Close win likely for Labor in Victoria

29 November 2014

A state election takes place today in Victoria.  And polls predict Premier Denis Napthine and the Liberal-National Coalition to lose office to the Labor Party Opposition.  While I agree, I think that the result will be closer than people predict.

The Coalition took power at the last election, in 2010, arguably by surprise.  Back then Labor had governed since 1999, initially under Steve Bracks and later under John Brumby, and had done reasonably well.  Even though there were signs of fatigue in the Brumby Labor Government, it had a decent majority over the Coalition Opposition, led in those days by Ted Baillieu of the Liberal Party, and people generally thought that Baillieu would win plenty of seats but not enough to win the election.  However, after a close result on election night, Baillieu ultimately emerged the winner, by two seats.

Over time, the Baillieu Government came to look ordinary but competent, meaning that it was neither good nor bad.  Perhaps it looked like Baillieu and the Coalition, having won office, had no idea of what it really wanted to do once it got there.  The shame of it was that not only did they have a majority in the Lower House of Parliament, where governments are formed, but they also had a majority in the Upper House of Parliament, where proportional representation in multi-member electorates, similar to the Senate in Federal Parliament, makes government majorities hard there to come by.  Basically, the Baillieu Government couldn’t passed whatever legislation and pursued whatever agenda it wanted without obstruction – yet it seemed to do nothing.

But despite being competent and having few scandals to deal with, the Coalition had trouble with a Liberal backbencher, Geoff Shaw, who was in a scandal over misuse of parliamentary entitlements.  Probably because the Coalition had so small a majority, the Shaw scandal became massive and ended up overwhelming the Coalition.  Ultimately, in 2013, Shaw quit the Liberals to sit as an Independent, costing the Coalition its majority, and Baillieu, who’d been battling with poor standings in opinion polls, resigned as Liberal Leader and Premier, with Napthine stepping into the top job.  Since becoming Premier, Napthine has done a reasonable job, but there’s been too much stench from recent years hanging over the Coalition, and Napthine has long looked like losing the coming election as a result.  If he loses the election, he’ll have led the first government in many years to have lasted only one term.

The only saving grace for Napthine and the Coalition is that voters haven’t really warmed to Labor or the Opposition Leader, Daniel Andrews.  Polls show voters consistently rating Napthine a better leader than Andrews, who hasn’t really given voters a reason to vote Labor back into office.  Andrews’ most notable promise has been to scrap any contracts surrounding the construction of a major motorway tunnel in inner Melbourne – although this tunnel won’t tackle the real cause of traffic problems prompting the idea of the tunnel, namely car dependence and a lack of appropriate public transport to entice commuters from their cars, voters stuck in traffic jams probably won’t like the idea of the tunnel being scrapped.  When you’re stuck in your car and trying to get to work or home as soon as possible, you’re likely to see any new road proposal as the means to a quicker trip to work or home, and scrapping a road project invariably means more of the same.  I’d felt that this idea could cost Andrews the election, but now I believe that it’ll only cost him a few seats.

In the Lower House of eighty-eight seats, although the Coalition held forty-five seats to Labor’s forty-three after the last election, a redrawing of seat boundaries, to even up the number of voters where possible in seats after population changes over the last decade or so, has given the Coalition forty-eight seats to Labor’s forty.  The Coalition total includes the rogue Shaw’s seat.

The polls are tipping a swing of 3-4 per cent to Labor, which should give Labor a workable majority.  But I think that the majority will be smaller, because I tip Labor to lose a few seats.

I tip Labor to win Wendouree, Yan Yean, Carrum, Bentleigh, Monbulk, and Bellarine from the Coalition.  Labor will also win Frankston, which Shaw holds.  But I tip Labor to lose Eltham and Ivanhoe and Macedon, due to retirements and the tunnel cancellation plan.  My numbers should read forty-five seats to Labor and forty-three to the Coalition.  In the Upper House, I tip the Coalition to lose a few seats, but who wins them will be anyone’s guess.

Labor should win in Victoria, but it’ll be closer than the polls suggest.

Unknown facts about the late Labor trio

23 November 2014

There might well be members or supporters of the Australian Labor Party thinking that bad things come in threes, as an old saying goes.  It might seem that way this year, with the deaths of three Labor icons – former New South Wales Premier Neville Wran in April, former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam last month, and former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss earlier this month.

Much has been written and said of the legacies of these three men’s governments, so I don’t intend to add more there, but there are some things that you probably didn’t know about them.

As Prime Minister from December 1972 to November 1975, Whitlam is probably the most likely of this iconic Labor trio to be best remembered.  He led Labor to its first Federal election win since the 1940s, and was seen as something of a Labor messiah.  But he’s also remembered for his sacking in 1975 by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, amid a constitutional crisis over the stalling of budget bills necessary for government to function.  Of course, Whitlam lacked a majority in the Senate, though not in the House of Reps where governments are formed, and the non-Labor Senators voted against passing the budget bills, thus bringing about the crisis.  There was enormous public outrage over the actions of the Governor-General, considered by many as the country’s head of state, but after his sacking of Whitlam and dissolving of Parliament for a fresh election, voters ultimately sent Whitlam and Labor packing with a massive defeat.

Labor looked upon Whitlam as a martyr after this defeat, and he remained Labor leader for a few more years.  But another landslide election loss, in 1977, ended Whitlam’s leadership, which had begun in 1967, and his departure from Parliament.

Goss was similarly seen as a Labor messiah in Queensland, and his December 1989 election win, exactly seventeen years after Whitlam’s breakthrough win, was Labor’s first Queensland election win since the 1950s.  But despite being immensely popular, Goss suffered from a swing against Labor at an election in 1995, leaving him with a one-seat majority.  Early the following year, Labor lost one of its seats in a by-election, leaving Goss and Coalition Opposition Leader Rob Borbidge with an identical number of seats in Parliament, while the balance of power lay with a single Independent MP, Liz Cunningham of Gladstone.  Despite representing a Labor-leaning seat, Cunningham gave her support to Borbidge and tipped Goss out of office.  A health problem forced Goss out of politics two years later.

Whitlam and Goss had several similarities in their fortunes.  They both led Labor to victory after decades out of office, and were put out of office as a result of the actions of one individual, namely the Governor-General in case of Whitlam and an Independent MP in the case of Goss.  Also, their breakthrough wins were clear on election night.

Their fortunes contrast to some degree with Wran, who in May 1976 led Labor to its first NSW election win since the early 1960s.  This election was so close in the end that more than a week passed before Premier Sir Eric Willis conceded defeat and Wran claimed victory.  Despite the close result, Wran grew in strength in the job, and led Labor to several landslide election wins, before calling it quits in June 1986.

There’s something else notable about Wran’s win.  It came barely six months after the disaster surrounding Whitlam, when Labor’s morale was low.  I remember someone describing Wran’s win as a tonic, and the idea of Labor winning office in the country’s most populous state not so long after Whitlam’s routing was really welcome for Labor.

Also, despite winning office in 1972, Whitlam actually had a bigger swing his way at the election before his win, which was in 1969.  At that time, Labor was at a low ebb, with non-Labor governments in every state across the country, bearing in mind that the ACT and the Northern Territory didn’t have self-government in those days.  Had Whitlam won in 1969, he’d have been surrounded by non-Labor state governments.  This would’ve been the reverse of what John Howard faced during his time as Prime Minister, when from 2002 until his 2007 election defeat, he led a national Coalition government surrounded by Labor governments in all states and territories.

These interesting facts probably were unknown about this Labor trio of Wran and Whitlam and Goss.  They won’t be forgotten until possibly generations from now.