012, Ms Lee narrowly lost out on a seat in the Legislative Assembly to Steve Doszpot. In 2016, with a Federal campaign under her belt and an expanded assembly offering 25 members instead of the previous 17, history would suggest Elizabeth is in a great position to realise her ambitions and take a seat.
Between your work lecturing law at UC and ANU, and acting as Vice President of the ACT Law Society Council, and a group fitness instructor, how do you have time for being a candidate?
(laughing) Look, I think that if you believe in doing something, then you simply make time for it. I’m really passionate about local politics, and am fortunate to have so much support from family and work in order to allow me to run again.
Now that we’ve entered the caretaker period, I’ve finished up with work and am now focussed full-time on campaigning for the next four-and-a-half weeks.
I’ll keep my position with the Law Society until the AGM later this month, and I haven’t nominated to continue in that role. If I’m privileged enough to be elected as a member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) then I can’t hold both roles, so I’d prefer to give someone new a clean run at it.
Your website states that you want to see Canberra a better place, but what does that mean for you?
Making Canberra better is something that all Canberrans want, but I guess that as an MLA I have the unique opportunity to work on particular areas that can really make a difference.
We’re all sick of Canberra bashers, but as someone who chose to live here 18 years ago, I know just how good this city really is. I want to promote that nationally – to make sure that all Australians are proud of their Capital.
We can do this by getting people to invest in the city. That doesn’t simply need to be financial – it’s about time, passion and creativity. By creating an environment where people can pour their energies into the cultural fabric of the city, everyone will get a benefit.
Just a simple example is that we have some of the best tertiary institutions in the country, and as a result train some of the nation’s brightest minds. So, what do we do to keep them in Canberra – especially is they’ve already called it home for three or four years? Retaining that talent would be amazing for the city.
Life needs to be easier for entrepreneurs so that they can take risks and start businesses that utilise this talent to compete on a global scale. We’ve got all the pieces – we simply need to pull them all together.
Those are the more visible examples, but we also need to focus on the basics that make this a liveable city: Are the footpaths fixed? Are the bins getting picked up? Can we tidy up the city centre so it looks like a place that Canberrans will want to utilise? That’s a really important part of a functioning city which the Liberals want to place greater focus upon.
Canberrans are a highly engaged electorate, but sometimes that seems to be focussed on Federal issues. How do you cut through to promote your policies as an MLA?
Look, Canberrans are really aware of what’s happening at a national level, but if campaigning for three elections has taught me anything, it’s that they know exactly who to turn to when they sense their needs aren’t being looked after.
They might feel that these issues are the ‘little things’ but they’re still important. Constituents will happily approach me to address these issues, rather than for me to push that agenda. The role of a MLA for the local community has been made very clear to me!
The changes to the Legislative assembly moved you from Fraser to Kurrajong. Are you enjoying the inner-city focus?
I moved to Canberra to study and was a resident at Fenner Hall. Now I live in Braddon, so I’m really familiar with the electorate – which is certainly the fastest-moving part of Canberra with a highly transient population. That makes it really interesting, and means that by the time a new election rolls around, there are plenty of new constituents whom I need to meet and engage with.
I really love the divide between the Northside and the other side of the lake. The southern side is obviously more established, but that presents its own set of challenges that we need to manage.
An easy example is the constant increase in rates. They really hurt people who have lived in the same property for 50 years, and may be asset rich, but they have retired or are on a fixed income. We need to look at how we can address those escalating costs.
Secondly, the Canberra Liberals will put a moratorium on of lease variation changes on Civic and the town centres. We need to ensure that business can easily bring in new ideas and conduct trade where they deem to be the best place to set up shop.
This could enliven the centres of commerce and bring people into those regions. We need to free business up to do what it does best, and make it as easy as possible to innovate and grow, while retaining the true character and heart of Canberra.
You’ve had the unique experience of being both a candidate for the Legislative Assembly and the Federal Parliament. How do you describe the difference in campaigning?
The Federal election was always going to be a challenge for the Liberals to win, but just because something is hard it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth doing! To go up against Andrew Leigh – a rising star of the Labor Party at the time – was an awesome challenge, and I’m very proud of what we achieved in the vote. Again, it really came down to the support of the party, our team and my family.
There were obviously issues that were high-profile in the Federal election that we don’t really focus on for the ACT Legislative Assembly, but campaigning in 2013 was a great opportunity to see the other things that Canberrans cared about, and where the opportunities might be in the next Territory election.
It was also really nice to get a letter of appreciation from then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott expressing his thanks for our efforts here in Canberra. I was taking on one of the safest Labor seats in the country, so it was fantastic to be recognised for it.
What reforms can the Liberals introduce to streamline business in Canberra?
There a couple of things that are a high priority for the Liberals. Firstly, we need to address the issue of rates. This is a constant refrain that I hear from all across Canberra. Through the city and the town centres, small business is constantly telling me that the high rates in Canberra are hurting their operations. That’s something we need to get on to straight away.
The residential rates are an issue for reasons I’ve touched on before, but if businesses are unable to see value in the commercial rates they are paying for government services, if they are still forking out to have their bins emptied, then there’s a problem that needs to be addressed.
Second is to ensure that our health system is back to being world class and we’ve released a fantastic new policy in relation to an expansion at The Canberra Hospital.
Third is to build our local economy - to support our local businesses so that the government is not solely reliant on rates to raise revenue.
You hold up advocacy as an important part of the job. Where would you focus?
My first priority will be to the people of Kurrajong. As I said before, this is a really dynamic and fast-changing electorate, and that presents a number of challenges that I’m keen to take on. Sure, not everyone will be happy with the decisions we make, but the important thing is for people to realise I am listening and that I'm really focussed on working toward improved outcomes across the electorate; for all Canberrans.
To be a member of the Legislative Assembly, to me, is the ultimate form of public service, and that involves constantly working ensure the services that Canberrans expect are delivered. The Labor Government has taken its attention away from these basics over the last few years, and we want to bring back a feeling of fairness and value.
With my experience in law, I believe I can assist in the development and review of legislation, however the advocacy I have undertaken through my work with the ACT Law Society, through lecturing law at the unis and doing some volunteer work with Legal Aid (through ANU) and the Legal Advice Bureau, has given me the ability to recognise the needs of different groups and sectors within the community, and how to express those needs to others in government who can help implement change.
…and the tram?
Well, it’s no surprise that the Liberals are still against the tram. We simply cannot justify the service outcome for the cost. We’ve issued our own plan to improve the existing bus network (Canberra’s Transport Future) which is a lot cheaper than the Government’s plan for the tram. The tram is not a good public transport policy, it is not a fiscally responsible policy and it is not a good forward-thinking investment policy. This has been verified by the Auditor-General.
At the end of the day, the only reason that the tram exists is because it secured the power-sharing arrangement with The Greens after the last election. That’s simply not enough justification for such a hugely expensive undertaking undertaking that fails to serve all Canberrans.
The other problem is that the tram is simply old technology. If Telstra’s Chief Scientist (Dr Hugh Bradlow) is predicting driverless cars by 2030, then why are we spending billions on rolling out a light rail network that runs on a fixed line?
Elizabeth Lee is one of the Canberra Liberals’ five candidates for the seat of Kurrajong on Saturday 15 October. You can see Elizabeth in cardboard form on roadsides all over the electorate, or campaigning across the city over the next four weeks.