Liberals gain from anger at Labor in Victoria

Victorian Labor has suffered a crushing rejection in the November state election—its first-preference vote collapsing from 43 per cent in 2006 to 36.5 per cent.

The Liberals have taken power after 11 years of Labor government.

The Greens, who topped 16 per cent in opinion polls and were hoping to win lower house seats and the balance of power in the upper house, suffered disappointment.

They increased their vote in the lower house by just 0.6 per cent, to 10.6 per cent. Their chances of winning seats like Melbourne and Brunswick disappeared when the Liberals opted to preference Labor.
In the upper house, their vote rose by just over 1 per cent to 11.6 per cent, but they looked to have lost one of their three seats as Solidarity went to press.

Socialist Party candidate Steve Jolly scored 9.4 per cent in Richmond, where he is a local councillor. Socialist Alliance stood in four seats, gaining a top vote of 1.8 per cent.

In the federal election, the ALP had a first-preference vote of 42.8 per cent in Victoria, and John Brumby’s state government looked likely to cling on to office.

But Ted Baillieu’s Coalition ran a classic negative campaign against a tired regime, with great effect. Almost all the swing against Labor went to the Coalition.

Labor had put significant resources into public education and welfare. But that was forgotten as voters protested over rising water and power bills, hospital waiting lists and public transport congestion and an expensive and much delayed myki electronic ticketing scheme.

With the rain bucketing down across Victoria, Labor’s massively expensive and privatised desalination plant and north-south water pipeline stood out as white elephants.

Labor tacked left over the environment, promising a partial shutdown of the Hazelwood power station. But, in a warning to federal Labor about the political cost of market-based environmental “solutions”, they lost many more votes through beginning the rollout of “smart meters”. These supposedly help households choose cheaper times to use electricity, but have already led to sharply higher bills.

Greens’ failureThere were three reasons why the Greens failed to capitalise on their federal election momentum and the election of Adam Bandt in Melbourne.

In the federal election, the Greens had key issues where they could carve out a clear political space: refugees, climate change, Afghanistan and WorkChoices-lite. Only one, climate change, translated into state politics and, as noted above, Labor put effort into negating the Greens’ advantage.

A range of unions used Bandt’s campaign to punish Labor over its timid approach to WorkChoices. This time, they swung back firmly behind Labor. The Electrical Trade Union’s building in Carlton was covered in Bandt posters in August. This time it was plastered in advertising for Labor minister Bronwyn Pike.
The second reason is that The Greens still have weak roots outside the inner city. Without trusted and extensive networks on the ground, they were unable to translate anger with Labor in Melbourne’s outer suburbs into votes. The anger went to the right.

The third reason relates to the broader debate about what kind of party The Greens are trying to be. While the bulk of Greens policies and activists are to the left of Labor, its leaders refuse to adopt the mantle of a left party in the hope of winning votes from the Liberals.

Bandt made it clear that he would not support an Abbott minority government. But Greg Barber, de facto leader of the Victorian Greens, refused to rule out talks with either party in the event of a hung parliament.

In the final week of the election campaign, The Greens’ material started playing on the theme that Labor and Liberal were “old parties, who look more and more alike”. All of this must have fed fears among Labor supporters that a vote for the Greens might lead to a Liberal government.

But Baillieu’s Liberal government will have a razor-thin majority and no mandate for attacks on jobs and services.

The task of unions and movement activists will be to mobilise the frustration that led to a swing against Labor at the ballot box into action against the Liberals on the streets.

By David Glanz


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