Possibility of a minority-Govt-in-Victoria

On 24 November Victorians will go to the polls. The state’s Labor government, headed by Daniel Andrews as premier, will be seeking a second term. Liberal leader Matthew Guy will be trying to argue that the Andrews government has failed and that the Liberal-National coalition should be elected to govern. For government to change, the liberal and National parties need to win another 7 seats in addition to all the seats they won in 2014 (including the seat of Morwell, which is currently held by a former National member now sitting as an independent). In theory this would require a two-party preferred swing of 2.7 percent. The opinion polls are suggesting that there is no such swing discernible at this time, but it is also the case that the election campaign has not really started yet.

The election for Victoria’s lower house, the Legislative Assembly, will determine which party or parties will form government and which party leader becomes premier. There will also be an election for the Legislative Council, the state parliament’s upper house. This election uses a proportional voting system and usually results in minor parties holding the balance of power. The upper house is an important part of the Victorian parliamentary system, even though it had its power to force early elections by blocking supply removed by constitutional reforms achieved in 2003. The upper house can still block all other bills, and governments have often been frustrated by the Council when trying to have important bills passed in the parliament.

The general expectation for the upper house is that the balance of power will again be held by minor parties, although it is a bit early to try to predict which parties will be in such a powerful position.  Indeed, the fact that the upper house should be subject to cross-bench control was intended when the Victorian constitution was reformed in 2003. The same intention did not apply to the lower house, however. Here the intention was that single member electoral districts and the use of preferential voting would result in parties that won government also winning a good lower house majority.

It is worth mentioning all of this given that there is a distinct possibility that the 2018 election could result in neither of the major parties having a majority in the lower house. This is partly due to the rise of the Greens as something of a force in recent Victorian politics. The Greens were immediate beneficiaries of the move to proportional representation in the upper house back in 2003. It has been the party’s ability to win lower house seats that has been the important development, however. This began with the party winning the seats of Melbourne and Prahran, and then picking up the seat of Northcote in a recent by-election.

These successes point to a concentration of support for the party amongst voters living in Melbourne’s inner suburbs. What will be interesting to see at the next election is whether something of a contagion effect occurs in which, having won three inner urban seats, others of a similar demographic disposition will follow. The Greens would be very confident of winning Brunswick, and would also have hopes of winning Richmond. Were this to happen, and were the party to retain its current seats, the Greens would emerge as an important block in the Legislative Assembly. Just how important this block would be would depend on how many seats the major parties are winning.

If the Greens were to win Richmond and Brunswick and no other seats changed hands, Labor would lose its lower house majority and would then have to depend on cross-bench support to be able to form a minority government. A uniform swing of 2.2 percent to the Greens in inner Melbourne would achieve this outcome. The situation would become more precarious were Labor to lose seats to the Liberals. However, for the Coalition to be in the hunt to form a minority government, the Liberal and Nationals would have to re-take Morwell, win six seats from Labor and hope to get the support of the independent member for Shepparton, Suzanna Sheed, should she be re-elected. The next best scenario for Mr Guy would be to secure six formerly Labor seats and for the Nationals to win back Shepparton.

All of these scenarios are quite feasible and would require only comparatively small shifts in the overall swing to occur. The Victorian election contest could be extremely close and there is a real possibility of there being either a government with a very slender majority or a minority government. Whoever wins government in the lower house will in all probability be in a minority in the Legislative Council. What is also interesting is that the Greens could emerge as the most important party in the Victorian parliament if it is the party that is able to command the balance of power in both the upper and lower houses.

The 2018 Victorian election shapes up as a very interesting contest indeed, and the prospect of a parliament being subject to the input of a variety of political parties is quite possible. For the Andrews government a real challenge exists as it tries to defend its marginal seats against the Liberals and some of its historically safe inner urban seats from the Greens. It remains to be seen if Mr Andrews and Labor can sustain a battle on two fronts.

By Nick Economou

Dr Nick Economou teaches politics at Monash University’s Clayton campus in Melbourne, Australia.

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