With only a week to go till polling day on Saturday 24 November, interest in the Victorian state election seems to be at an all-time low. Cynical voters seem unmoved by the predictable strikes against the planet in the form of yet another Coalition-led proposal for a coal-fired power station, party pledges for free tampons and tellies and have tuned out on political scandals — Greens candidates rapping on about date-rape or forgetting their knickers, aspiring Libs starring in anti-Muslim videos and Labor dodging police interviews. For academic and journalist, Dr Martin Hirst, the fog of indifference that has descended on Victoria is blinding voters to the real threat of an upset.

I’ve seen very few core flutes on my travels around the suburbs of Melbourne, but if the sheer number of posters and door-knocking volunteers is a guide to winners and losers then the Victorian Socialists’ candidate Stephen Jolly should easily win an upper house seat in the Northern Metropolitan division of the Legislative Council.

Unusually, the Victorian upper house has multimember electorates (divisions) and so there are five seats up for grabs in each electorate. The race in Metro North division – like most upper house contests – is likely to result in status quo in terms of the first four seats decided and the fifth seat is predicted to be a contest between Stephen Jolly and the incumbent, Fiona Patten of Reason (formerly the Sex Party). It is impossible to know how this will go because ten other minor party candidates are also running, and so preference swap deals could be crucial to the final outcome.

As it stands, Jolly and his team of enthusiastic young volunteers have been campaigning across a huge area of Melbourne that starts in the trendy inner northern suburb of Northcote, extends through the extensive migrant belt around Coburg and then out to the recently-settled northwest where farmland has been replaced with vast dormitory suburbs, many of which didn’t exist at the last election in 2014. The Victorian Socialists have had hundreds of volunteers out canvassing votes every weekend for at least the last six weeks and they’re confident of having about a thousand people on polling day to cover the 106 voting places across the electorate. On the other hand, Fiona Patten has a high profile, she is the incumbent and she is more palatable to the liberal media than a real socialist.

Having a plan to make a difference

I live in the safe Labor seat of Ivanhoe and, unlike the socialist foot soldiers who’ve descended on neighbouring Preston, nobody’s tried to doorknock my place, even though I am home most days and evenings. I did see the Liberal candidate, Monica Clark, in my street on a supervised walk-around, but maybe, after my side-eye glare as I pulled up to the kerb, she figured talking to me would be a waste of time.

What I have noticed though, is that many candidates, particularly from the major parties, are reluctant to put their party affiliation on the ubiquitous core flute posters. Instead, they rely on anodyne, ultimately meaningless slogans. Everybody is “Making a Difference”, or “Has a plan,” what they don’t tell us is what kind of difference will they make, or what their plan is supposed to achieve.

There was one exception I saw in the bayside suburb of St Kilda in the Albert Park electorate. There, the local Liberal candidate, Andrew Bond, has a plan to make the streets safer. He even managed to get a few lines of specific policy onto his roadside banner. He will install more street lighting and “engage with the community”. I only hope this guy gets a licensed electrician to install the new street lights at busy intersections because he doesn’t look fit enough to climb a light pole. No doubt it will make the street girls and the cruise-by punters on Carlisle street feel much safer knowing there’s enough light to record their movements and car number plates. Maybe he’ll wait and engage with local residents first; they might just tell him his plan sucks and he can save himself the bother of having to traipse around Elsternwick in a hi-viz vest carrying a ladder and a box of LED light fittings.

Every promise kept and a free set of steak knives

Now that the campaign is nearly over, the party promises have also become more niche, even approaching the level of ludicrous. The Liberal-National coalition has promised to give low-income households free televisions and cheap fridges if they upgrade to more energy-efficient models; but at the same time, Matthew Guy has promised to build a big new shiny (and presumably “clean”) coal or gas-fired power station to guarantee the generation of electricity to hospitals and schools. I wrote about energy policy a couple of weeks ago and most experts agree the COALition plan is backward-looking.

For its part, Labor has made the sensible promise to supply free sanitary products in the state’s schools.

Of course, there are some bigger issues in play too and some other candidates with plans that haven’t been going exactly according to plan.

Victorian election pledges

You’re only the candidate till you get caught!

On the Liberal side, the party’s candidate in the seat of Yan Yean found herself in hot water when a video came to light in which she is seen and heard promoting an anti-Muslim message on behalf of the far-right splinter group, the Australian Liberty Alliance. Meralyn Klein is still on the ballot as a Liberal candidate, but she has been disendorsed by the party. This is unlikely to affect the outcome in Yan Yean which is a relatively safe Labor seat on a margin of 3.7 per cent.

Having said that, the ALP has been plagued by its own drama involving the alleged use of taxpayer funds to finance party-political campaigning by Labor’s electorate staffers. This little saga has been running for some time under the media-bestowed handle of the “red shirts scandal”. The police have been involved and Opposition leader, Matthew Guy has used it to deflect attention from his own intra-party scandals.

The genesis of the allegations against several sitting Labor MPs and candidates stems from the 2014 election campaign in which the ALP’s Daniel Andrews defeated the coalition’s Denis Napthine. In August 2018, more than a dozen Labor staffers were briefly arrested and questioned by Victoria Police in relation to their role in campaigning for the ALP while ostensibly working on electorate matters for various MPs. Labor has already paid back nearly $400,000 in falsely-claimed wages and up to 21 sitting MPs are implicated, though all claim they have done nothing illegal.

One of the former staffers interviewed in August is now a candidate. Last week, Buninyong candidate Michaela Settle refused a further police interview, just days after standing beside Daniel Andrews on the campaign trail and claiming she would “always co-operate” with any inquiry. Despite the negative publicity in the past few days, it’s surprising that this hasn’t been a bigger story, it just seems like voters don’t really care. Matthew Guy has failed to gain any real traction on the issue for the Opposition.

The Greens have also already lost one of their candidates for the upper house. Northern Metropolitan candidate Joanna Nilson pulled her nomination after the Herald-Sun revealed three-year-old social media posts in which the young woman boasted about shoplifting, smoking marijuana and going to work with a hangover and not wearing any knickers.

Yep, that’s how low some media outlets are prepared to go in their public shaming of people. In my mind all of these misdemeanours make Ms Nilson relatable and highly electable, but then I’m not a Herald-Sun reader. Ms Nilson has already shown in one Facebook post she could dish it out like the more seasoned pollies calling Federal Liberal MP Michaela Cash a “disgusting smug parrot”. What’s not to like about such an honest young woman?

Angus McAlpine

But wait, there’s more. A second Greens candidate – Angus McAlpine standing in Footscray – has come under fire for lyrics in some of his rap songs that also appear to condone drug use, sexual assault using so-called “date rape” drugs and choking women. McAlpine has not resigned from the party or withdrawn his nomination, and the Greens are defending him.

According to Greens leader, Samantha Ratnam, McAlpine has renounced the misogyny of his earlier lyrics from songs composed in 2010. Ms Ratnam has told the media that Mr McAlpine is on a journey to change and the rapper/candidate issued a statement saying he now regrets his earlier actions and is fighting against “toxic masculinity’. It is unlikely that Angus McAlpine’s journey will include a trip to the Victorian Parliamentary precinct as the member for Footscray; the seat is held by Labor with a 14.5 per cent margin.

However, I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression. The Victorian election is not all fun and games and petty scandals. It is serious and despite the poll predictions of a Labor win, it could be a close-run race.

Tight margins and close races

The Andrews’ Labor government has only the slimmest of margins in the Legislative Assembly (lower house) and has to rely on cross-benchers in the Legislative Council (upper house) to carry its legislation. This is a now familiar situation that we see in both federal and state politics around the nation; in Victoria it means that a small swing to the Opposition in a few key seats could deliver the Premiership to the Liberals’ Matthew Guy. Labor is also facing challenges from the Greens in several inner-city seats.

The Liberal-National coalition is hoping to pick up at least one marginal seat in the bayside region known as Melbourne’s “sand belt”. The seats in play here are Bentleigh, Carrum and Frankston which the ALP holds with margins under one per cent; and Mordialloc which Labor holds by 2.1 per cent. All of these are vulnerable to a swing and Matthew Guy has been campaigning hard in this region, almost to the detriment of other marginal seats that might be winnable. The Greens are challenging Labor in Brunswick, Richmond and Albert Park. Interestingly, the Liberals also hope to retake the seat of Prahran currently held by the Greens’ Sam Hibbins with a margin of only 0.4 per cent.

While the campaign has been relatively quiet and low key, with few really explosive issues to hang any voter anger on, there is no doubt that the key marginals will be the centre of attention in media coverage next Saturday night. Daniel Andrews has no room to be complacent with very tight margins in the sand belt seats, but Matthew Guy’s campaign has been hampered by a lack of funds and his own lack lustre personality that doesn’t appear to have broken through the fog of indifference that I think has descended on Victorian voters.

Andrews’ incumbency may also help, plus the fact that billions are already being spent on much needed and generally popular public transport infrastructure projects such as the removal of around 50 of Melbourne’s notorious level crossings. The only negative in this is that in some suburbs residents have opposed the so-called “sky rail” option of elevated train lines to replace the level crossings. Matthew Guy has attempted to capitalise on this discontent, and the coalition only needs a swing towards it of around 0.8 per cent to claim a majority in the Legislative Assembly. In the upper house a small swing towards the coalition could also see them gain control of the Legislative Council. It will be close.

——————

Dr Martin Hirst is a veteran journalist, writer and independent scholar. In a career spanning 40 years in the media, Martin has written millions of words in news stories, magazine features, radio documentaries, academic articles, blogs and books. His most recent book, Navigating Social Journalism, was published by Routledge, New York, in October 2018.

https://www.michaelwest.com.au/whos-got-the-energy-mix-to-win-the-victorian-state-election/

Public support is vital so this website can continue to fund investigations and publish stories which speak truth to power. Please subscribe for the free newsletter, share stories on social media and, if you can afford it, tip in $5 a month.