After the blast

Some scattered thoughts on the Victorian election:

• Hats off to Peter Brent of Mumble. His pre-campaign post of October 21 was outstanding in its prescience, and his post-mortem from yesterday said it all in 278 words. I am particularly keen on the idea that the late swing to the Coalition was not so much a reaction to campaign events as something that was always going to happen when minds became focused. This happened uncommonly late in the piece due to the national politics fatigue which has inspired Possum to write off the significance of any federal polling conducted before the new year.

• This is not to say that Labor didn’t make errors, and that the attack ads on Ted Baillieu’s real estate undertakings weren’t among them. Indeed, it may even have been enough to push them over the edge. The Roy Morgan Reactor “worm” responses to various party ads are instructive: the Baillieu Knight Frank ad was easily the most poorly received. The Liberals’ positive ads also went down a lot better than Labor’s, another symptom of the inherent difficulties faced by an ageing government. I suspect the Liberals did very well out of the message that voters should avoid signing on for 15 years of Labor government, which doubtless tapped into awareness of the situation north of the border.

• The debacle for the Greens ran deeper than a simple failure to win lower seats which might be blamed on Liberal preferences. Their 10.6 per cent primary vote was 2.1 per cent lower than at the federal election, and they seem likely to lose one of their three seats in the upper house. My guess is that extravagant claims for their place in a new paradigm lost them support they would normally get from voters who are indifferent to them ideologically, but simply seeking somewhere to park a protest vote. Compounding this was the Liberals’ preference decision, which as well as being damaging in purely instrumental terms reinforced perceptions of a party with a hard ideological edge. It would also have had many questioning their competence, and there was no figure in the state party of Bob Brown’s authority to help negate the idea.

• The election provided a further blow to new paradigm talk by producing the state or federal election result since 1993 in which no independent or minor party candidates won election to the lower house. The defeat of the Assembly’s sole independent, Craig Ingram in Gippsland East, would be troubling news for Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, with Ingram citing locals’ desire to avoid a repeat of the federal election aftermath as a reason for the fatal 14.1 per cent drop in his primary vote.

• Here’s a colour-coded map giving an idea of the swings recorded across Victoria. Labor-versus-Coalition figures in Mildura, Gippsland East and the four inner-city seats have been obtained by using preference flows from the last election. Apart from Labor’s relatively strong performance in the north and north-west of the state, nothing particularly stands out. Sophomore surges are evident in Ferntree Gully, Kilsyth, Hastings, Evelyn and especially Morwell, which Labor were surprised to lose in 2006 and are now locked out by an impressive 15 per cent margin for Nationals member Russell Northe. This is part of an ongoing story of Labor decay in the Latrobe Valley which has been evident at state and federal level over the past five years in particular. Retiring member effects explain the slight swing to Labor in Murray Valley, and perhaps also the heavy swing against them in Essendon. I wouldn’t read too much into the swing to Labor in Mildura, where comparisons are complicated by the fact that there was a sitting independent last time, which may have corrupted my preference calculation.

vic2010 - swing map

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

1,039 comments on “After the blast”

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  1. From the last thread.
    [One Labor MP believed the party’s “indulgence with the Greens had cost the tradespeople”.
    “There was not one tradie who asked for a how-to-vote card yesterday,” the MP said. “Out of all the calls I have made in my electorate in the last two years, not one person has asked me about climate change.”]
    The idea that tradespeople, as such, are naturally a core Labor base, is a fantasy, and possibly a damaging one. Tradespeople divide into two significantly different groups. Employee tradespeople (and especially the unionised ones) can reasonably be seen as a naturally Labor-leaning group. But a lot of tradespeople are in business for themselves, and business operators, no matter the business, are naturally the core of the Coalition base.

    (Of course there are both Labor voters and Coalition voters in every group, it makes no sense to write any group off as a whole, still less to actively antagonise it if that can be avoided, but there’s an important question of emphasis here.)

  2. Shaun Carney with his wrap up of the election

    Brumby and his Labor MPs are justified in concluding that they were part of a generally effective government, free of serious scandals and corruption. However, they need to get past that. If they can manage to avoid the usual post-defeat course of ex-governments – pointless grieving, finger-pointing, directionless internal debates and leadership instability on the way to another election loss – they’ll make history.

    The bright spot for Labor? Freed from the burdens of office it might just be able to produce a strategy to recapture its base and deal with its greatest long-term threat, the Greens.

  3. More on who could take over as Labor leader

    Already Labor factional powerbrokers are privately discussing potential replacements for leader John Brumby.

    Most Labor insiders expect Mr Brumby to step down as leader and possibly resign as an MP if the Coalition wins power.

    While well-equipped to be a stopgap Opposition leader, Attorney-General Rob Hulls may also quit, leaving Labor without a recognised successor.

    The young ministerial turks Tim Holding, Daniel Andrews and Jacinta Allan have been earmarked as being part of the first post-Brumby leadership team.

    Labor’s Right faction is likely to have the biggest say, favouring Mr Holding.

    A senior party source said former Carlton champion Justin Madden – despite a troubled past two years – could not be ruled out.

  4. The Greens seem to attract equally over writing over their prospects and predicitions that they have reached their limits. A long term perspective I think is required that takes account of substantial grass roots base and participation in local government, the extent at the state and territory level of the extent to which the electoral system gives them the possibility of representation in the lower house, ACT and Tasmania take a bow and the strong evidence of a structural shift in the under thirty vote towards the Greens.

    Ceertainly in the ACT I reckon that structural factors are more important than Bob Brown in driving Green support.

  5. [“You can’t get obsessed with them,” Mr Shorten told The Australian. “The pressure the Greens put on Labor distracted from our efforts against the Liberals and took resources away. The Greens took up valuable energy.”]

    A few people here seem to be obsessed with the Greens.

  6. Wow. Madden is in the running to take over from Brumby.

    [A senior party source said former Carlton champion Justin Madden – despite a troubled past two years – could not be ruled out.]


    [I must admit I am looking forward to, but not expecting, SHY getting up and eating a bit of humble pie.]

    Are you expecting Gillard to get up and eat humble pie?

  7. William

    I would not be surprised to see Labor’s margin come down in Bendiog West once an ALP vs Nat analysis instead of an ALP vs Lib.

  8. I will rephrase the previous post


    I would not be surprised to see Labor’s margin come down in Bendigo West once an ALP vs Natcount is done instead of an ALP vs Lib.

  9. Diogs,

    Back to your old trick of selective quoting, eh?

    “Mr Shorten also described Mr Baillieu’s decision to place the Greens last powerful and defining.

    “I think he got a lift because of his decision not to preference the Greens,” Mr Shorten said. “He gave himself political definition. They are like a dinner party conversation gone viral.”

    He said that while the obsession with the Greens needed to be contained, ignoring them altogether was equally flawed.

    “I don’t think it’s wise to write the Greens off at all,” Mr Shorten said. “Labor is foolish to ignore the Greens.”

  10. Do the current taxation arrangements, which appear to favour self-employment over being employed, create a conservative constituency?

  11. Antony Green still projects Labor to retain Eltham and Macedon, so 45 Coalition, 43 Labor would seem to be the most likely result, at this point anyway.
    The best leadership team for Labor in opposition: Tim Holding/Jacinta Allen.

  12. [@William Bowe Do you think the Greens are too dependent on Bob Brown?]

    THe problem for The Greens is not related to any particular personality, Michelle. It has much more to do with the party’s focus and identity, and also that of the Labor Party.

    THe Greens began life as essentially a ‘single issue” environment party, and as such drew support from small numbers of people from across the political spectrum. As it has developed , broadened its perspective, and expanded its electoral base, it has become much more a party of the socially progressive, environmental left and centre left. In doing so it has filled a “niche”, largely vacated by Labor during the period in which the latter has migrated further to the right in an effort to capture more of today’s mainstream suburban vote and become increasingly controlled by the right and centre right factions.

    The Greens “constituency” today consists largely of the well educated young (brought up in an era when environmental issues and socially progressive ethical issues have come much more to the fore, and when the dominant industrial issues of earlier years have receded in public focus somewhat), together with social progressives, “lefties” and environmentalists from earlier generations.

    This is a not insignificant “block” of voters, and likely to gradually increase in size to a certain extent as more young people reach voting age, but it is not likely to put The Greens in a position in the foreseeable future where they will really threaten as an alternative to the “big two” mainstream parties when it comes to dominating political power or winning a general election in their own right. If it remains in its current “niche” it is likely to remain a party of influence and ideas , rather than a primary party of Government. (This is not an insignificant thing , and is something which can be sustained for long periods of time, as we see, for example, with “niche” parties in other parts of the political spectrum, such as the Country / National parties in Australia or the Liberal Democrats in England.)

    Its alternative, of course, is to try to take more of the “middle ground” by shifting towards the centre. But there is a “catch 22” in this. Doing so would inevitably mean that it had to increasingly abandon its very reason d’etre and would place it in greater competition with the existing major parties. It could try to be a “better” major party, but in so doing would obviously run into huge conflict with Labor especially. To succeed it would have to sacrifice its core values in favour of a more populist (in terms of current “mainstream” values) and conservative approach. Once it goes beyond a certain point with such things, though, both its current supporters and the people it is seeking to target will simply say “What’s the point? The Labor Party already fits that bill”. It could try to take such ground (and no doubt there will always be friction around the edges), but in so doing it would really only cut the ground out from under itself.

    The Labor party faces a different set of challenges, though there are some similar elements involved. It has always prided itself as being a “broad church”, but it is itself getting increasingly “stretched” in its attempts to meet the demands of both ends of its own, very substantial “niche”. You can see this in the frustration of people like Ron in some of the threads here (and of Bill Shorten, in today’s Australian), when he complains bitterly that Labor are being “attacked from both sides”. It is also reflected in J-D’s earlier comment in this thread when he points to the changes in the Australian workforce, with the increasing division of traditionally Labor supporting tradespeople into employees on the one hand and self employed contractors and sub contractors on the other. The increasing affluence of Australia and huge growth of what would once have been called the “middle class” and would now be called “aspirational voters” no doubt has also played a part in such things

    In trying to deal with such things while maintaining electoral relevance Labor has moved inexorably towards the centre and the right. (This, in fact, has played a major part in the expansion of the “niche” that the Greens occupy). To be sure, there still remain many people in the Labor party itself, and others who support them, who are “of the left”, or who hold strong socially progressive ideals, and these people actually play an important role in preventing the “niche” that Labor occupy from shrinking too far “on the left”, but the major focus of power in the Labor Party really lies much closer to the centre right these days.

    THe trouble for Labor is that if it tries to stretch its own niche too far it too ends up losing its focus and credibility. Policies that appeal to social progressive , environmentally focused, people towards the “left” end of labor simply don’t cut it for socially, often religiously, conservative people on the “right”. We see exactly this tension in the internal conflicts in Labor in recent times as the “pragmatists” in the party try to balance issues such as policy on matters such as asylum seekers, carbon taxes and gay marriage. The broader the spectrum you seek to represent, the more difficult the balancing act becomes. Labor are traditionally very good at this sort of act, but they have probably reached or exceeded the possible limits to such things at present. It then becomes much easier for others to attack them from both sides.

    Labor basically has two choices in a situation like this (and the approach they take will inevitably have an impact on the size of the “niches” of both the Greens on the left of them and the Liberals on the right).

    If they seek to maintain their position at the right end of the spectrum and contract a little from the left it certainly helps them at least hold the ground against the Liberals, though it increases the appeal of The Greens at the other end of the spectrum.

    If they shift the balance to the left, however, while it keeps The Greens at bay (and if Labor was really intent on destroying the Greens it could probably do so by genuinely moving “left”, but it would be hard pressed to win government if it did so) it makes it much harder to retain enough of the group who were once described as “Howard’s battlers” and others on the cusp of the conservative end of the Labor spectrum to retain government. It simply isn’t possible to be all things to all people in politics and retain sufficient focus and integrity in the eyes of voters to retain power.

    So Labor’s choice, it seems to me, is to either remain over-extended, trying to simultaneously hang on to the left and the right, or to shift its focus a little, allowing either the Libs or the Greens to grow a little, but forcing a contraction of the party at the other end of the spectrum. Electorally, it seems to me, there can really be only one effective choice for the “pragmatists” in the party. The Libs are the real threat to the existence of a Labor Government. Every vote which goes to them is a clear vote against Labor and every seat the Libs take increases the chances of the Conservatives taking government. At the other end of the spectrum, however, the vast majority of Greens votes come back to labor through preferences anyway, and even if they take a seat or two they are far, far more likely to support the existence of a Labor government than a Liberal one.

    For the Greens the choice, however, is whether to try to become a party of government in its own right, or to continue its current role as a party of influence and ideas. My own opinion is that if it seriously attempts the latter, by adopting more “mainstream” policies, for example, it will lose much of its raison d’etre and simply be completely destroyed by Labor. If, however, it sticks to its “niche” on the left it stands a very good chance of being a significant, though not dominant, force in Australian politics for many years to come. It is, in fact, likely to gradually grow in importance as time passes and environmental matters become of increasing importance to “mainstream” Australia.

    My own view is that both Greens and Labor need to be realistic about such things and actually focus on the positive benefits that it can bring them both, rather than focus excessively on fighting each other . It is easy for me to say this , of course, because my own personal philosophocal / political position sits pretty neatly around the point where the two parties come together. A strong Greens Party on the left coupled with a strong, more centrist Labor party leaves the Conservatives with less of the “spectrum” available for their own niche on the right. If Labor and The Greens work more or less co-operatively they can both retain their own core territory while more effectively keeping the Libs at bay limited to a position on the narrower end of the right.

    THe Conservatives actually seem to have recognised this threat much more rapidly than either Labor or The Greens, and are doing their dangdest at present to foment discord between Labor and The Greens in Parliament, in election campaigns and through the mainstream media. They certainly aren’t doing this because of any love they have for either of the other parties. They are doing it because they recognise what what dangers an effective ongoing alliance between Labor and The Greens would pose for them.

  13. I just shudder to think how many MPs the ALP will have in the LA in NSW following their election if such a thumping occured to the relatively competent and corruption free Brumby administration???

  14. Whoops!

    “My own opinion is that if it seriously attempts the latter, by adopting more “mainstream” policies, for example,”

    should, of course, read “My own opinion is that if it seriously attempts the former, by adopting more “mainstream” policies, for example,…”

  15. [… and even if they take a seat or two they are far, far more likely to support the existence of a Labor government than a Liberal one.]

    Rod, there’s the problem right there. You ask that Labor make all kinds of adjustments to accommodate the Greens and yet the Greens reserve the right to work with the other side of the political spectrum if the opportunity arises.

    Why not do the same as the Libs have done. Say you will never work with the Liberals and never preference them. You can’t have it both ways.

  16. [Say you will never work with the Liberals and never preference them. You can’t have it both ways.]

    I’ve long said that I think that The Greens and Labor should preference each other as a matter of course, George, in much the same fashion that the Libs and the Nats do. Not being a member of either party I don’t have much influence over such things, though, I’m afraid!

  17. Peter Ryan winning classy

    Usually the end of an election in Australia means a relatively civil period where any transition occurs very politely. It seems the normally really impressive Nats Leader and incoming Deputy Premier Peter Ryan missed that memo if his effort yesterday is any guide.

    At the conclusion of his presser on the front steps of Parliament House, an ambulance sped by with siren wailing loudly, prompting him to remark “it was off to the Brumby household” to the unimpressed scribes

  18. I’ll add that I think both Labor and The Greens will need to make “adjustments”, but I don’t think The Greens have anything like as much real power in the situation as Labor. Labor, as I have said, could probably destroy The Greens quite quickly by simply moving to the left (though it would be electorally damaging for them to do so). The Greens, however, would simply cease to be relevant if they really attempted to become “mainstream” by adopting increasingly “moderate” policies.

    What BOTH sides need to realise , though, is that there can be real advantages by working out a more effective working relationship with clearer understandings about such things, in the same way that the conservative Coalition parties did to great effect so many years ago.

  19. Rod

    I agree with all your summary, but I think the Greens have had a rush of blood to the head and there are a few egos getting in the way of considered thought. Tying some of their more “progressive” policies in with the environmental concerns has scared some supporters.

  20. This was the message for Green supporters in Gembrook (a seat on a tight margin, which fell to Libs).

    [The decision to run an open ticket in Gembrook, and to not recommend voters to preference the ALP as in the previous state election, is due to the ALP giving their second preference in the upper house of Eastern Victoria to the Country Alliance party ahead of the Greens.
    The Country Alliance party do not think climate change is human induced and support logging and shooting on public land.
    It was only after the ALP changed their second preferences in Eastern Victoria from the Greens to Country Alliance that the early choice of preferencing the ALP in Gembrook was re-considered. The ALP was told that Gembrook preferences were dependent on their upper house preferences not going to Country Alliance first.
    This was a hard decision for the The Greens to make especially in light of the good environmental record of the current member Tammy Lobato, but I thought it was important for you as a member to understand the reasons behind this decision. It is ultimately the decision of the green voter who to preference after voting Greens 1.]

  21. Victorian Labor MP Rob Hudson is refusing to concede defeat in the state election’s crucial seat of Bentleigh, despite the Liberal candidate edging towards victory.

  22. [ agree with all your summary, but I think the Greens have had a rush of blood to the head and there are a few egos getting in the way of considered thought. Tying some of their more “progressive” policies in with the environmental concerns has scared some supporters.]

    Yes, I’m sure that it has, lizzie. The Greens are less appealing to, for example, former Liberal voters with an interest in the environment than they used to be. This, in part, is a consequence of the movement of Labor to the right opening up the “niche” on the left that The Greens now largely occupy. Once The Greens moved into this niche then inevitably they became less appealing to ex Liberal environmentalists, though they increased their appeal to others substantially by doing so.

  23. Glen

    tsk. You are coming across as a fair weather friend – one minute bagging the Libs, but the second there’s a sniff of victory running straight back to them.

    I do understand the impulse, but it does suggest that there are still traces of Kool aid lingering in your system.

  24. [I am not surprised Brumby is in denial who’d have thought the Libs would be winning seats with 10%+ swings…]

    They have JUST scraped in, if they don’t do a good job they will be easily removed, actually a good result for Labor after eleven years!.

  25. [
    I agree with all your summary, but I think the Greens have had a rush of blood to the head and there are a few egos getting in the way of considered thought

    Exhibit one: Greg “we hold all the cards” Barber!

  26. [Exhibit one: Greg “we hold all the cards” Barber!]

    Any big-heads in Labor, Madcyril?

    Funny that politics should attract people with an over-healthy view of their own significance, isn’t it! 😉

  27. I laughed when Barber on election night said it was a great result for the Greens lol!

    I suspect Barber is one reason the Greens failed so badly.

  28. RH

    Interesting and thoughtful analysis.

    One question is about your assumption that the middle class is growing. I have no stats but I did have a gut feeling that the Australian middle class, whatever it is, is actually reducing in size relative to those below and above.

    I would also question whether Labor could supplant the Greens ‘quite quickly’ by moving to the left. Six year Senate terms in the feds would actually make it quite a slow process.

    Because of the distribution of Green voters (compared to, say, the distribution of Nats voters), any analysis of power relationships would have to focus on the BOP in the Senate rather than any actual or potential BOPs in lower houses.

    Finally, sooner or later, perhaps even with the current Vic election, Greens will have to confront the issue of whether they are prepared, under any circumstances, to hand government to the Coalition. They might find that some of their support might vanish if they hand power to the Coalition once or twice.

    Meanwhile, Labor as you rightly point out, Labor also has a dilemma. It gains none of the benefits of progressive thinking while copping flack about being in bed with a bunch of wild-eyed left greenie loonies.

  29. Rod, In a world full of “big-heads” Barber somehow managed to come across as the biggest head of all. That interview Glen mentions was hilarious. I still reckon Josephine Cafagna was on the verge of openly laughing at Barber

  30. [Glen

    tsk. You are coming across as a fair weather friend – one minute bagging the Libs, but the second there’s a sniff of victory running straight back to them.]

    Indeed. Abbott described himself as a weather vane. The same might be said of Glen.

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