Election preview: Victoria

Victoria goes to the polls tomorrow to pass judgement on the Labor government of premier Daniel Andrews, in office for the last four years.

Incumbents have not had a good run in state government lately. Even so, beating a one-term government is hard; Andrews did it last time, but Queensland is the only other state in which it’s happened in the last 3525 years. It’s unlikely that tomorrow will add to the list.

Last time Labor won 47 seats, a majority of six against 30 Liberals, eight Nationals, two Greens and one independent. The Greens subsequently won a seat (Northcote) from Labor in a by-election, which reduces Labor’s majority but doesn’t make the opposition’s task any easier.

The Liberal/National coalition under Matthew Guy needs to pick up six seats to be in a position to form government with the support of the independent, Shepparton’s Suzanna Sheed. On a uniform basis that would require a swing of 2.7%, or a two-party-preferred vote of 50.7%.

For several months, however, the polls have shown the opposition to be falling well short of that, and if anything to be going backwards. A ReachTEL poll in this morning’s Age shows Labor on 54% of the two-party-preferred vote, a movement of 2% in its favor.

That’s consistent with most other evidence. The betting market has Labor at 9-1 on, with the opposition 6-1 against. If individual seats fall to their current favorites, there would be almost no change: Labor 46, Coalition 37, Greens four and one independent.

Since we looked at those seat odds a couple of days ago, Labor has improved further in most of its marginal seats, including Frankston (sitting on a 0.5% margin), Carrum (0.7%), Bentleigh (0.8%), Mordialloc (2.1%), Cranbourne (2.3%), Eltham (2.7%), Ivanhoe (3.4%), Yan Yean (3.7%), Macedon (3.8%), Sunbury (4.3%), Narre Warren North (4.6%) and Wendouree (5.8%).

There hasn’t been so much movement in Coalition marginals, but Labor has picked up ground in Ripon (0.8%) and South Barwon (2.9%), both of which it is now favored to win, as well as Eildon (3.8%) and the three-cornered contest of Morwell (1.8%), although it has gone backwards slightly in Ringwood (5.1%).

The Greens have firmed a little in Brunswick and Northcote, but have blown out south of the Yarra in Prahran (where the Liberals have firmed as favorites) and Albert Park. And Melton has joined Pascoe Vale on the list of Labor seats threatened by independents, with local hospital campaigner Ian Birchall quoted at 4-1.

The one thing that gives the opposition faint cause for hope is that the government is defending a lot more marginal seats (see Antony Green’s pendulum here). A 4% uniform swing to the Coalition would yield a gain of ten seats, whereas 4% the other way would deliver only half as many.

So if it outperforms the polls a bit and has some luck in the right places, it’s still possible that the opposition could gain seats and force Labor to rely on either the Greens or independents for a majority. But it doesn’t look likely.

The other thing to mention is the upper house. The Legislative Council consists of 40 members, five elected from each of eight regions (with 11 Assembly districts per region). Labor currently holds 14 seats, the Coalition 16 (14 Liberals and two Nationals, but they run joint tickets), Greens five and an assortment of minor parties the other five.

The system of automatic group preference tickets, now abolished in most places but sadly surviving in Victoria and Western Australia, has encouraged a multitude of minor parties to try their luck and pool their resources to try to game the system. Like most electoral rorts, that tends to benefit the far right, since they come to the table with fewer scruples.

Last time around, I argued against pundits who were talking up the chances of these minor parties. Unfortunately, they turned out to be right, and it’s entirely possible that they will be again.

There is, however, a good deal more awareness of the problem than there was last time – Antony Green in particular has been railing against the system – so it’s to be hoped that significantly more people will choose to vote “below the line” for individual candidates and thus frustrate the ambitions of the preference schemers.

Plugging some educated guesses into Green’s calculators I got a minor party delegation rearranged but unchanged in size at five, with Labor picking up an additional four seats, two from the Coalition and two from the Greens. But small numbers of votes could make big differences to those projections.



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