Victorian Liberals Blood Bath
The extent of the Coalition’s loss in the Victorian elections far exceeds predictions in pre-election polling: it looks like a 5% swing against the Coalition which could mean they hold only 25 seats in a Lower House of 88 total seats and could lose 5 of their 16 seats in the Upper House, which has 40 seats. As such their capacity to constitute an effective opposition will be difficult, to say the least. The unanswered question is why such a loss has occurred particularly in the so-called sand-belt area on the east coast of Port Phillip bay which would include middle income groups.
There are numerous explanation for the large loss but there seems little doubt that the Victorian Liberal party under the leadership of Guy (who has been re-elected) failed to explain to the electorate what the Liberal Party stands for and how it distinguishes itself from Labor. For example, he apparently refused to have a debate on Sky News (which now broadcasts through Victoria) and this is reputed to have typified his attitude to media. By contrast Labor leader Andrews’ claim that Victoria under him became the “most progressive state” received attention on the ABC and the Fairfax press.
Guy failed to promote a view which, while agreeing that the state had an important role, also emphasised the importance of the private sectors in providing education, health and transport in particular as well, of course, as expanding the private sector economy, which is much bigger than the government sector. Guy could have made more of the strong economic and population growth in Victoria as reflecting the private sector’s initiatives. He could also have put in perspective Andrews claims of providing state education, health, etc services by pointing out that this is just what state governments are expected to do.
The Liberal Party’s “problems” at the federal level, particularly in regard to the dismissal of Turnbull as leader, would also have contributed to the loss of votes in Victoria. Turnbull’s deliberate undermining of the role of the Liberal Party, both during his leadership and after, undoubtedly caused a loss of “Liberal” voters, as shown in the continued poor polling while he was PM and the almost certain loss of the federal election if he had stayed. The take-over by Scott Morrison has however done little to help, partly because he has given the impression of agreeing with some of what Turnbull did and partly because he has not adequately explained his view on most major policy issues. These developments made it more difficult for Guy to promulgate policies at the state level. Morrison also made only one official visit to Victoria and spent considerable time during the election campaign taking a bus around north Queensland where no election is imminent.
Some Liberals (and the ABC) have argued that, with Michael Kroger as the elected head of the party, it has gone too far to the “right”. But as the failed Turnbull move to the left shows, this claim can scarcely be sustained. Rather, Guy should have moved to the right instead of trying to play down the middle or simply repeating what Andrews said. Shadow Attorney General Pesutto rightly complained that “something’s gone horribly wrong” as he watched the vote count narrow in his own seat of Hawthorn, which he has lost. He added “we’re going to clearly have to do a root-and- branch review, to bottom, of all of this… My own preference would be that the party needs to take urgent action to re-orient and get back on the right foot”. Whether he was using “right” to indicate a shift in the orientation of policies is not clear, but that is what is obviously needed.
As I pointed out in my previous Commentary of 22 November, this was particularly the case in regard to the mishandling of the terrorist threat and the Sudanese gangs by the Andrews government and, in particular, by Attorney General Pakula. An opportunity to use this “gift” to the Coalition was missed.
The one encouraging development from the election is that it appears that the Greens have lost seats in both the lower and upper houses. But this may be more a result of Labor’s attack on them and some self-inflicted wounds than criticism by Guy. Yet he had an opportunity to criticise the rise of electricity prices and the influence of the Greens but instead offered a subsidy.
Overall, whether at the federal or state levels this result is a reflection of the failure of the Liberals to distinguish themselves from Labor. Guy was a major offender and should not be re-elected as leader of the Victorian Liberals. The Newspoll due tomorrow is unlikely to show any improvement at the federal level and could raise questions about the federal leadership, which is already trying to say that the Victorian election was all about state issues (see Vic Election Result Has Federal Implications).