With one day ago, published opinion polls indicate joy for Labor premier Daniel Andrews and despair for Liberal leader Matthew Guy.
The Herald Sun Galaxy poll has Labor leading 53-46 and Fairfax-Reachtel a decisive 54-46. If either is accurate on the night, Labor will gain seats from the Coalition and Guy’s leadership will be in jeopardy.
Make no mistake, Labor’s won the headline campaign. It has been able to build on its record of delivering what it promised in 2014, especially the inspired commitment then to remove 50 level crossings around Victoria over eight years. Going into the election, Labor’s crossing completion rate is ahead of schedule and it now has promised even more removals. Its big-ticket infrastructure plans, including a $50 billion ring railway around middle suburban Melbourne, have caught pundit imaginations and column inches, and the obligatory computer animations on the TV news. It has made sure that schools and hospitals are central to its policy and messaging, with Andrews taking the ‘I don’t care what it takes, I will build it’ attitude he displayed to the point of arrogance at Wednesday’s Sky News People’s Forum.
But crucially, Andrews has won the campaign because his and Labor’s soft underbelly has been protected from the Coalition’s blowtorch. That a fortnight ago this government’s incompetence allowed the radicalised Islamic terrorist, Hassan Khalif Shire Ali, to penetrate the Melbourne CBD’s security cordon the very week permanent bollards and de facto tank traps costing $150 million were being installed, barely rated a mention in the aftermath of the attack. That Ali was known as a terror risk by not only Victoria Police and the Chief Commissioner, but to the Premier and Attorney-General, is unforgivable.
That ministers have been directed not to cooperate with a police investigation into the ‘Red Shirts’ election funding scandal is an elected government giving two-fingered ‘up yours’ to the law and the Victorian justice system. Blatant luvvie-pandering social engineering and gender indoctrination, especially the appalling Safe Schools programme, is well to the left of mainstream community opinion.
That Andrews openly takes direction from militant unions including the CFMMEU, and that the bullies of the United Firefighters Union have been allowed to run amok to destroy the Country Fire Service and shaft volunteer firefighting in the state and, with Andrews’s apparent passive consent, destroy the Left-aligned emergency services minister who dared oppose it, should have been a crown of thorns worn right up to election day – but wasn’t.
And that the Andrews infrastructure medicine show would be implemented only with huge borrowings, when all indications are the national and state economies are headed for serious downturns, will be an incubus on all Victorians for decades if Labor wins on Saturday.
On the face of its record, its culture and the company it keeps, the Andrews government doesn’t deserve re-election. A fish rots from the head, and Daniel Andrews heads a rotting fish. But the dour, humourless Andrews message that ‘we are delivering and I get things done’ appears to have resonated if the public polls are right.
Matthew Guy, on the other hand, has struggled to get heard. His strong messages on law and order were blunted by the Bourke Street attacks: not because they were invalid, but because of the fear of being painted as politicising a tragedy (despite Andrews effectively if subtly doing the same by announcing a state funeral for the person killed, café icon Sisto Malaspina).
But it was the lack of a clear, cut-through message, a lack of a narrative and clear vision for the state, that has most handicapped Guy. Changing government is not just homing in on the incumbent’s failings and showing what they deserved to be chucked out: it is giving the electorate a clear alternative to jump to. Despite Guy campaigning hard and well, the Coalition hasn’t done that.
To their credit, the Liberals’ administrative committee decided to run candidates in three of four inner-city seats, realising that while this may re-elect Labor MPs, it keeps the Greens out of a balance of power result. That sources say this was done in defiance of party president Michael Kroger is in itself laudable in the circumstances.
And that for four weeks, The Liberals failed to call out Labor on blatantly dishonest saturation adverts pinning Guy, as a Jeff Kennett adviser to the ‘Liberal cuts’ of the Kennett years, is an unforgivable campaigning failure. If ever there was an opportunity to remind voters that it was only responsible but unavoidably tough government by Kennett that revived a state bankrupted by Labor’s profligacy and incompetence in the Cain and Kirner years, this was it. Sober and responsible economic management was a Liberal trump card, but it was never played.
Yet all is not lost for Guy. The Coalition needs just a net eight seats for a majority, and both Coalition and Labor sources indicate that in a dozen or so marginal seats the ground battles are very competitive. The string of Melbourne Bayside seats – Bentleigh, Mordialloc, Carrum and Frankston that tipped government in 2010 and 2014 have featured strong local Liberal candidates running well-planned local campaigns against mostly plodder and/or Labor factional hack MPs. Other outer suburban Labor-held seats like Eltham and Cranbourne are also in play, again more due to good local campaigns and local issues than the insipid statewide Liberal effort.
As for those published polls, a lot of that consolidated ALP two party-preferred vote may well be locked up in safe Labor seats. And a last word about those polls: in 1999 the comparable Herald-Sun poll had then premier Kennett ahead 54-46. That seemingly unassailable margin gave enough voters sufficient reason to ‘send a message’ to Kennett while not kicking his government out. Yet so many did just that that kicked out it was. It still may be that the final polls will allow voters to deliver a similar boot up the bum to Daniel Andrews. Let’s hope they do.
Therefore, the Coalition is still in it because of this and effective marginal seat campaigns local factors, and ins spite of the effort of the party HQ in 104 Exhibition Street. My prediction: a Labor win. Not the landslide the polls suggest but a narrow win, probably buttressed by its recovering the luvvie heartland seats of Melbourne, Brunswick and Prahran from the Greens – who haven’t rated a mention here because their campaign and candidate choice has been so woeful.
But perhaps it will be better for the Liberals if it is a thumping on Saturday. A narrow ‘what might have been’ loss, after such a sub-par statewide campaign, will guarantee that the scapegoating and blood-letting in the party about the performance of its organisational leadership and ‘104’ will be a sorry spectacle.
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