Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Victorian state election 2014

On the 29th of November, the Australian state of Victoria will be holding an election. All 88 seats in the Legislative Assembly (the lower house) and all 40 seats in the Legislative Council (the upper house) will be up for election. The Assembly is elected by instant runoff voting in single member constituencies, while the Council is elected by the the single transferable vote with party tickets in 5 member electorates.

Recent Events

Victoria is a two-party system. There is the centre-right Liberal Party of Australia and the centre-left Australian Labor Party. There is also the centre-right National Party, which is based only in rural areas, and is usually in coalition with the Liberals. There are a number of minor parties which have held seats in the upper house; the Greens (left-wing environmentalists) and the Democratic Labour Party (economically left, socially conservative). Independents have also been elected to the Assembly.

Victoria is currently governed by a coalition of the Liberal and National parties. This coalition holds a majority of 1 in the Legislative Council, but is in a minority in the Assembly. 

The Liberal/National coalition came to power in 2010, defeating the Labor government of Premier John Brumby. At that point the Liberals were led by Ted Bailleu, who became Premier. 

The Liberal/National coalition won a narrow majority, with 45 seats to Labor's 43. This meant that the government needed the vote of every MP (Member of Parliament, the lower house) in order to win a vote. This became important later.

The government performed well in the polls directly after the election. However, the party's support soon fell, and the Liberal/Nationals hovered around 52% two-party preferred in the opinion polls by early 2012.

The numbers in parliament became precarious after allegations of misconduct with public money were levelled against Geoff Shaw, the MP for Frankston. Shaw, whose conservative Christian views have caused controversy, and whose relationship with his ex-wife has caused more controversy, was placed into a very powerful position after the 2010 election. As the Liberal Party elected a speaker (Ken Smith) who cannot vote, the Liberals only had 44 votes to 43 for Labor. Shaw, or indeed any other Liberal or National MP, could theoretically cause the defeat of the government.

On 6 March 2013, events finally came to a head. Shaw resigned from the Liberal Party and became an independent. The following day, Bailleu resigned as Premier. His place was taken by Denis Napthine. At this point, Shaw said that he would probably continue to support the government. The point was academic, as even with Shaw's support, a no-confidence motion could not pass. Labor technically had 43 MPs, but the resignation of one MP in a safe seat meant that the government was temporarily safe.

Labor had problems of its own. They had not expected to be even close to victory in 2014, and as such had installed former Health Minister Daniel Andrews as leader. Andrews had virtually no public profile, and at the start of his term only 16% of voters thought that he would make a better premier. Even in 2012, his better premier support was low.

While Shaw made lots of noises about toppling the Liberals, it was perfectly clear that he had no intention of handing government to Andrews. Given that Victoria has fixed four-year terms, a no-confidence motion against Napthine with no positive majority for Andrews would open a constitutional can of worms. Anyway, Shaw is virtually guaranteed to lose his seat, so it is not in his best interests to get a quick election.

The Issues

East West Link

The East West Link is a proposed road project running from (as implied by the name) the western suburbs of Melbourne to the Eastern Freeway. The project was originally proposed by Liberal premier Jeff Kennett in 1999, but was brought to prominence when it was recommended by a commission into transport in Victoria in 2008. The Liberal/National coalition made it a policy in 2010, and preparations have been made for a contract in the last four years.

However, this project has had some opposition. For a start, some believe that the plan is bad for the environment, as it will encourage more driving. These people believe that the government should prioritise public transport over road projects. 

A number of protests around the issue polarised public opinion between supporters and opponents of the plan. The issue has only heated up recently, especially since Daniel Andrews has promised to halt any plans if he is elected.

A number of claims have been made to the effect that the election is a referendum on the road program. However, this is unlikely. If you look at the most marginal seats in the state, most of them are in the outer suburbs. These places are generally away from the areas directly affected by the link. The seats that will be directly affected are all irrelevant, as they are mostly safe Labor. The East West Link is something of a sideshow, and any local backlash can only increase Labor margins.

Public Transport

Since the 1980s, this has always been an issue in Victorian elections. The public transport system in Victoria has been run by private companies since the privatisation by Jeff Kennett. There have been multiple controversies about how public transport has been run, and what sort of developments should be prioritised.

The Liberal/National coalition have a policy of prioritising two projects: removing level crossings, and building a rail line to Melbourne Airport. The Labor Party plans to remove level crossings, extend a number of railway lines, and purchase 30 more trains.

Party prospects

The Liberal/National coalition government has been criticised as a 'do-nothing' government that has not done much with four years of control of both houses of Parliament. This is somewhat true; although the government has been somewhat hijacked by Geoff Shaw's antics. Napthine has been criticised as a bland leader, and most state Ministers are relatively unknown. The Liberal/Nationals are also in government at a federal level, and state governments tend to do poorly when their federal counterparts are in government.

The Labor Party would normally be poised to win. However, Labor has problems of its own. These mostly stem from an expectation that Labor would not be able to win in 2014. As a result, Andrews was elected as a 'placeholder' leader, who would be replaced by a more competitive leader later in his term. Andrews has been embarrassed by links to the controversial Construction, Mining, Forestry and Energy Union, and has been unable to make much of an impact. The polls favour Labor, but the Liberals have the advantage that Andrews is a blank slate to many voters, while Napthine is somewhat more well know,

The Greens are unlikely to make any large gains. Leader Greg Barber is virtually unknown, and they will not be able to trade off personalities of candidates. They will hold their ground in the upper house, and may win a seat or two in the lower house, but they will not make a breakthrough.

The other parties are small, but large in number. There are 21 parties registered to contest the election: excluding the above-mentioned 4, this effectively means that there are 17 small parties contesting, none of which is likely to make a significant impact. However, if the small parties stick together, and give each other preferences, it is possible that a number of minor candidates could be elected, even with small shares of the primary vote. In a finely balanced upper house, the votes of these members could be decisive. ABC election analyst Antony Green has more here.

Useful Links

Kevin Bonham has done some useful analysis and modelling on his blog.
The ABC's election guide is a useful resource for data.
The Age newspaper has excellent coverage of the issues and events in the campaign.

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