Trouble in victory for Labor in Victoria

30 December 2014

This year of politics in Australia has ended with a rarity, the defeat of a one-term government.  Voters rarely throw out first-term governments, be they federal or state – they usually give governments at least two terms.  But last month’s state election in Victoria saw the Liberal-National Coalition Government voted out after one term, with Daniel Andrews leading the Labor Party to victory, marking the first time in ages that voters had tossed out a first-term government.

Having unexpectedly taken office at the previous election, in 2010, the Coalition ultimately looked like it had no agenda for government.  It actually governed well, but several scandals, notably involving Liberal-cum-Independent MP Geoff Shaw, coupled with the Coalition’s narrow parliamentary majority, made the Coalition look worse than it was.  Worse still for the Coalition was that in 2010 it not only won a majority, albeit narrow, in the Lower House of Parliament, where governments are formed, but it also won a narrow majority in the Upper House of Parliament, meaning that it could’ve pursued whatever policy agenda it chose, without needing to negotiate with minor parties or Independents in the Upper House.  As such, the Coalition arguably wasted a rare opportunity, which the Labor Party now won’t enjoy.

As for the predictions by this election tragic for the Victorian election, I’d tipped Labor to win forty-three of eighty-eight seats in the Lower House and the Coalition to win forty-three.  In the end, Labor won forty-seven, two more than I’d tipped, and the Coalition won thirty-eight, five less than I’d tipped, while the Greens won two seats and an Independent won one seat.  In the forty-seat Upper House, the Coalition had twenty-one seats and Labor had sixteen and the Greens had three, and I was only tipping the Coalition to lose a few seats, though I wasn’t sure who’d win them – ultimately both the Coalition and Labor lost seats to minor players, which I’ll look into later.

I’d tipped Labor to win Wendouree, Yan Yean, Carrum, Bentleigh, Monbulk, and Bellarine from the Coalition.  I’d also tipped Labor to win Frankston from the rogue Shaw.  These predictions came true.  But my incorrect predictions were for Labor to lose Eltham and Ivanhoe and Macedon to the Coalition.  I also didn’t tip the Greens to win the inner urban seats of Melbourne from Labor and Prahran from the Liberals, and I didn’t tip an Independent to win Shepparton from the Nationals.

Why did some of my predictions go wrong?  My predicted Labor losses stemmed from my belief that departing Labor MPs and a controversial road tunnel proposal, which Andrews had promised to scrap any contracts for, would cost Labor those seats – in the end, they didn’t matter.  I wasn’t expecting the Greens to win Lower House seats, even though the Greens had won a Lower House seat in inner Melbourne at last year’s Federal election off the back of major disillusionment with the major parties – I just didn’t believe that there was as much disillusionment at state level with Labor in particular in inner Melbourne, where the Greens had been tipped to potentially win seats.  And the Coalition’s willingness to use Independent support for unpopular Labor governments in other parts of the country as a means of scaring voters away from Independents made me reluctant to tip Independents to win.

The unpopularity of the Coalition at Federal level certainly hurt the Coalition at state level, particularly regarding cuts in health and education spending, but the Coalition in Victoria simply didn’t look good.  Mind you, Labor didn’t really give voters a reason for endorsing it.

I’d also thought that Labor might lose the election off the back of promising to scrap road tunnel contracts.  Voters stuck in traffic jams often see new roads as a means of a faster commute to and from work, and the notion of scrapping a road project implies nothing changing, and I doubted that they’d like that.  But it had little or no impact in the end.  Yet the cost to taxpayers of scrapping the road might bring trouble for Labor.

As for the Upper House, the Coalition lost five seats to fall to sixteen and Labor lost two seats to fall to fourteen.  The Greens gained two seats to go to five, and the other five seats went to minor players.  Labor must negotiate with the crossbench to pass laws through the Upper House.

Victoria might look messy for Labor as a result of this election.