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The Sharp End: 2002 Victorian State Election

Wheeling And Dealing

by Ari Sharp

November 26, 2002

Ari Sharp Preferences will be crucial on November 30. Not the preference for Kerry O’Brien over Ray Martin in the election night coverage (although this will be a clear preference of mine) but the preferences in a series of marginal seats across the state.

The Greens have struck a deal with the Labor Party, though the nature of the deal is still somewhat unclear. It appears that the Greens will be preferencing the ALP in all of the upper house seats, and two thirds of the lower house seats, with the remaining seats offering voters an ‘open ticket’.

The Democrats have announced they will preference the ALP in the upper house, but offer voters a split ticket in the lower house. Although this is an important symbolic gain for the ALP, its practical influence will be minor.

Already Greens voters preference the ALP ahead of the Liberals in about 75% of cases, and Democrats voters in about 60% of cases, so the influence of a how to vote card directing most to do what they already do will be reduced. Still, with the Greens polling 7-10%, and Senator Brown talking of claiming up to 8 seats, the effect this will have on the contest to form government may prove to be important.

Opinion polling has been showing a Labor landslide, with a major swing against the Liberals predicted. Whether this occurs on Saturday, however, is not so certain. Part of the problem with opinion polls is that they usually fail to demonstrate a seat by seat analysis, and instead present a statewide picture. This is misleading, given that governments are formed by those who win the most seats, not the most votes.

In Victoria, the ALP votes are clustered in densely populated areas in Melbourne’s west and north, where a two party prefered vote of 70-30 in favour of the ALP is not uncommon. The Liberal vote, however, is far more widely dispersed, with a swathe of seats held by margins of 3-8%. Therefore, for the ALP to win government, they will need a two party preferred vote of 51-52%, given the nature of the electoral bourndaries.

If the swing is not as strong as many commentators have predicted, when the dust settles on the election result, there is a significant chance that the parliament will look much the same as it does now. Neither the ALP or the Liberals will have a majority in their own right, and the Nationals and independents will wield the balance of power. It is then that the backroom politics and deal making will begin in earnest.

Presuming that the ALP have more seats than the Liberals, but not the 45 required to form government, the first thing to happen will be that the Liberals and National will re-form their coalition agreement. Expect this to happen sooner than you can say “country bumpkins” after election day.

Then the wheeling and dealing with independents will begin. It seems likely that Susan Davies will lose her new seat of Bass, given a redistribution that sees it take in a significant new chunk of outer suburban Melbourne which were not in her previous seat of Gippsland West. Expect, however, that Russell Savage will be easily returned in Mildura, and Craig Ingram to be returned in Gippsland East, on the stength of the attention he has drawn to the electorate in his three years in office.

Also keep an eye out for other country independents having a strong showing, largely on the basis of local profile, and the benefits that an independent in the balance of power can bring to their electorate. One to watch is Chris Hazelman in the seat of Shepparton, and there are no doubt others who will shake the tree a little.

As for those who don’t so much shake trees as wrap their arms around them, the Greens will get close but fail to win a seat, primarily due to the Liberal primary vote holding up just enough for the Greens to finish third in the key inner-Melbourne seats.

It is likely that there will be 3-4 independents elected. However, rather than leaning toward the ALP as the last group did (largely, it seems to satisfy Susan Davies who was highly reluctant to engage with the Liberals) it seems that this group may be far more willing to deal with the Liberals. This is particularly so given the close working relationship that was shown just prior to the election, with the independents working with the Liberals to kill the parliamentary reforms legislation proposed by the ALP.

It seems highly possible, then, that the independents will deal with Robert Doyle in this term. If they do wield the balance of power, it could see an extraordinary government formed by Doyle. Despite the Liberals being up to eight seats behind the ALP, with a coalition arrangement with the Nationals, and a good working relationship with the independents, it is just possible that they may form government.

It’s a bit quirky, and at odds with much of the opinion polls, but it just might happen. Let’s wait and see.


Ari Sharp is the Australian Democrats candidate for the East Yarra byelection in the 2002 State Election. This is his personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Democrats. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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