The Napthine government goes into Victoria’s November state election as slight underdog, a unusual situation for a first term government in a country that traditionally gives governments at least two terms in office.
There has not been a first term government defeated in Victoria since 1955. Across Australia since 1969, there have been only five governments come to office and be defeated after a single term. These were the Tonkin Labor government in Western Australia 1971-74, the Tonkin Liberal government in South Australia 1979-82, the Borbidge Coalition government in Queensland 1996-98, and two minority governments in Tasmania, the Bethune Liberal government 1969-72 and Field Labor government 1989-92.
At the 2010 Victorian election the Coalition polled 51.6% of the state wide 2-party preferred vote, winning 45 seats to 43 for Labor.
In an 88 member chamber where the Speaker’s casting can only be used to resolve a tie, the Coalition government was left with a bare floor majority of 44 to 43. The move of Frankston MP Geoff Shaw to the crossbenches has since tied the party vote 43-all, making Shaw’s actions on every vote critical to the functioning of the Legislative Assembly.
At the 2014 election Victoria’s electoral geography will change, with a deferred electoral redistribution making major changes to electoral boundaries reflecting 12 years of uneven population growth, especially in Melbourne.
The redistribution’s overall picture is that two safe Coalition seats have been abolished, one National and one Liberal, and two safe Labor seats created in Melbourne’s west.
There have also been important knock-on effects to other electorates. Labor may have gained two new seats, but five seats it currently holds now have notional Liberal majorities. Overall the new boundaries give the Coalition 48 notional seats and Labor 40.
On the old boundaries Labor needed to gain two seats on a uniform swing of 1.2% to form government. On the new boundaries the number of seats needed for victory increases to five, but the uniform swing falls to 0.9%. (There is more information on the political impact of the redistribution via this link.)
Remarkably for the Coalition, only three of its nine most marginal seats will be defended by sitting members. Five have Labor incumbents and the sixth is held by controversial independent Geoff Shaw.
This gives the Coalition no incumbency advantage, minimal ‘sophomore surge’ of new members defending seats gained in 2010. This could be a critical factor at an election where all polls have been showing a state wide swing to Labor.
It reminds me of the Western Australian election in 2008 when Labor lost after going into the election with sitting members in only four of its 13 marginal seats. The Labor government had instituted one-vote one-value electoral laws, creating a host of new marginal seats in Perth. The Carpenter government was defeated, creating the first gap in the wall of coast-to-coast Labor governments.
Now Denis Napthine finds himself in the same predicament as Alan Carpenter. Perhaps as with Western Australia in 2008, the 2014 Victorian election will mark a new turn in the national party political cycle.
In this post will concentrate on assessing the government’s propsects of holding on to its nine most marginal seats. Using results in these seats at state elections since 1985, I’ll show how these seats have tended to mirror the state wide swing. The conclusion from this analysis is that any state wide swing to Labor is highly likely to be reflected in the key seats that Labor needs to win to form government.
On the new boundaries, the government’s most marginal seat is Wendouree (0.1%), a seat previously known as Ballarat West and before that Ballarat North. It is the first of the five marginal Liberal seats currently represented by a Labor MP. Under its old electoral name it was won by Labor’s Sharon Knight in 2010, succeeding long serving Labor MP Karen Overington.
I’ll first explain my analysis using the Wendouree graph. (You can click on all the graphs for a larger version.)
The two lines show Labor 2-party preferred, the yellow line being the electorate results since 1985 and the black line the overall 2-party preferred vote for Victoria. Points above the 50% line represent a Labor majority, points below 50% a Liberal majority. The vertical lines represent redistributions, so when a seat’s margin is changed by a redistribution, two points appear and the yellow line may be broken. In the case of Wendouree, the yellow line for 2010 shows the actual result of 51.1% for Ballarat West, while the second dot shows the post-redistribution result of 49.9% for Wendouree, corresponding to 50.1% Liberal 2-party preferred.
When the yellow line is above the black line it indicates the electorate is more Labor leaning than the state as a whole, and when it is below the line it indicates the electorate being more Liberal leaning than the state.
In the case of Wendouree and its predecessors, the electorate has been more Labor leaning than the state at every election since 1992, though Ballarat West was not won by Labor until 1999.
The yellow dot showing the new margin indicates that Wendouree is still more Labor leaning than Victoria as a whole. On past voting patterns for Wendouree, any state swing to Labor should be reflected in Labor winning Wendouree.
Wendouree Candidates: Labor MP Sharon Knight, Liberal candidate Craig Coltman, who also contested the seat in 2010.
The redistribution also turns Yan Yean (0.1%) on the northern fringe of Melbourne into a ultra-marginal Liberal seat, but again it currently has a Labor representative in Danielle Green. Yan Yean and its predecessor Whittlesea have been Labor held for three decades, but lying on the northern edge of Melbourne, its boundaries tend to be radically altered by each redistribution.
Danielle Green was first elected in 2002 after the 2000/01 redistribution had also turned Yan Yean into a notional Liberal seat. It has been a repeated pattern in this part of Melbourne that the new housing estates covered by Yan Yean tend to be Labor voting, and with these areas being where the enrolment growth is concentrated, Labor is assisted by growth. Even if there is no swing at the next election, population growth might be pushing Yan Yean back on to Labor’s side of the electoral ledger, and the Labor Party will be assisted by Danielle Green campaigning as an incumbent. If there is any swing against the government, Yan Yean will be very difficult seat for the Liberal Party to win.
Candidates: Labor MP Danielle Green, Liberal Sam Ozturk, Greens Daniel Sacchero
In the last three decades, Carrum (0.3%) has only been won by the Liberal Party twice, in 1996 when is was the only Liberal gain on the re-election of the Kennett government, and in 2010 when it was one of the Liberal Party’s key gains on the Frankston line. Of elections since 1985, the 2010 result was the only one where the Labor 2-party preferred vote in Carrum was below the state wide vote. As shown by the redistribution dot for 2010, Carrum has become more marginal on new boundaries. Only twice since it was first created in 1976 has Carrum been won by the Liberal Party, in 1996 and in 2010, though the electorate has been drifting towards the state average over time. The trend analysis in the graph indicates that Carrum will be tough for the Liberal Party to hold in the face of a state wide swing to Labor. One possible advantage for the Liberal Party is in having an incumbent MP in her first term, though that did not help the Liberal Party in 1999.
Candidates: Liberal MP Donna Bauer, Labor Sonya Kilkenny
Frankston (0.4%) is greatly complicated by the resignation from the Liberal Party of controversial MP Geoff Shaw. The graph below shows that since Frankston returned to being a single seat at the 2002 election, its results have closely matched the state vote. Sitting just below the black line of Labor’s state vote indicates the seat has generally been more Liberal leaning, though the redistribution now puts Frankston above the black line though still notionally Liberal held.
The Geoff Shaw factor greatly complicates analysis, but it is clear Frankston will be a key contest, and once again the government does not have the advantage of incumbency.
Candidates: Geoff Shaw Independent MP, Liberal Sean Armistead. Labor is engaged in a new pre-selection after its first nominated candidate` Helen Constas was forced to stand aside.
Bentleigh (0.9%) was the last Labor seat to fall at the 2010 election. It has generally been a more Liberal leaning electorate over the last three decades, only being on the Labor side of the black line at the last two elections. The Liberal Party also has an incumbency advantage in Liberal MP Elizabeth Miller defending a seat she won in 2010. As a seat that swings in line with the state vote, Bentleigh will be tough for the Liberal Party to hold against a swing, but it has better prospects than in other marginal seats.
Candidates: Elizabeth Miller Liberal MP, Nick Staikos Labor, Sean Mulcahy Greens
Monbulk (1.1%) is another notional Liberal seat being defended by a Labor MP, in this case Labor Deputy Leader James Merlino. This is a seat that has tended to follow the state trend, and with a sitting Labor member, it will be tough for the Liberal Party to win Monbulk if there is any swing to Labor.
Candidates: James Merlino Labor MP, Mark Verschuur Liberal
Mordialloc (1.5%) is the fourth of the key marginal seats that straddle the Frankston line. Like Bentleigh, the Liberal Party has an advantage in defending this seat with a first term MP in Lorraine Wreford. However, once again Mordialloc is a seat that has tracked the state swing. Only twice since 1955 has Mordialloc and its predecessor Mentone failed to return government members, Mentone being retained by the Liberal Party on government defeat at the 1982 election and Mordialloc in 1999.
Candidates: Lorraine Wreford Liberal MP, Tim Richardson Labor
At the 1999 election, the dramatic swing to Labor in small booths reporting from Ripon (1.6%) was the first sign that the Kennett government was in trouble. As the graph below shows, prior to 1992 Ripon had been a strongly Liberal leaning electorate. Between 1992 and 2006 it almost exactly tracked the state vote. In 2010 it recorded a well below average 1.6% swing against Labor, creating a divergence in Labor’s favour in the graph. The redistribution has reduced Labor’s 2-party preferred vote to 48.4%, which means the redistributed margin for Ripon now sits precisely on the black line.
Labor is disadvantaged by the retirement of Joe Helper, who has held the seat for Labor since 1999. His retirement plus the new boundaries makes Ripon a critical seat that the Coalition must win. The contest will be complicated by a three-cornered contest.
Candidates: Daniel McGlone Labor, Louise Staley Liberal, Scott Turner National
Lying to the east of Geelong, Bellarine (2.5%) is the fifth of the marginal Liberal seats with a sitting Labor MP. Lisa Neville has held Bellarine since coming in with the Bracks landslide in 2002. The loss of Labor voting Newcomb, Whittington and St Albans Park to Geelong, replaced by Liberal voting Barwon Heads from South Barwon, has converted Neville’s 1.4% margin in 2010 into a notional Liberal majority of 2.5%. Again this is a must win seat for the Liberal Party, but Labor has the sitting member, and in a regional seat such as Bellarine, the sitting member factor can be more important.
Candidates: Lisa Neville Labor MP, Ron Nelson Liberal
In summary, the Napthine government is in a weak position to retain government, with sitting members in only three of its nine most marginal seats. Labor incumbents in four of those seats are well placed to notionally win their seats back for Labor, while other marginal seats have in the past shown a tendency to follow the state swing.
Polls have indicated a decline in support for the Victorian coalition since 2010, grim news for the Napthine government. Unless the Coalition can improve its state wide position, its position in the key marginal seats makes it difficult for the government to win the 2014 election.