Sunday, November 28, 2010

Coalition on the verge of upper house control

THE Coalition is on the edge of an unexpected majority in both houses of state Parliament, with the landslide swing in yesterday's election seeing it gain up to four seats in the new Legislative Council.

On last night's counting, the Coalition appeared likely to just full short of winning the 21 seats needed to control the 40-member upper house, which is elected by proportional representation.

The final result might not be known for weeks, with several contests too close to call on the figures available last night.

But the big swing against Labor, coupled with the Greens' failure to match the numbers given them in the opinion polls, appears to have given the Liberals a majority of seats in at least four of Victoria's upper house regions.

The outcome could hang on the outcome in the final seat in Western Victoria, a vast region stretching from Melton to the South Australian border, and from Point Lonsdale to Mildura.

Grovedale farrier Miles Hodge, of the hunters' and shooters' party, the Country Alliance, appears poised to take the seat of DLP leader Peter Kavanagh, thanks to a swag of preference deals despite gaining just 2.9 per cent of the vote.

With tens of thousands of votes still to be counted, the Coalition's third candidate David O'Brien could still pick up enough votes to win the seat. Mr Kavanagh's 2.2 per cent of the vote looked too small to retain the seat he himself won in 2006 in the same way.

Mr Hodge had just 8000 votes last night, but a series of preference swaps with other parties looked likely to see him overhaul the Coalition and deny it a majority in the new council.

The Country Alliance could win a second seat in northern Victoria. Shepparton hunting and fishing shop owner Steve Threlfall was polling 7.6 per cent of the vote, and with the same preference deals, could unseat Labor MLC Kaye Darveniza.

But sex industry lobbyist Fiona Patten failed in her bid to put the Australian Sex Party in the upper house, polling just 3.5 per cent of the vote in the Northern Metro region.

The Liberals lifted their vote significantly, and with preferences from the DLP and other right-wing parties, looked likely to take the seat from Labor. Greens de facto leader Greg Barber was polling close to a quota in his own right, to give a 2-2-1 result in the big northern suburbs electorate, which runs from Flinders Street to Whittlesea.

The Greens polled just 11.2 per cent of votes acorss Victoria, only slightly higher than in 2006. At the close of counting last night, they appeared likely to pick only one seat, and that was from Labor.

For the upper house, Victoria is divided into eight regions electing five members each: roughly speaking, five metro seats and three for the rest of the state. To be elected, a candidate has to win just 16.7 per cent of the vote after preferences; the last seat is usually decided by preference deals.

In the old Council, Labor had 19 seats, the Coalition 17, the Greens three and the DLP one.

Labor appeared to have three seats and possibly another two. The Liberals took its second seat in the Southern Metro region, and its third seat in northern Metro. It was also at risk iof losing a seat in eastern Victoria to the Greens.

As in the assembly, the council results will be affected by the electoral commission's decision to put off counting the 550,000 pre-poll votes until next week. At the Federal election, the pre-poll votes came disproportionately from voters for the Coalition and the Greens.