Tim ColebatchNovember 8, 2010
Victorians are facing an election in which Labor could lose its majority – or even lose government.Advertisement: Story continues below
VICTORIA could be heading for another cliffhanger election. A swing against Labor on election day of just 3.7 per cent would be enough to force it into a minority government, relying on the Greens for support.
With opinion polls reporting swings of between 1.5 and 3.5 per cent to the Coalition, for the first time since Steve Bracks dethroned Jeff Kennett in 1999, Victorians are entering an election in which there is a real chance that Labor could lose its majority – or even lose government.
In 2006, with Bracks still at the helm, Labor won 43 per cent of first preference votes, and 54.4 per cent of all votes after preferences. The Liberals and Nationals under Ted Baillieu actually won a swing of 3.4 per cent, but with Labor retaining 55 of the 88 seats in the House, it seemed nothing had changed.
This time a swing of about that size would mean real change. But the Coalition needs a swing of almost twice that size – 6.5 per cent – to win government in its own right.
If the swing is too large for Labor to retain its majority, but too small for the Coalition to win a majority, Victoria, like Australia, would have a minority government, with new Greens MPs joining independent Craig Ingram in holding the balance of power.
Most assume this would result in some form of Labor-Greens coalition – but no one has yet ruled anything in or out.
In the Legislative Council, where the Greens already hold the balance of power, the odds are that they will retain it with expanded numbers, probably taking the DLP’s seat in Western Victoria and maybe a Liberal seat in the eastern suburbs.
But let’s look first at the seats on the front line of this election. As a rule, the party that holds the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne forms government. Labor broke the rule in 1999, when, with three independents, it won half the seats in regional Victoria. But in 2010 it will have to hold most of those eastern suburban marginals to hold power.
Mount Waverley was retained by Labor’s Maxine Morand last time by just 0.4 per cent. In neighbouring Forest Hill, former Olympic ski champion Kirstie Marshall held her seat by just 0.8 per cent.
Mitcham is Labor’s by just 2 per cent, Burwood (Jeff Kennett’s old seat) by 3.8 per cent, and in the distant Dandenongs Gembrook by 0.8 per cent.
These five seats are must-wins for the Coalition if it is to win government. Gembrook aside, they are middle-class, middle-suburban seats, whose voters are better off than most, and normally would be expected to go with the Liberals.
To the city’s south are inner suburban Prahran (3.6 per cent), bayside Mordialloc (3.6) and outer suburban Frankston (3.3). And in Geelong’s southern suburbs, there’s South Barwon (2.3).
Winning these nine seats would not be enough to put the Coalition into power, but it would be a start. Most are traditional Liberal seats. If it doesn’t win most of them, it is hard to see it winning government.
Its problem is that the next swag of seats – those it needs to win power – require much bigger swings: 6 to 9 per cent. And many are in Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, which have been solid Labor territory in recent elections – not least, at the 2010 federal election.
Labor now holds all four seats in Geelong, and to win back Bellarine (8.0) or Geelong (8.4) is a big ask. Ballarat East (6.7) and Ballarat West (6.6) are equally tough, when Labor won 61.7 per cent of the Ballarat vote in the federal election. And while Industry Minister Jacinta Allan holds Bendigo East by a less daunting 5.4 per cent, Labor lifted its federal vote there to almost 60 per cent. The federal election, however, experienced swings against Labor in the more rural seats. But Agriculture Minister Joe Helper is alone on the front line, in Ripon (4.4) around Ararat.
Seymour (6.7) and Macedon (8.2) sound like natural Liberal seats, but their names are misleading. Half the Labor vote in Macedon is actually in Sunbury, and in Seymour, most of its vote is in townships on Melbourne’s outer fringe, such as Healesville, Wallan and Kilmore. If Black Saturday costs Labor any seats, Seymour should be it.
But to win government, the Liberals will have to win some of the hard-asks in Melbourne’s middle and outer suburbs: Bentleigh (6.4), Eltham (6.5), Monbulk (6.7), Carrum (6.8) and Yan Yean (8.0). The first four are the kind of seats that change when governments change. If they don’t go Liberal, Victoria won’t either.
The Nationals are not part of this contest. They are contesting only four seats they don’t hold already, and only in Craig Ingram’s seat of Gippsland East (8.5) do they have a realistic chance – if they beat the Liberals into third place.
But there is a quite different battleground that many will focus on. After taking the federal seat of Melbourne off Labor in August, the Greens have set their sights on four state seats in the inner suburbs: Melbourne (where they need a swing of just 2.1 per cent), Brunswick and Richmond (both 3.7) and Northcote (8.6).
On federal voting, they would win Melbourne and Richmond easily, but just miss out on Brunswick and Northcote. If the latest polls are right, and Liberal preferences go their way, they will win all four. If so, the Liberals would have to win just seven seats from Labor to force it into minority government – while a 10-seat shift to the Coalition would put it in the driver’s seat to negotiate a minority government.
But while one poll put the Greens support as high as 19 per cent, it is hard to see any other realistic chances for them.
At this election, Ted Baillieu will be swimming uphill. Governments normally win elections. The Coalition has never led in the polls. The Greens are natural Labor allies. And the Coalition needs a landslide to win. And yet, this could be close.
The stats that matter
How many seats?
■ The Legislative Assembly has 88 seats: Labor holds 55, Liberals 23, Nationals 9 and Craig Ingram is the one independent.
■ The Legislative Council has 40 seats. Labor holds 19, Liberals 15, Nationals 2, Greens 3 and the Democratic Labor Party 1.
How many people can vote?There over 3.5 million people on the roll.
Where can I enrol?
All VCE students are now automatically enrolled when they turn 18 after changes to the Electoral Act in 1996. People who have not enrolled, or need to update their details can do so online or at any VEC office.
Enrolments close at 8pm, tomorrow.
On election day…
■ 11.5 million ballot papers will be printed.
■ 125,000 pencils will be used.
■ 4500 boxes of string, 360 kilometres worth is needed.
■ 11,702 ballot boxes and 27,932 voting screens.
Where to vote
There will be 1838 voting centres across the state, manned by the 17,000 people.
Open 8am, close 6pm.
There will be 100 early voting centres in Victoria and three in the UK in Edinburgh, Manchester and London.
What’s the voting systems in each house?
In the Legislative Assembly, voting is preferential. The first candidate with more than 50 per cent of the votes is the winner.
In the upper house, the 40 seats are divided into eight regions where proportional representation is used to elect five members.
How many premiers has Victoria had?
John Brumby is the 45th Premier of Victoria, although this is his first election as premier. He took over when Steve Bracks, who came to power in 1999, resigned in 2007.
Why does Victoria have a fixed term?
This is the second time Victoria has had a fixed-term election. Previously elections were held every three years, with the exact timing in the hands of the government of the day. Changes to the Constitution were made in 2003 to end the uncertainty and speculation about election dates by setting a fixed date for elections every four years. The election is always to be held on the last Saturday in November.