Eleven years in the suburbs

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I’m inclined to agree with Peter Brent and Phil Quin when looking at the 2010 Victorian election:


It looks like the Brumby government is gone and the Reasons are arriving. The Reasons follow the facts. Everybody has one.

Transport, arrogance and so on. The usual ones and some others.

There’ll be nagging and scolding and triumphalism directed at the Gillard government. Something about the ‘Labor brand’. Rediscovering their soul.

Some federal Liberals will take heart. No one will remember the Howard years included Coalition losses in every state and territory, mostly big ones.

But overall this is actually a good result for Julia Gillard and a bad one for Tony Abbott. At the next federal election the two biggest states will have no unpopular ALP governments.

The real Reasons are mainly 11 years in power and an acceptable opposition. And those generic ones anticipated back in September here. Some things are meant to be and are beyond trying to explain. Electoral gravity.

The fact that the polls narrowed during the campaign doesn’t mean the campaign caused it. Most of it was going to happen when people’s minds were focussed.

Because the Coalition has done well, the Greens preference decision is seen as clever, which makes it more likely to be taken up in other jurisdictions. I’m not as confident as some of Adam Bandt’s ability to withstand unfriendly Liberal how to vote cards.


For the Coalition to win, it needed to raid the band of seats that fell between 4 and 8 percent, a combination of regional and outer-suburban electorates. Of the eleven seats in this category, the Coalition has won two — Seymour and Carrum — and is leading in another, Bentleigh.  It is also very close in Eltham and Macedon, the latter sitting just outside the 8 percent range.   If the results remains as they are now, Seymour, Carrum and Bentleigh will be enough to deliver government to the Lib-Nat Coalition; if Bentleigh creeps back into the Labor column on the back of pre-polls, then we have a tie.

The results, therefore, won’t so much as raise the eyebrows of future political scientists.  Indeed, if a government of eleven years didn’t lose a swag of marginals, that would be more of a surprise.

But there is a bigger story underneath the numbers , and that relates to the scale and intensity of the swing in  Melbourne’s outer suburbs.  Here, Labor copped a unmitigated hiding. This is a demographic gripped with unease; the same economically stretched, culturally rattled (and predominantly white, non-Tertiary educated) voters that punished Obama in Pennsylvania and Ohio a few weeks ago, and have lashed out at Gillard, Gordon Brown and Helen Clark in recent times.  I plan to dig a bit deeper into this topic.  If the centre-left can’t grapple with this angry white problem, then we can look forward to plenty more replays of last night.

I spent election day in two seats: Brunswick (inner city, Labor vs. Greens Party) and Ferntree Gully (suburban, Labor vs Liberal Party).

A polling booth in Coburg. (Photo via @carlocarliMP)

While the Labor victory in the inner city was well-deserved, the feeling was completely different out east. The “death by a thousand cuts” was palpable: a range of policy failures were campaigned on hard by the Liberals, bunched under their slogan of “fix the failures, build the future”. After eleven years, Labor did carry a lot of baggage.

I’ll be keeping an open mind on election analysis, but I think Brent and Quin are fairly on the money here.

Some other thoughts:

1. Labor’s inner city strategy was a good one – focusing on Labor’s progressive achievements; Labor’s baggage of “no action on climate change” (as an example) was successfully neutralised. This in my view was necessary to win the seats and the motivate Labor’s volunteer base. I wouldn’t be surprised if Labor recorded a record number of new members and active volunteers in the inner city.

2. In the outer suburbs, Labor’s baggage was an appearance of wasting money on major projects (MyKi, North-South Pipeline, Desalination), combined with its legacy of 11 years in government. This wasn’t an election about the basics of service delivery – education, health – although Labor was hammered over public transport (above and beyond MyKi) and public safety (the result of 4 years worth of Herald Sun scare campaigns on crime and violence). The Liberal’s attack ads focused on this with strong effect, and without a leadership change to a new face (e.g. a Carr –> Iemma situation) voters in the last week of the election concentrated on the prospect of 15 years of Labor. The horror-stories from NSW probably haven’t helped.

3. Labor has never won 4 consecutive terms in government in Victoria – the tide of history was just too great. What is amazing is that the Liberals only won a 1 or 2 seat majority. While I agree with others that there are no real Federal or inter-state lessons to be learned from the Victorian result, I am hopeful that in NSW the actual size of the Liberals’ victory will be relatively small in absolute terms.

4. If there was an impact on this election by federal issues, I think it was a reaction against the hung-parliament situation where the minor parties and independents held the major parties to ransom. My feeling is that the minor parties and independents did poorly (none were elected at all in this election in the Lower House) because Victorians wanted a clear change and/or stable government, one way or the other.