Wells Haslem Mayhew Melbourne affiliate, Robert Masters, examines this week’s Victoria state election and concludes voters south of the Murray River lack the appetite to change government.
Victoria is heading for a second-term Labor government on election day 24 November. A number of political observers are saying that it could be the forerunner to a Labor dominated east coast political scene in 2019 – from Federal parliament to Queensland, NSW and Victoria parliaments.
The only question mark over the outcome of the future Andrews Government is whether or not it will govern in its own right.
All opinion polling to date shows the coalition Liberal/National parties do not have the numbers to move from the Opposition benches for another fixed four-year term.
Polling shows Labor is leading by 55 per cent to 45 per cent on a two-party preferred basis and this brings into question the Greens and the Independents on determining the outcome. On the current reading of the primary votes, Labor has 41 per cent, the Coalition 39 per cent and the Greens 11 per cent. Support for the Greens has barely shifted compared with polling in July.
Labor came to power in 2014 with a majority of eight seats for a total of 47. [The election was the first time since 1955 that an incumbent government was removed from office after a single term. It was led by the Liberal’s Ted Baillieu initially and then Denis Napthine].
This would mean the Coalition (with 38 seats) needs eight seats to achieve a majority government, while Labor could lose power by the loss of just two seats. Labor would then need the support of the Greens, which now holds three lower house seats, or rural independents to form a minority government. However, Labor has said there will be ‘no deals’ with the Greens who could possibly take five seas in their inner-Melbourne stronghold.
As with previous State elections, this one will revolve around bread and butter issues such as transport, education, health and crime.
There is no doubt under Labor the Victorian economy is good, jobs are being created, education is booming (TAFE colleges are now back on the agenda for those not seeking tertiary education) and health is expanding state-wide with new hospitals, medical services and research programs.
It is said about Andrews that he is a ‘premier with whom you are not going to die wondering’. But this ‘rosy picture’ is not without its flaws and in these final weeks there are many wondering about his reign on several primary issues.
First, the Coalition is rated strongly on law and order issues (53.9 per cent to 46.1 per cent) with Victorians believing the Andrews government is “too soft on crime”.
Second, Labor is only marginally preferred on “preventing unnecessary price rises and keeping the cost of living in check” (37 per cent:35 per cent).
Third, Andrews is strongly out of favour on ethical issues; especially with the ‘red shirts’ election incident, which saw former Victorian Labor campaign staff arrested over the use of taxpayer money in campaigning for the 2014 election.
The State’s Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, found Labor had been wrong to spend $388,000 of taxpayer funding during the campaign. Although Labor has paid the money back, their parliamentary members are now refusing to be interviewed by police and the media is 'hounding' the Premier over his backdown on initially committing to 'co-operating' on police interviews.
Finally, Andrews took to the streets in a massive Trades Hall Council rally calling for greater wage growth for employees knowing full well that this would also affect the State’s budget.
However, he continues to capture the ‘front page’, or ‘page three’ when it comes to political campaigning – good or bad – while Opposition Leader Matthew Guy is struggling to make traction.
Labor also cannot be touched on transport and infrastructure. They came to power on back of the moribund efforts of the Coalition to get ‘transport issues moving’, despite winning government on this very issue.
At the time, Melbourne’s infrastructure was crumbling under the strain of population growth, but the Baillieu/Napthine Coalition government hardly reached a trot on doing anything about it.
This growth has now taken another leap forward with the most spectacular being on Melbourne’s fringe.
Between the 2014 state election and the end of September 2018, enrolments have risen markedly with the State’s population growth rivalling the Gold Rush era of the 1850s.
Melbourne is now set to overtake Sydney in a few years as the nation’s most populous city with a net 2,400 people a week arriving or being born here; they are students, skilled migrants and those moving from interstate (more than 15,000 moved to Victoria from interstate last year).
From a three million city to now five million, and possibly 8 to 9 million by mid-century, transport infrastructure planning continues to be the key political issue.
The growth has seen new housing developments expand into the far outer suburbs, high rise developments taking place not only in the inner suburbs, but also the outer suburbs and roadway arteries being clogged with traffic morning, noon and night; let alone the ‘commuter crush’ on trams and trains at peak times.
A 30-minute freeway journey is now taking 60 to 90 minutes, despite the Andrews government spending billions of dollars on new roads and highways, the removal of level crossings (and more to come post-election) and building and putting more trains and trams into services and increasing service frequencies.
These issues are reflected in the election commitment of Andrews, and his transport minister, Jacinta Allan, to spend $50bn on an underground rail network - “the biggest public transport project in history” - including 90km of new tracks, 12 new stations and an airport link, and taking 200,000 vehicles off congested roads.
In contrast, Guy has committed $19 billion to rebuild the entire regional rail network in a decade, to not only capture the regional and rural voters, but also to whet their appetite to 200 km/h trains to all large regional cities.
The size of these election promises is without precedent in Victoria – and they are not without their critics. The Grattan Institute says both Labor and Liberals proposal are "siren songs of the desperate".
The same could be said about ‘dirty’ politics.
Guy’s term as Planning Minister under the last Coalition government saw him spend millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money in 2013 to confidentially settle a lawsuit over a botched planning decision. According to some, he personally ordered the last-minute settlement be paid to the owner and purchaser of the Ventnor farmland on Phillip Island.
The Andrews Government released all the documents related to the issue in September this year in a massive, 80,000-page dossier which was tabled to show that Guy had his own ethical issues.
This was on top of his well-publicised Lobster Cave restaurant meeting with a long-time Liberal supporter Frank Lamattina and his cousin Tony Madafferi. Madafferi has been accused of being a high-level organised crime figure, but has never been charged or convicted and he strenuously denies any allegations. Guy says there was no wrongdoing, but he has had enormous difficulty in moving from infamously labelled ‘Lobster with the Mobster’ dinner.
It has resonated with many in the community and although it has its chapter in possibly the worst political shenanigans period for many decades, along with the decline in trust and respect by the public for politicians, voter volatility has not reached the heights to persuade political pundits to predict the death knell of a Labor Government this November.
The Shell Issue 12
1. Chairman address, John Wells
2. A beacon in the darkness: How Youth Insearch is rebuilding young lives, Stav Pisk
3. A booming Melbourne & bread-and-butter issues auger well for Labor in Victoria, Robert Masters
4. Governments have the power to help Australian drivers live their electric dreams, Benjamin Haslem
5. Australians & Americans doing business: the culture battles, Alexandra Mayhew
6. If you are collecting data, protect it, don't misuse it, because consumers are fed up, George Platsis
7. 10 top digital marketing trends that will dominate 2019, Tracey Jarvis & Alexandra Mayhew
8. Blacktown’s got talent! Isabelle Walker
9. Out of the wilderness & in with a shout - the remarkable resurgence of NSW Labor, Julie Sibraa
10. Challenging Labor's property tax reform could be ScoMo's best play, Kathy Lindsay
11. Wentworth - lost on self indulgence, not the numbers, John Wells
12. The art of writing op-eds, Stav Pisk
13. It's my party & I'll plan if I want to: tips on planning a successful event, Larissa Jaffé
14. IPREX highlights