The Victorian Liberals’ decision to preference Labor ahead of the Greens could have a major bearing on this Saturday’s election.
STATE elections normally attract little interest beyond the borders of the state in which they’re being held.
Not so with this Saturday’s Victorian poll, since much hinges on it.
The reason is twofold.
Firstly, will Victoria become Australia’s third Labor-Green controlled government in less than 10 months?
Secondly, what’s the likely outcome of the Victorian Liberal Party’s surprise decision to preference Labor – its traditional rival – ahead of the ever-strengthening Greens?
A Labor-Green government emerged from Tasmania’s election last March, and August’s national poll produced a similar, although not identical, result.
In Tasmania, a formal executive-based alliance emerged between these left-of-centre parties, with Greens leader Nick McKim entering cabinet and his partner, Cassy O’Connor, becoming cabinet secretary.
Nationally, Greens Victorian MP Adam Bandt and Tasmanian Greens-oriented independent Andrew Wilkie were helpful additions to Labor leader, Julia Gillard, retaining power.
But the crucial factor was the decision by one-time NSW Nationals Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott to discard their ostensibly right-of-centre status to side with Gillard-led Labor.
Because of this dual backing, Ms Gillard immediately handcuffed herself, via an inter-party treaty or deal rather than an executive power-sharing arrangement, to the Greens. So, after June 2011, when the Greens gain balance of power status in the Senate, the prime minister will formally head a Labor-Green government.
At the Victorian poll the Greens will either take a hat-trick, or they’ll narrowly miss out.
Understandably, all pundits are claiming a close-run contest.
Victoria’s Liberals obviously thought long and hard before deciding that the large rock and hard place they find themselves between required something new, because the Greens would be the big winners if the Liberals repeated what they did nationally in August by preferencing Greens ahead of Labor.
Seen thus, the Victorian Liberal move is essentially a spoiling action – to hopefully ensure Victoria doesn’t tread the Tasmanian-Canberra hung parliament or Labor-Greens alliance path, thereby further boosting the Greens’ confidence.
But Liberal leader Ted Baillieu preferred to explain this by claiming that a Liberal victory was the option being offered voters.
“Victorians have a choice,” he said.
“They can choose a Labor-Greens alliance ... or they can make a decision for change.
“I think Victoria, indeed Australians, don’t want hung parliaments; they want a clear choice. I am not interested in Labor in power.
“I am not interested in a hung parliament.”
But polls aren’t suggesting a coalition victory, even though nothing in politics is impossible.
By opting to confront the Greens, in the way the John Howard-led Liberals treated One Nation at the 1998 and 2001 elections – putting them behind Labor on how-to-vote-cards – Mr Baillieu virtually assures Labor Premier John Brumby another term.
But a Labor-Greens alliance cannot be discounted despite the Liberal spoiling action because the better the Liberal coalition performs – Baillieu’s stated aim is victory – the greater the chance of a hung parliament since Labor would gain fewer seats, and thus be more likely to find itself needing to turn to the Greens to share power.
Moreover, pundits, and State Scene’s on-the-spot adviser on Victorian politics, say the Greens will most likely take victory in two seats – Melbourne and Richmond.
Both are inner suburban, so inhabited by well-heeled lawyers, accountants, public servants and related service industry employed professionals and semi-professionals, all with nice superannuation schemes.
Such occupational backgrounds are noteworthy because evidence to hand suggests Greens backers are, overall, the wealthiest of any parties’ line-up, while at the same time being furthest from grind-stone jobs that tend to keep the rest of us with our feet firmly on the ground.
That’s why the generally tertiary trained politically correct wealthy Greens tend to so ardently support a range of policies that seek not only the dismantling of Australia’s economy, but also so many of Australia’s traditional values and customs.
According to my Melbourne-based political observer, the wealthy Greens will most likely win the state seats of Melbourne and Richmond because they’d out-performed Labor’s candidates at those booths during the August national election.
But there are two others in the balance – Brunswick and Northcote.
Although harder to take from Labor, it’s not impossible because in Brunswick the sitting Labor member has retired, making this a fresh Labor-Greens race, while Northcote also has a sizeable pro-Greens tilt.
For Victoria’s Liberals defeat isn’t only something confronting them on Saturday but also into the foreseeable future, over the second decade of this century, and maybe well beyond.
Since losing to Labor in 1999, power has eluded them.
And the man who lost to Labor then, Jeff Kennett, said this about the Liberals’ chosen anti-Green/pro-Labor preferencing stance.
“While it’s not the decision I would have made, it is typically the decision Ted Baillieu would have made,” he said.
“Ted has always believed that he would do what is in the best interests of Victoria and that plays a superior role to what might be in the best interests of the Liberal Party.
“He has put Victoria’s short and long-term interests above his own political interests.”
A re-interpreting of the Baillieu and Kennett comments, although backing opposite options, suggests they’re saying essentially the same thing – for us it’s heads we lose, tails they win.
The only dispute is who the ‘they’ are.
For Mr Baillieu it’s John Brumby-led Labor, while for Mr Kennett it’s a Greens hat-trick.
Now, when a Liberal leader and his most successful recent predecessor only differ on the nature of the next likely left-of-centre government, their state has certainly fundamentally changed.
It’s worth remembering that Victoria of the Henry Bolte/Rupert Hamer years (1955-81) was called ‘the jewel in the Liberal crown’.
And because Victoria is such a dominant state in terms of the number of federal seats, this doesn’t auger well for Tony Abbott at the 2013 federal election.
That’s also bad news for Western Australia and Queensland, Australia’s wealth-generating ‘sunny states’, together so crucial in keeping the nation, including for Victoria’s and Tasmania’s well-healed Greens voters, solvent with living standards high and rising.
Remove from Australia’s export equations coal, iron ore, gold and gas, and the nation would be a very different and poorer place.
So it’s here we find the crucial underlying rift, not too strong a word State Scene stresses, across Australian political, economic and cultural life.
Victoria and Tasmania – two economically ‘rusty states’ that are emerging as Australia’s south-eastern ‘green corner’ – together have 42 federal seats to WA and Queensland’s combined 45.
Last election’s results showed that Canberra’s proposed super taxing of mining in sunny Queensland and WA, the Labor-Greens desire to boost energy costs through ongoing levying of carbon dioxide gas, plus deficit spending via ever greater borrowing, struck minimum discordance with most Green corner voters.
Keep your fingers crossed China’s iron ore, coal and gas demands don’t slide or that Greens’ backing for super taxing of mining and boosting energy costs doesn’t kill, or even wound, those golden geese.
The only consoling thought is that, if that occurs, all those wealthier-than-average green corner Greens voters could no longer afford to trade-in their hybrid cars as often.
They’d also have diminished superannuation payouts, and wouldn’t be able to buy the latest IT gadgetry as often as they’d like.