Monday, November 8, 2010
VICTORIA could be heading for another cliffhanger election. A swing against Labor on election day of just 3.7 per cent would be enough to force it into a minority government, relying on the Greens for support.
With opinion polls reporting swings of between 1.5 and 3.5 per cent to the Coalition, for the first time since Steve Bracks dethroned Jeff Kennett in 1999, Victorians are entering an election in which there is a real chance that Labor could lose its majority or even lose government.
In 2006, with Bracks still at the helm, Labor won 43 per cent of first preference votes, and 54.4 per cent of all votes after preferences. The Liberals and Nationals under Ted Baillieu actually won a swing of 3.4 per cent, but with Labor retaining 55 of the 88 seats in the House, it seemed nothing had changed.
This time a swing of about that size would mean real change. But the Coalition needs a swing of almost twice that size 6.5 per cent to win government in its own right.
If the swing is too large for Labor to retain its majority, but too small for the Coalition to win a majority, Victoria, like Australia, would have a minority government, with new Greens MPs joining independent Craig Ingram in holding the balance of power.
Most assume this would result in some form of Labor-Greens coalition but no one has yet ruled anything in or out.
In the Legislative Council, where the Greens already hold the balance of power, the odds are that they will retain it with expanded numbers, probably taking the DLP's seat in Western Victoria and maybe a Liberal seat in the eastern suburbs.
But let's look first at the seats on the front line of this election. As a rule, the party that holds the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne forms government. Labor broke the rule in 1999, when, with three independents, it won half the seats in regional Victoria. But in 2010 it will have to hold most of those eastern suburban marginals to hold power.
Mount Waverley was retained by Labor's Maxine Morand last time by just 0.4 per cent. In neighbouring Forest Hill, former Olympic ski champion Kirstie Marshall held her seat by just 0.8 per cent.
Mitcham is Labor's by just 2 per cent, Burwood (Jeff Kennett's old seat) by 3.8 per cent, and in the distant Dandenongs Gembrook by 0.8 per cent.
These five seats are must-wins for the Coalition if it is to win government. Gembrook aside, they are middle-class, middle-suburban seats, whose voters are better off than most, and normally would be expected to go with the Liberals.
To the city's south are inner suburban Prahran (3.6 per cent), bayside Mordialloc (3.6) and outer suburban Frankston (3.3). And in Geelong's southern suburbs, there's South Barwon (2.3).
Winning these nine seats would not be enough to put the Coalition into power, but it would be a start. Most are traditional Liberal seats. If it doesn't win most of them, it is hard to see it winning government.
Its problem is that the next swag of seats those it needs to win power require much bigger swings: 6 to 9 per cent. And many are in Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, which have been solid Labor territory in recent elections not least, at the 2010 federal election.
Labor now holds all four seats in Geelong, and to win back Bellarine (8.0) or Geelong (8.4) is a big ask. Ballarat East (6.7) and Ballarat West (6.6) are equally tough, when Labor won 61.7 per cent of the Ballarat vote in the federal election. And while Industry Minister Jacinta Allan holds Bendigo East by a less daunting 5.4 per cent, Labor lifted its federal vote there to almost 60 per cent. The federal election, however, experienced swings against Labor in the more rural seats. But Agriculture Minister Joe Helper is alone on the front line, in Ripon (4.4) around Ararat.
Seymour (6.7) and Macedon (8.2) sound like natural Liberal seats, but their names are misleading. Half the Labor vote in Macedon is actually in Sunbury, and in Seymour, most of its vote is in townships on Melbourne's outer fringe, such as Healesville, Wallan and Kilmore. If Black Saturday costs Labor any seats, Seymour should be it.
But to win government, the Liberals will have to win some of the hard-asks in Melbourne's middle and outer suburbs: Bentleigh (6.4), Eltham (6.5), Monbulk (6.7), Carrum (6.8) and Yan Yean (8.0). The first four are the kind of seats that change when governments change. If they don't go Liberal, Victoria won't either.
The Nationals are not part of this contest. They are contesting only four seats they don't hold already, and only in Craig Ingram's seat of Gippsland East (8.5) do they have a realistic chance if they beat the Liberals into third place.
But there is a quite different battleground that many will focus on. After taking the federal seat of Melbourne off Labor in August, the Greens have set their sights on four state seats in the inner suburbs: Melbourne (where they need a swing of just 2.1 per cent), Brunswick and Richmond (both 3.7) and Northcote (8.6).
On federal voting, they would win Melbourne and Richmond easily, but just miss out on Brunswick and Northcote. If the latest polls are right, and Liberal preferences go their way, they will win all four. If so, the Liberals would have to win just seven seats from Labor to force it into minority government while a 10-seat shift to the Coalition would put it in the driver's seat to negotiate a minority government.
But while one poll put the Greens support as high as 19 per cent, it is hard to see any other realistic chances for them.
At this election, Ted Baillieu will be swimming uphill. Governments normally win elections. The Coalition has never led in the polls. The Greens are natural Labor allies. And the Coalition needs a landslide to win. And yet, this could be close.
SWING TO LABOR PARTY
SWING TO LIBERAL AND NATIONAL PARTIES
Source: Victorian Electoral Commission. Figures show two-party swings needed to change seats between Labor
and Coalition, except in seats marked (*G) where the swing shown is between Labor and the Greens.
In Gippsland East, the Liberals would need a swing of 9.2 per cent to unseat Craig Ingram.
TWO-PARTY VOTE IN 2006
Swing to Coalition 3.4%
FIRST PREFERENCES 2006:
Labor 43.1 %, Liberal 34.4 ,
Nationals 5.2 (Coalition 39.6),
Greens 10.0, Family First 4.3,
independents and others 3.0.
to end Labors majority, Coalition
and Greens need to gain a net 11
seats (3.7% swing).
to win majority of their own,
Coalition parties need to gain a
net 13 seats (6.5% swing).
to win majority of its own,
Liberals need to gain a net 22
seats (8.4% swing).
needed to lose seat
22.8% Pascoe Vale
20.8% Mill Park
11.0% Narre Warren Sth
10.6% Bendigo West
NORMALLY SAFE SEATS
9.7% Albert Park
9.3% Narre Warren North
8.6% Northcote (*G)
8.0% Yan Yean
6.7% Ballarat East
6.6% Ballarat West
needed to lose
Rodney (Nat) 24.9%
Shepparton (Nat) 24.7%
Swan Hill (Nat) 23.4%
Lowan (Nat) 22.1%
Murray Valley (Nat 21.8%
Mildura (Nat) 20.7%
Benalla (Nat) 17.6%
Gippsland South (Nat) 15.9%
NORMALLY SAFE SEATS
Box Hill 5.3%
South West Coast 4.1%
Morwell (Nat) 2.2%
Ferntree Gully 0.1
0.4% Mount Waverley
0.8% Forest Hill
2.1% Melbourne (*G)
2.3% South Barwon
3.7% Brunswick (*G)
3.7% Richmond (*G)
5.4% Bendigo East