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29 November 2022  •  Elliot Giakalis, Principal Consultant, Media and Public Affairs, Bastion Reputation

No contest: Labor cruise home

Government

Elliot Giakalis provides insight on what went right (and what went wrong), Labor's election promises, who the key players are, and what's next for Victorians.

In the end, it was barely a contest. Despite questions around integrity, a full throttled campaign by Murdoch outlets (Herald Sun, Sky News) and media reports that there was a significant tightening in the polls, as the results began to trickle in on Saturday night, it revealed that it would be anything but a contest. 

With approximately 37 per cent of the primary, and a two-party preferred count of around 54 per cent, Labor is on track to once again form a majority government with at least 52 seats in the Legislative Assembly, only a few seats down from the 55 it secured in 2018.  

While the Labor primary vote dropped almost 6 per cent, it didn’t translate into seats changing hands, with most of the swing away from the government happening in the outer suburbs, particularly the north and west, in electorates where Labor already held big margins.  

The Labor Government will once again not have a majority in the 40-seat upper house, and while the counting of votes continues, Labor is likely to finish with 14 or 15. The Greens have gone from one seat to four in the Council, and the Legalise Cannabis party is ‘cautiously optimistic’ about picking up two seats, which would be a first, although one of them may be snagged by the Victorian Socialists. The Government will need to work with an expanded group of upper house MPs that will hold the balance of power. It has worked well with the upper house in the last two parliaments, and one expects that to continue. 

For the Liberal Party – who are now realistically still at least two terms from winning government – a lot of soul-searching is required. How much is ultimately conducted remains to be seen. The Victorian Liberal Party has underperformed for a long time, having won only one state election in the last 23 years, and only three in the last 40.  

Their offering was again considered too negative by punters – in contrast to the big dreams and build of the Government – and has now been soundly rejected two elections in a row, as too has their dalliance with some more extreme views both in and outside of its party. The Return to Guy experiment has not worked, and many Liberal operatives on Saturday night would have been wondering whether they made the right call in going back to him late last year.  

While Michael O’Brien during his time as leader never landed a finger on the government, it’s hard to see how he could’ve done any worse than what happened to the Liberal Party on Saturday. Should erstwhile Liberal MP John Pessuto get up in Hawthorn – which looks increasingly likely – he will make a serious play for the position of leader and could herald in a new era for the party.  

On the back of the terrible loss, former Premier Ted Baillieu has even encouraged a few older Liberal members in the upper house to move on immediately – and be replaced with younger and fresher faces.  

The National Party had a better day than their coalition partners – increasing their vote and taking their tally of seats in the lower house to 9, up from 6 – gaining the regional seats of Mildura, Morwell and Shepparton. The Nats are already talking about having a look at the Coalition partnership. Based on the Liberal Party’s form of late, you cannot blame them.  

On current numbers, the Greens look set to pick up the inner Melbourne seat of Richmond, suggesting that talk of a “Green wave” is perhaps overstated, with their primary vote only increasing 0.2 per cent. In the key seat of Northcote, the Greens vote was down 10.4 per cent, but on Saturday night, aided by Liberal preferences, it looked like they were set to snatch it. Labor is now increasingly bullish about holding this seat, with Sunday’s counting putting the sitting Labor member ahead.  

Across the state though, there was a 5.9 per cent increase in votes for independents, although this is yet to translate into winning seats, and there was no repeat of the ‘teal’ wins that featured in the federal poll in May. Further, existing independents in Mildura and Shepparton were both comprehensively beaten by the National Party. Similarly, independents in western suburbs seats that were expected to challenge sitting Labor MPs failed to land a blow, with the ground campaign launched by Labor in recent months proving far too effective, and a real contrast to the chaos behind Liberal Party doors. 

One of the centrepieces of the Labor election pitch was bringing back government-owned energy, reviving the State Electricity Commission (SEC) to try and power the state with renewable electricity and drive bills down. The plan will also be a boon for jobs, with almost 60,000 being created, including 6,000 apprentices and trainees. 

It will also hire thousands of nurses and build new hospitals, as well as continuing to build and upgrade schools across the state.  

The Andrews Government to date has been infrastructure focused, be it city changing projects such as the Suburban Rail Loop (SRL) – which the Coalition tried to make into a political issue, failing dismally in the process – or investments into hospitals and schools. While debt is at a record level on the back of a costly pandemic, and as mapped out in the Treasurer’s costings last Thursday, budget discipline is required, the Big Build will continue at pace. 

Throughout the campaign the Premier repeatedly talked about the flow on impact of these projects, that it was beyond the community amenity they provide, but the thousands of jobs that they create, both in construction but also in the supply chain.  

This message appeared to again resonate with voters, perhaps highlighted best by the poor performance of the Liberal Party in and around seats that the SRL would go through. The Liberal Party proposal to divert funds from SRL into the health system was short sighted and poor strategically: surely a government should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, and the risk to jobs was clearly too much for some.  

Deputy Premier Jacinta Allan was quick to remind the gallery on Sunday morning that the SRL project has now gone to two elections and been supported twice; from here, it is full steam ahead. As Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Suburban Rail Loop, and for Commonwealth Games Delivery, she controls significant projects and budgets across these portfolios. 

Whether these portfolios remain with her will be determined this week when the Premier announces his new ministry. Consistently a good performer, both in parliament and in the media – one suspects Victorians will be seeing even more of Ms Allan over the next four years, perhaps even with a leadership transition during that time. 

The new ministry the Premier unveils this week will see promotions and shuffling of portfolios, with no less than 17 new Labor members elected to parliament, and it has been tasked with big things. 

In addition to the continued investment in key infrastructure projects, and central to their campaign message in ‘doing what matters’, Labor will also work with First Nations People to deliver Treaty, to help them determine their own future. It will provide a path to negotiate the transfer of power and resources for First Peoples to control matters which impact their lives.  

Saturday’s result is a big win for the Labor Government. Despite the drop in primary, winning a third consecutive election is no easy feat and the Premier has acknowledged as such, calling out key personnel in his team during his victory speech.  

The last two years have been testing for all Victorians. The development and execution of public policy during this time similarly would not have been easy, and the hours worked in and around the Premier’s office during that time would make many people’s eyes water.  

Despite predictions that the Premier would always be linked to COVID by Victorians, and that because of that, they would be waiting for him with baseball bats on polling day, it did not eventuate. Instead, the government was returned with a barely reduced majority, importantly providing a decent buffer for the 2026 state election. 

Premiers of Victoria who have served for more than 3,000 days have a statue installed at Treasury Place. To date, four Victorian premiers have been afforded this honour: Albert Dunstan, Henry Bolte, Rupert Hamer and John Cain Junior. 

This coming February, the Premier will notch up day 3,000 in the office. On Sunday, he was asked whether it was a motivation or had ever entered his mind. His response was classic Dan – saying that the better statue was the $1 billion investment that had gone into the new Noble Park train line and station, deep in his electorate of Mulgrave. As he put it: 

“No-one has ever spent $1 billion in Noble Park before but [it is] a better community because of it.” 

‘That’s the statue, that’s the monument.” 

Turns out if you build it, they – the voters – will come. 

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