Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Activist poised to control upper house with record low vote

JOURNALIST and shareholder activist Stephen Mayne could hold the balance of power in the new Legislative Council, with new counting showing he could block the Baillieu government from having a majority in both houses.

When counting ended last night, Mr Mayne was on track to set a new Victorian record by winning a seat in Parliament with just 1.04 per cent of the vote.

The founder and former publisher of online newspaper www.crikey.com.au, Mr Mayne stood as an independent in the Northern Metro electorate the latest in many tilts at company boards, federal and state Parliament, and even Manningham council (his only success).

So far he has won just 3064 of the 295,831 votes cast in Northern Metro, which runs from Flinders Street station to the Great Divide.

But an astonishing series of preference deals could see him climb into the upper house on the back of preferences from another independent, the Greens, Family First, the DLP, the Sex Party and Labor.

With only 69 per cent of votes counted, he still could be upended if the Greens' vote continues its rise in late counting. Greens de facto leader Greg Barber has a quota in his own right, with 17.9 per cent of the vote.

If that lifts to 18.2 per cent, Mr Milne would lose out to the Greens' second candidate, and the Liberals or Labor would take the seat.

A second maverick candidate also has a narrow lead in upper house counting, but it is fast dwindling.

Shepparton hunting shop owner Steve Threlfall, of the Country Alliance, still leads in the race for the last seat in northern Victoria. But Liberals MLC Donna Petrovich is catching up, and likely to hold her seat.

If she does, the Coalition would probably have 20 seats in the new 40-member council. Labor looks like winning 17, with two Greens and Mr Mayne sharing the balance of power.

If so, a Baillieu government is likely to look to him to provide it with crucial support. Mr Mayne was press secretary to former Treasurer Alan Stockdale in the early years of the Kennett government, before having a spectacular falling out with Mr Kennett over the explosion of gambling in the state. His many causes include greater transparency in government, reducing gambling and reducing government debt.

In Western Metro, Greens MLC Colleen Hartland lost ground yesterday, and now looks likely to be the loser in a three-way contest for two seats against upper house president Bob Smith (Labor) and Andrew Elsbury (Liberal).

Hundreds of thousands of votes were counted yesterday in lower house electorates mostly for the Coalition but without changing the status of any seats.

Ballarat East is now the closest contest, with Labor MP Geoff Howard holding off Liberal challenger Ben Taylor by just 166 votes or 0.26 per cent.

In Bentleigh, Liberal candidate Elizabeth Miller has extended her lead over Labor MP Rob Hudson to 460 votes, and has clearly won the seat. But in Macedon, Labor MP Joanne Duncan appears set to withstand the tide, maintaining a decisive lead of 498 votes.

In the only other seat in doubt, Labor MP Steve Herbert maintained a lead in 245 votes in Eltham, and appears likely to hold on.

If Labor holds both Eltham and Ballarat East, it will have 43 seats in the new 88-member Assembly, and the Coalition 45.