The ALP national executive has decided on sweeping federal intervention into the crisis-ridden Victorian ALP, in the wake of revelations of the alleged “industrial scale” branch stacking and threats by now former state minister and power broker Adem Somyurek.
Former state premier Steve Bracks and former federal cabinet minister Jenny Macklin will run the state branch and prepare reforms, while the ALP national executive will handle federal and state preselections.
The intervention follows Nine’s 60 Minutes and The Age revealing recorded conversations in which Somyurek boasted of his power over state and federal MPs, and of running massive branch stacking. He also used highly offensive language about a female colleague.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews sacked Somyurek from his cabinet on Monday, and two other ministers, Robin Scott and Marlene Kairouz, whose staff were allegedly associated with the stacking have resigned, while denying any wrongdoing. Somyurek quit the Labor party on Monday before he was due to be expelled.
The scandal comes at the worst time for federal leader Anthony Albanese who is fighting the byelection in the Labor held seat of Eden-Monaro, which is on a margin of under 1%.
Another complication for the federal party is that some of the secret recording was apparently in the electorate office of Victorian federal Labor MP Anthony Bryne, who is deputy chair of the powerful parliamentary committee on intelligence and security.
ALP national president Wayne Swan said in a statement after a national executive hook up on Tuesday night that Bracks and Macklin “will provide the national executive with recommendations on how the Victorian branch should be restructured and reconstituted so that the branch membership comprises genuine, consenting, self-funding party members”.
He said in developing their recommendations, the administrators would consult party members and affiliated unions.
“The conduct exposed in recent days is reprehensible and at odds with everything the ALP stands for,” Swan said. “The national executive takes these matters incredibly seriously.”
Andrews wrote to ALP national secretary Paul Erickson calling for profound reform of the branch, and asking for its members’ voting rights to be suspended.
“I have no confidence in the integrity of any voting rolls that are produced for any internal elections in the Victorian branch,” he said.
“Accordingly we must suspend those elections and begin a long and critical process of validating each and every member of the Labor party in Victoria as genuine, consenting and self-funded”.
All state officials and staff will have to report to Bracks and Macklin, who are appointed until January 31 next year. All committees are suspended.
All voting rights are suspended until 2023.
Bracks and Macklin will do a scoping report by the end of next month, including recommendations on integrity measures that are needed for the branch. By Novemeber 1 they are to produce a final report on the restructuring and reconstitution of the branch.
As federal Labor MP and former academic Andrew Leigh has shown, the propensity of Australians to join formal organisations has been in steady decline for 50 years, and parties are a key example. Weeds have sprouted in these ruins.
The infrastructure of party and union branches that once underpinned politics in Labor heartlands has collapsed. The factories are gone and Labor branches have in most cases shrunken to a few ageing true believers.
Branch stacking is possible because Labor’s active membership is now so low they can be easily swamped by those “stacked” into the party.
Preselections for safe seats in state parliament are often determined by fewer than 50 votes at the local level.
We have been here before
Branch stacking is, however, not new.
During the Cold War, membership soared as left and right battled for control. But back then, it reflected real ideological disagreements that mobilised thousands. This popularisation sparked a catastrophic split in the ALP.
Today, Labor is not divided by deep ideological battles and as a consequence, its membership is much lower. As a further result, it is much easier to stack the branches.
With Labor as the dominant political force in Victoria, it is now mostly jobs – from lowly electorate officers to ministerial roles – that people fight about. The power of factional bosses rests on their ability to control access to these positions.
The need for change
The decline in the levels of Labor membership and the commitment of Labor voters have concerned supporters for decades.
Today, new political forces such as the Greens and independents are now going after Labor in their heartland. Even at the 2018 landslide victory of the Andrews government, the Greens retained three seats and independents mounted serious challenges in safe Labor seats.
One popular proposal has been to increase the rights of members, so they can have a greater say in how the party is run.
At the federal level and for some states, this has taken the form of direct ballots for parliamentary leaders.
This method was described by former ALP national secretary George Wright as “an outrageous success” in 2013, leading to an extra 4,500 members at the time. But some states – including Victoria – have not gone down this path.
Some have argued it would be better to give up the dream of building a mass membership Labor Party and instead allow all Labor voters, not just party members, to select candidates by an American-style system of primaries.
However, here, the likely outcome would be an even more media-centric politics, where political celebrities – such as Canadian leader Justin Trudeau – would communicate directly with voters. It is a weak shield against a populist right on the march.
Organisational reforms flagged
On Tuesday night, ALP president Wayne Swan announced former Victorian premier Steve Bracks and former federal frontbencher Jenny Macklin had been appointed administrators of the Victorian branch until the end of January 2021.
They will report on how the branch “should be restructured and reconstituted so that the branch membership comprises genuine, consenting, self-funding party members”.
But in the absence of a larger and engaged membership, organisational reforms will always be subject to evasion. The highly-centralised pre-selection system in Victorian Labor provides an incentive to stack, but reform of this would disrupt the delicate factional balance within the ALP.
The political fallout
The branch stacking scandal also presents political opportunities for Labor’s opponents.
For the Greens, this latest scandal offers the opportunity to challenge Victorian Labor’s progressive image. In the short run, the Andrews brand is strong enough to ride out the loss of less talented ministers, but one day, the political tide will turn. The collapse of the once all-conquering NSW Labor Party is a cautionary lesson.
At a federal level, it drags Albanese back into mire of Labor politics and undercuts his attempt to present him as an inner-suburban everyman – unlike former leader Bill Shorten, who could never escape his identity as a political hack.
If Labor loses the forthcoming Eden-Monaro byelection, this is something all Labor MPs, not just the Victorians, will have more to worry about.
Scott Morrison was on the ball – and quickly on the phone. Hardly had education minister Dan Tehan finished giving Victorian premier Daniel Andrews a bollocking on the ABC’s Insiders than he received a call from the PM.
The Conversation understands that in his exchange with his leader, the minister’s tone was apologetic.
Not too long afterwards came a mea culpa from Tehan, the like of which we rarely see in politics.
Morrison might have wanted Tehan to deliver Andrews a touch-up, but not to go at him with a sledge hammer.
The federal government has been frustrated from the get-go with Andrews, who (with NSW’s Gladys Berejiklian) early on insisted on very tough measures generally, not just on schools.
Morrison would have liked schools fully open all through. As the weeks have passed he’s become increasingly annoyed with the slow progress back to normal. It’s a national patchwork, but the Victorian government is the most conservative, with online learning set to be maintained through term two, and classrooms available only for children for whom other arrangements can’t be made or who are vulnerable.
The federal government has direct control only over non-government schools and it has been using a mixture of threats and bribes – with Tehan the wielder of the (funding) whip and giver of (funding) sugar – to bend them to its will.
It’s against this background that Tehan gave his ill-judged interview on Sunday.
He was caught in knots from the start.
Parents should listen to the medical expert panel – made up of federal and state health officers – which said it was safe for schools to be open, he said.
But he struggled when confronted with Morrison’s April 16 advice that they should listen to their premiers. “If you live in Victoria, listen to the Victorian premier,” the PM said then.
David Speers put to Tehan that Victoria’s chief health officer’s advice had been not to re-open schools because keeping children at home could help suppress community transmission (it’s important to note the Victorian health advice is directed specifically to this issue of limiting wider community spread).
Speers asked: “coming back to what the Prime Minister said, should parents listen to their premier or not?” “This is a question for Dan Andrews,” Tehan replied, in a futile attempt to evade.
After more toing and froing, Tehan lashed out. “If the national medical expert advice is saying that it’s safe for children to be back in the classroom – then why wouldn’t they be?
“This is a failure of leadership by Dan Andrews, let’s be clear about that”.
Andrews was “jeopardising the national consensus”, Tehan said; unlike other states, Victoria had no plan. The children, especially the most disadvantaged, were suffering “and I think it’s time that we seriously call Dan Andrews out on this”.
It was actually Tehan who found himself called out – or called up.
Morrison has been biting his tongue over Andrews – a premier who is Labor, popular, and can’t be bullied – because the PM knows the benefit of the national cabinet and has learned, on occasion painfully, that the way to operate it effectively is to avoid over-reacting to differences within it.
In unfortunate timing, immediately after the Tehan outburst came a report that a Melbourne primary school will close from Monday to Wednesday after a music teacher has tested positive for COVID-19.
Tehan’s statement amounted to an abject admission he’d exceeded his brief.
Praising the co-operation of leaders at the national cabinet, he said it was “important to note that this will not always result in all states and territories and the federal government agreeing on all points.”
The consistent advice from the expert medical panel had been that schools could be fully open, he said.
“Notwithstanding this position, the Victorian Chief Health Officer has provided more cautious advice to the Victorian Premier, who has been acting on this advice in relation to Victorian state schools.”
Tehan said he, and many other politicians, had heard countless stories of parents struggling with home schooling, and he referenced the problems of children missing out on their education.
The minister maintained he’d been thinking of these things “when I expressed my personal frustration that more schools weren’t starting more in-class learning in my home state.
“It was this frustration that led me to overstep the mark in questioning Premier Andrews’ leadership on this matter and I withdraw”.
He promised to “continue working constructively with my state counterparts as they run their state school systems to support them with the best medical and education expert advice the federal government can offer”.
Once again, the Morrison government has had to bow to state opinion, and this time it’s been particularly embarrassing.
Whether Andrews’ stand on the substance of the issue will ultimately be seen by parents as the correct one is another matter.
While it is possible that two seats could change, Labor appears to have won 56 of the 88 seats in the Victorian lower house, up nine seats since the 2014 election, the Coalition won 26 seats (down 12), the Greens three seats (up one) and independents three seats (up two).
These results reflect changes since the 2014 election, and do not account for Labor’s loss of Northcote to the Greens at a byelection, which Labor regained at the general. Party defections are also ignored.
Labor’s unexpectedly crushing victory was capped by triumphs in Hawthorn (50.4-49.6) and Nepean (50.9-49.1). Labor had not won Hawthorn since 1952, and Nepean (formerly known as Dromana) since 1982. It also came close to winning Caulfield (a 50.3-49.7 loss), which has never been Labor-held since its creation in 1927.
The 8-10 point swings to Labor in Hawthorn, Nepean and other affluent Liberal heartland seats such as Brighton and Malvern appear to demonstrate well-educated voters’ anger with the Liberals’ law and order campaign, and the federal Liberals’ ousting of Malcolm Turnbull.
Labor was assisted in Victoria by a strong state economy, and an unpopular federal Coalition government. The national economy is currently good, and this could assist the federal government if they could stop fighting among themselves.
While Labor had massive wins in Melbourne and its outskirts, and increased its margins in regional cities, it did not perform well by comparison in country areas. Labor only gained one country seat, Ripon, and that was by just 31 votes on a swing under 1%; there could be a recount in Ripon.
The Greens held Melbourne and Prahran, and gained Brunswick from Labor. In Prahran, Green Sam Hibbins was third on primaries, trailing Labor by 0.8%. On preferences of left-wing micros, he overtook Labor by 0.7%, and easily defeated the Liberals on Labor preferences. This is the second consecutive election in which Hibbins has come from third on primary votes to win Prahran.
Russell Northe, who defected from the Nationals in the last parliament, retained Morwell as an independent. Ali Cupper, who had contested Mildura in 2010 as a Labor candidate, gained it as an independent from the Nationals. Independent Suzanna Sheed retained Shepparton, a seat she gained from the Nationals in 2014.
Near-final statewide primary votes were 42.8% Labor (up 4.7% since the 2014 election), 35.2% Coalition (down 6.7%) and 10.7% Greens (down 0.8%). It is unlikely we will have an official Labor vs Coalition statewide two party count until next week, but The Poll Bludger estimates Labor won this count by 57.4-42.6, a 5.5% swing to Labor.
Final pre-election polls greatly overstated the Coalition and understated Labor, as shown by the table below. The only poll that came close to the result was a ReachTEL poll for a left-wing organisation, taken 11 days before the election, that gave Labor a 56-44 lead.
Bold numbers in the table indicate a poll estimate that was within 1% of the results. All polls had the Greens right, but missed on Labor and the Coalition.
Micro parties still likely to win ten upper house seats
The ABC calculator currently gives Labor 18 of the 40 upper house seats, the Coalition 11, the Greens just one, and ten for all others. Others include four Derryn Hinch Justice, two Transport Matters, one Animal Justice, one Liberal Democrat, one Aussie Battler and one Sustainable Australia.
The upper house has eight regions that each elect five members. The three country regions are very close to completion of their counts, while the city regions lag. In Northern Victoria, Labor will win two seats, the Coalition one, Hinch Justice one and Liberal Democrats one. In Western Victoria, Labor will win two, the Coalition one, Animal Justice one and Hinch Justice one.
In Eastern Victoria, the calculator has Labor and the Coalition each winning two seats with one for Aussie Battler. However, Kevin Bonham says that Aussie Battler is ahead of Hinch Justice at a critical point by just 0.11%, and this lead will be overturned with below-the-line votes. The Shooters will win the final Eastern Victoria seat.
In Eastern Metro, with the count at 87.2%, there will be two Labor, two Liberals and Transport Matters wins the final seat from just 0.6% (0.04 quotas). In Southern Metro, two Labor and two Liberals win. The Greens, with 0.79 of a quota, are easily beaten to the last seat by Sustainable Australia, with just 1.3% or 0.08 quotas.
While the figure used by the ABC is the rechecked percentage counted, the electoral commission has been providing actual primary counts in Word files, which are ahead of the rechecked count in Metro regions.
In South-Eastern Metro, Labor will win three seats and the Liberals one. Bonham says Transport Matters could be excluded at a critical point, and fail to take the final seat, in which case it goes to the Liberal Democrats, who had an even lower vote than Transport Matters in that region (1.2% vs 0.8%).
In Western Metro, Labor will win three seats and the Liberals one. The last seat is likely to go to Hinch Justice, which won 6.9% in that region. However, the Shooters, with just 1.9%, could win the final seat.
In Northern Metro, two Labor and one Green are certain winners. In Bonham’s more up-to-date figures, the Liberals win one seat, and the final seat is probably a contest between Hinch Justice and Fiona Patten.
Labor and the Coalition are likely to win the 18 and 11 seats respectively that the calculator currently gives them. The ten micros could be a little different from the ABC’s current projection.
The group voting tickets are excessively complex, and it would be far easier to call these seats with a more sensible system.
NSW Galaxy: 52-48 to Labor, ReachTEL: 51-49
The New South Wales election will be held on March 23, 2019. A YouGov Galaxy poll for The Daily Telegraph, conducted November 29-30 from a sample of 903, gave Labor a 52-48 lead; this is the first NSW Galaxy poll since the 2015 election. A ReachTEL poll for The Sydney Morning Herald, conducted November 29 from a sample of 1,560, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since a September ReachTEL poll.
Primary votes in the Galaxy poll were 39% Labor, 37% Coalition, 9% Greens and 8% One Nation. In ReachTEL, primary votes, after excluding 3.1% undecided, were 37.7% Coalition, 35.2% Labor, 9.9% Greens and 7.7% One Nation. Labor’s primary vote is four points lower in ReachTEL than Galaxy.
After replacing Luke Foley as Labor leader, Michael Daley appears to be benefiting from a honeymoon. He trails incumbent Gladys Berejiklian 33-31 in Galaxy, and leads her 54.2-45.8 in ReachTEL as better Premier. ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM/Premier questions usually benefit opposition leaders.
State parties tend to do better when the opposite party is in power federally, and the current federal government is unpopular. It appears that the federal election will be held in May 2019, and this is bad news for the NSW Coalition, which has to face voters first. In ReachTEL, voters said by 50-36 that federal politics would play a role in their state election decision.
By 58-36, voters in ReachTEL opposed the NSW government’s stadium policy, which includes knocking down and rebuilding stadiums.
Newspoll: 55-45 to federal Labor, but Morrison’s ratings recover
Last week’s federal Newspoll, conducted November 22-25 – the same weekend as the Victorian election – from a sample of 1,720, gave Labor a 55-45 lead, unchanged since three weeks ago. Primary votes were 40% Labor (steady), 34% Coalition (down one), 9% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (up two).
43% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (up four), and 42% were dissatisfied (down five), for a net approval of +1, up nine points. Bill Shorten’s net approval was up two points to -13. Morrison led Shorten by 46-34 as better PM (42-36 three weeks ago).
By 40-34, voters opposed moving the Australian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. After being told that Indonesia and Malaysia had raised concerns about the embassy move, voters thought by 46-34 that Morrison should announce the move will not take place, rather than ignore those countries’ concerns.
Newspoll was three points better for Labor than two polls last fortnight, which both had Labor leading by just 52-48. The PM’s ratings are usually a good guide to voting intentions, so the hope for the Coalition is that Morrison’s lift could soon lift the Coalition. This poll was taken before last week’s parliamentary session.
UK Brexit deal vote on December 11
The UK House of Commons will decide whether to reject or approve PM Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the European Union on December 11.
Indications are that the deal will be rejected by a large margin, with about 100 Conservative MPs set to vote against the deal. You can read my article on the probable consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit on my personal website.
Labor has maintained a 55-45% two-party lead in the latest Newspoll,
in a weekend of woe for the Morrison government, which is trying to
play down the federal contribution to the Victorian Liberal wipeout.
The Coalition’s primary vote fell for the third consecutive
time, to 34%, in a poll that if replicated at an election would see a loss of 21 seats. Labor’s primary vote remained at 40%. One Nation rose 2
points to 8%; the Greens were steady on 9%.
Scott Morrison boosted his lead over Bill Shorten as better PM to 12
points, leading 46-34% compared with 42-36% a fortnight ago. Morrison
has a net positive satisfaction rating of plus one, improving from
minus 8 in the last poll.
The poll will reinforce Coalition gloom after Saturday’s Victorian
election which saw a swing to the Labor government estimated by ABC
election expert Antony Green at around 4% in two-party terms. While an
ALP win was expected, the stunning size of it came as a surprise.
Even assuming the Victoria election was mainly won (or lost) on state
issues, there are clearly federal factors and lessons in this smashing
of the Liberals, which if translated federally would potentially put at risk half a dozen Victorian seats.
As Premier Daniel Andrews said, Victoria is a “progressive” state. It
stands to reason that Liberal infighting and the dumping of Malcolm
Turnbull, the trashing of the National Energy Guarantee and the
talking down of renewables, and the broad rightward lean of the
federal Coalition alienated many middle-of-the-road Liberal voters.
The anecdotal evidence backs the conclusion that Victorians were
sending strong messages to the Liberal party generally, including the
But are the federal Liberals willing to hear those message? And anyway,
does Morrison have the capacity to respond to them effectively?
Morrison has so far demonstrated no personal vision for the country,
and his play-for-the-moment tactics are being increasingly seen as
Morrison took the unusual course of not saying anything about Victoria
on Saturday night or Sunday. He will meet the Victorian federal
Liberals on Monday to discuss the outcome.
Ahead of that meeting Treasurer Josh Frydenberg – who is from Victoria and is deputy Liberal leader – played down the federal implications. While conceding “the noise from Canberra certainly didn’t help”, he claimed in an ABC Sunday night interview that the lessons to be learned federally were about grassroots campaigning and the need to rebut “Labor lies”. He would not concede a recalibration of policy was needed.
Some in the right will try to write Victoria off as unrepresentative
of the nation, just as they did Wentworth. This flies in the face of
reality – there were big swings in the eastern suburbs and the sandbelt,
the sort of areas the Liberals would expect to be their middle class strongholds.
The government needs to pitch much more to the centre in policy terms
but it will be hard to do so.
Given its current positioning, how could it sound moderate on energy
and climate policy? It can’t go back to the NEG. It is stuck with its
obsessions about coal and its distrust of, or at least equivocation
about, renewables, as well as its business-bashing threat of
On issues such as coal and climate change, the party’s eyes have been
turned obsessively to Queensland, where there is a raft of marginal
seats, without sufficient regard to those in Victoria and NSW. Even in
relation to Queensland, there has been a failure to adequately
recognise that that state is not monolithic when it comes to issues
The right is unlikely to stop its determined effort to take over the
party, whatever the cost. Indeed some on the right will argue that the Morrison strategy should be to sharpen the policy differences further, rather than looking to the centre.
The right’s mood will be darkened by the Saturday dumping of rightwing senator Jim Molan to an unwinnable position on the NSW Liberal ticket. Molan has pulled out from Monday’s Q&A program; the ABC tweeted that he’d said he could “no longer defend the Liberals”.
As if the Victorian result was not sobering enough, the government
this week begins the final fortnight of parliament for the year in minority
government, with independent Kerryn Phelps sworn in on Monday as
Turnbull’s replacement in Wentworth.
The government wants the focus on national security legislation but
other issues will be political irritants for it.
Labor and crossbenchers are pushing the case for a federal
anti-corruption body – the sort of initiative that would appeal to
voters highly distrustful of politicians.
Crossbenchers Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie will introduce a
private member’s bill. 34 former judges have signed an open letter
advertisement calling for a national integrity commission.
They said: “Existing federal integrity agencies lack the necessary
jurisdiction, powers and know-how to investigate properly the
impartiality and bona fides of decisions made by, and
conduct of, the federal government and public sector.”
The government is resisting a new body but will need some convincing
The government will also be under pressure over Morrison’s pledge to
legislate to remove the opportunity for religious schools to
discriminate against gay students. Negotiations with the opposition
have been at an impasse, although the government says it still wants
legislation through this fortnight.
In the middle of the fortnight Morrison attends the G20, where he is
expected to have a meeting with Donald Trump. One would assume they
will canvass the Australian government’s consideration of moving our
embassy to Jerusalem, with Trump urging Morrison to go ahead with
the controversial move.
Senate president Scott Ryan has called out the right within the
Liberal party and among commentators, declaring that Liberal voters
“don’t want views rammed down their throats”.
In a trenchant critique of federal influences in the rout of the
Victorian Liberals, Ryan, a former vice-president of the state
division, pointed to the swings in seats “that are the cradle of the
They were areas that were in federal seats like Goldstein, Higgins,
Menzies and Kooyong, he told the ABC.
These voters were the “real base of the Liberal party. They sent us a
message,” he said. “They don’t want litmus tests for what it means to be a real Liberal”.
Many Liberal voters were fairly conservative in their own lives,
raising kids, working hard, running small businesses, supporting
strong local communities. “But they’re pretty liberal in their
political outlook. They don’t want views rammed down their throat, and
they don’t want to ram their views down other people’s throat.
“And that has historically been the Liberal way. We’re often
conservative in our disposition – I am – but I’m very liberal in my
He said part of the problem was “tone” – while Victoria was a state
election some of the noise that came out of Canberra “did strongly
influence the scale of the loss, where it happened”.
Ryan said after the loss of Wentworth some had “tried to dismiss those
voters as not part of real Australia … labelling people, dismissing
them – that’s not the Liberal way.
“I want to cast the net wide in the Menzies and Howard tradition [so]
as to give people a reason to be Liberals, not come up with litmus
tests and say if you don’t hold this view on a social issue, or if you
don’t hold this particular view on climate change or renewable energy,
then somehow you’re not a real Liberal.
“This is not the path to electoral success. And I’m sick of being
lectured to by people who aren’t members of the party, by people who
have never stood on polling booths, about what it means to be a real
Ryan declined to name names, but his reference to the media was
directed at commentators on Sky in the evening and the Sydney shock
Liberal voters wanted the government to focus on their issues and “I
think the federal government is doing that,” he said.
Ryan said that the days before Wentworth “were distracted … talking
about what some people call religious freedom”. In Victoria people
weren’t raising anti-discrimination law with him on polling booths.
“What we need to do is say the Liberal party has people with various
views, and all of those views can be accommodated, and internally the
idea of compromise is actually a good thing”.
Too often compromise was seen as a sell out, he said. But John Howard
and Peter Costello had compromised to achieve historic tax reform;
Peter Reith had compromised with the Australian Democrats to get
industrial relations change.
“This idea – and I think this is another thing that a lot of our
voters are tired of – that somehow to compromise to address a problem,
and move on to one of the other plethora of problems governments need
to address – that is not selling out – that is getting the jobs done”.
Tim Wilson, the member for Goldstein, criticised those who were being
ideological about energy policy.
“If anybody thinks that there’s this great public sentiment out there
that people really deep down hate renewables and they’re hugging
something like coal, I say again — get real,” Wilson told Sky.
He said he had sat on polling booths where “every second person either gave you deadly silence, which is a very cold, deadly silence, or there were people mentioning energy, climate, or the deposing of the prime minister”.
Victorian senator Jane Hume wrote in the Australian Financial Review:
“Our quest should always be to raise the standard of living – whether
through economic policies, energy, health or education. If we allow
good policy to be infiltrated by even the perception of an ideological
crusade, Labor will win the messaging war”.
After the Prime Minister met Victorian Liberal federal MPs on Monday
morning Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who is deputy Liberal leader, said
“We had a good, honest discussion about lessons to be learned from the
state campaign. As a group we will continue to be focused on
delivering for our local communities.”
On election night, the ABC had Labor winning 58 of the 88 seats, to 20 for the Coalition. After late counting of pre-poll and postal votes, the ABC now shows Labor has won 52 of the 88 lower house seats, the Coalition 24, two Independents and ten seats are undecided, with 71% of enrolled voters counted.
Statewide primary votes are currently 42.9% Labor (up 4.8% since the 2014 election), 35.8% Coalition (down 6.3%) and 9.8% Greens (down 1.6%). As much of the Coalition-favouring pre-polls and postals have been counted, I expect the Greens to gain in late counting as left-leaning polling-day absent votes are counted.
In two party Labor vs Coalition terms, The Poll Bludger has Labor winning by 56.0-44.0 in seats that currently have such a count – that is, excluding Labor vs Greens counts in inner city seats, and Coalition vs independents in the regions. In seats with a two party count, the swing to Labor is 5.3%, which would be a 57.3-42.7 thrashing if projected to the whole state.
The Liberals have lost eastern suburbs heartland seats such as Mount Waverley, Burwood, Ringwood and Box Hill to Labor, but they have retained Caulfield and likely Sandringham, which looked likely to be losses earlier in the night. In Hawthorn, the Liberals lead by 53 votes, with many absent votes to come.
While the ABC currently lists Melbourne as in doubt, Greens-favouring absent votes will easily win it for the Greens. Labor leads the Greens by 72 votes in Brunswick, and will probably lose on absent votes. Labor has clearly retained Richmond against the Greens, and will regain Northcote, which they lost at a byelection. In Prahran, whichever of Labor or Greens finishes second will defeat the Liberals on the other’s preferences.
An independent has gained Mildura from the Nationals, and an independent has retained Shepparton. According to analyst Kevin Bonham, independents are some chance in Geelong, Benambra, South-West Coast, Morwell, Melton and Pascoe Vale; in some of these seats, independents are currently third, but could move ahead of a major party, then receive that major party’s preferences. These seats do not yet have a two candidate count against the independent; the ABC is guessing the two candidate result.
Micro parties could win ten upper house seats
The ABC’s upper house calculator currently has Labor winning 19 of the 40 upper house seats, the Coalition ten, the Greens one, and ten from other parties. These others include four Derryn Hinch Justice, two Transport Matters, one Aussie Battler, one Animal Justice, one Liberal Democrat and one Sustainable Australia.
Overall upper house vote shares were 40.8% Labor, 28.2% Coalition, 9.2% Greens, 3.4% Hinch Justice and 0.6% Transport Matters. It is ludicrous that a party with 0.6% of the vote could win one more seat than a party with 9.2%, or that a party with 3.4% could win three more seats than the Greens.
The upper house count is only at 42.5%, while the lower house is at 71.1%. The pre-poll and postal votes that have assisted the Coalition in the lower house have not yet been tallied for the upper house. When they are counted, Labor will drop back and the Coalition will gain.
The below-the-line vote rate increased to about 10% at this election, from 6% in 2014. As the ABC calculator assumes that all upper house house votes are above-the-line ticket votes, errors can occur if the calculator margin at a critical point is close. Bonham thinks the Coalition will do a bit better at the expense of micro parties, but he still thinks there will be at least six micro party members.
If Labor wins 19 upper house seats, they will be in a strong position in the upper house. Since the election was a Labor landslide, they performed well in the upper house. Had Labor done worse, there would have been some incentive for them to attempt to reform group voting tickets, but this is now unlikely to happen.
The commanding return to office of the Andrews government emphatically reaffirms that Labor is the natural ruling party in Victoria. By the time the state’s next election is due in November 2022, Labor will have presided over Spring Street for three-quarters of the previous four decades.
That ascendancy is replicated in federal election results: the ALP has won the two-party preferred vote in Victoria on 12 of the past 14 occasions. The flipside is that Victoria has become foreign ground for the Liberal Party. It seems almost unimaginable that this was once the state dubbed the “jewel in the Liberal crown”.
If Labor’s re-election consolidates an established trend in Victorian politics, the scale of the victory (it has invited comparisons with the ALP’s Steve “Bracks-slide” of 2002) and the terms on which it has been won are remarkable.
From the moment he won office in 2014, Daniel Andrews styled himself as an assertive and activist premier. This has been exemplified by an ambitious infrastructure agenda, but also a willingness to barge his way through controversies unapologetically.
Lacking the every-man touch of Bracks, Andrews has never seemed especially fussed about courting popularity and has mostly eschewed media contrivances to leaven his image. Neither has he sought to disguise that he is unambiguously a creature of the Labor Party, nor camouflaged his government’s closeness to the trade union movement.
Only last month, Andrews boldly marched at the head of an ACTU-organised rally in support of strengthened industrial rights and improved conditions for workers. On Saturday night, he made a conspicuous point of thanking the labour movement in his victory speech. All of this has inflamed his detractors (not least News Limited’s Herald Sun), yet Andrews has remained defiantly unmoved.
Arguably, there is a risk in this audacity that might grow greater with Andrews emboldened by winning a second term. And there remains a danger that, despite Labor’s expansive infrastructure program, his government will be overwhelmed by Melbourne’s exponential growth and the enormous strains this is placing on services.
For now, though, one cannot deny Andrews’ achievement. Pledged to serve another four years, he is on track to become the state’s second longest-serving Labor premier and he has bequeathed his party a victory so sweeping it should guarantee two further terms.
For the Liberal Party, this is an abject result. It rubs salt into the wounds of the Coalition’s first-term defeat in 2014. Twice in Labor’s era of dominance of the past four decades, the Liberals have squandered office.
A combination of policy inertia and ill-discipline sowed the seeds of the premature fall of the Ted Baillieu-Denis Napthine government in 2014, while in 1999 Jeff Kennett’s tenure was cut short by hubris and insensitivity to rural and regional Victoria that paved the way for an 11-year Labor reign under Bracks and John Brumby.
For the second state election in succession, the Victorian Liberals have also been handicapped by the actions of their federal counterparts. When Victorians voted in 2014, the politically poisonous first budget of Tony Abbott’s government was still exercising their minds, while on this occasion there was the backdrop of the upheaval surrounding Malcolm Turnbull’s deposal as prime minister.
But this result shows the Liberals’ difficulties in Victoria run far deeper to matters of identity and philosophy (and organisation). Though Matthew Guy gestured towards broadening his election pitch through decentralisation policies, everything in the Liberal campaign was ultimately dwarfed by a muscular, conservative law and order agenda.
It was both narrow and discordant in a community of progressive sensibility, and one that is defined by complexity and diversity. It is a community where, for example, there are electorates in which greater than 50% of people were born in non-English speaking countries, electorates where more than 30% of the population are of Muslim faith, and electorates where nearly 50% have no religion. The contemporary Liberal Party appears bereft of a vocabulary to speak to this pluralism.
This problem of being out of step with the nation’s second largest and fastest growing state besets the Liberal Party federally as well. Yet Scott Morrison and many of his colleagues have shown scant evidence of recognising, let alone addressing, this dilemma.
Instead, they seem intent on appealing to a Queensland-focused “base”. The cost of this hewing to the right and what it potentially augurs for next year’s federal election in Victoria is now plain to see.
In a more immediate sense, there is a serious chance the Morrison government will be further destabilised by the recriminations flowing from this result. It is likely to deepen the divide in Liberal ranks between those who appear hell-bent on remaking the party in their own conservative self-image regardless of electoral consequences and those who understand that this is folly.
Lastly, what of the Greens? Since 2002, the Greens have stalked Labor in its once traditional heartland in Melbourne’s inner city. Buoyed by a heady triumph in the Northcote by-election 12 months ago, the Greens looked forward to this contest convinced they were on an irresistible forward march.
That optimism was dented by defeat in the federal byelection in Batman in March. Now, after an unhappy campaign during which the party became mired in controversy over its culture towards women and struggled for traction against a progressive-credentialed government, the Greens have lost ground. Some experienced observers are speculating that we have witnessed “peak Green”.
That is probably premature. Yet, for Labor, the sullying of their tormentor’s image and disruption of their momentum is icing on its glorious election victory cake.