Victorian opposition leader Daniel Andrews smacked down the coarse Greens assault from Labor heavyweights Sam Dastyari and Paul Howes during the Melbourne byelection campaign. Party officials were glad he did today, pointing to the more nuanced strategy as a core factor behind Jennifer Kanis’ victory on Saturday.
The approach — fermented by factional hardheads and rolled out in the wake of the NSW Right’s off-piste attack two weeks ago — hardened resolve among centrist voters considering a dalliance with the Greens’ Cathy Oke and Liberal voters marooned without a candidate.
The Greens primary vote jumped from 31.92% at the 2010 state election to 36.37% on Saturday (against a very low 33.32% for Labor), but that was influenced by an historically low voter turnout. Andrews’ call to run the line that only Labor can enact the progressive policies that both parties share pricked some Labor ears and helped corral the 25% Tory vote clustered around Docklands and East Melbourne.
“Daniel’s strategy worked, and it’ll work again in 2014”, a senior Labor Left source told Crikey this morning.
The scene at the Labor celebration at Flemington-Kensington bowls club on Saturday night was one of cautious jubilation mixed with LBJ-style realism as the carefully-curated preference patchwork of minor parties filtered back into Labor’s pile.
Kanis was in a festive mood, with hubby Davydd Griffiths (smashing an official club tracksuit) working the bar offloading $4.50 VBs and connecting multiple kegs until after 2am. There was only one hitch — the lack of EFTPOS facilities — which sent some scribes scrambling to the Greens’ more maudlin shindig at North Melbourne’s Lithuanian Club.
Those that remained, including feisty Altona MP Jill Hennessy, were rewarded with rivers of pinot grigio at the dubious Doutta Galla hotel in Flemington Road. One Left wag noted the faction “finally succeeded in taking over Doutta Galla”, recalling the parade of right-aligned MPs that controlled the former upper house province from 1976 onwards.
The role of the S-x Party on Saturday — that garnered 6.6% of the vote and preferenced Labor — will be carefully watched in the lead-up to next year’s federal election. Greens sources claimed this morning that candidate Fiona Patten had admitted to a deal with Labor when they called to negotiate a preference arrangement, leaving two possible chop-outs on either policy or preferences.
As independent candidate Stephen Mayne reported yesterday, only 55% of S-x Party votes ended up in Labor’s tally (against probably 30% if it had fingered the Greens), equating to about 100 extra votes for Kanis. But don’t be surprised if the party’s enthusiastic serial candidate ends up with some preference largesse and perhaps a stronger bargaining position on Capital Hill.
Two of the p-rn party’s pet policy peeves are the internet filter, still in limbo pending the “restricted” classification review, and the proposal to track internet usage for two years, currently before Attorney-General Nicola Roxon.
Patten is said to be very keen to ascend to the Senate, and will want to garner strong preference flows from Labor’s group voting ticket to stand any chance of success. Stephen Conroy, while all but ruling out preferencing the Liberal Party ahead of the Greens in Victoria, stayed mum on whether Patten could trump the Greens No. 1 Senate ticket candidate Janet Rice. If the Greens fail to achieve a quota in their own right, Rice could be tipped from the third left-leaning Senate position in favour of Patten.
Privately, some Greens loyalists are smarting over some of the policy scrambling that dogged their campaign the last few days when Age state politics scribe Tom Arup managed to extract some long-winded funding explanations from Cathy Oke.
Adam Bandt had backed rival candidate Rose Iser for preselection against Oke, and there was a suggestion that Iser — who has forged strong links with local housing commission groups as Bandt’s community liaison officer — may have managed to squeeze some facial recognition juice out of Flemington public housing tenants (even though the Greens vote at the Flemington booth actually jumped).
Without the Liberal preferences he snagged 2010, Bandt will also struggle to get over the line, leaving the curious scenario where Rice ascends to the red leather while Bandt is forced to return to a grey Slater & Gordon hot desk.
With the Greens yet to concede Saturday’s result, strategists are asking questions about the whereabouts of the 853 former North Melbourne Central booth votes recorded in 2010 (the booth was abolished for Saturday’s ballot). While the North Melbourne booth recorded a jump in voters of 484 and Hotham Hill soaked up 150, curiously 300 fewer voters rocked up at North MelbourneEast. Despite the overall slump in voter turnout, numbers of actual voters on most booths were either up or down by a couple of percentage points.
Greens psephologist Stephen Luntz says that in the absence of an unopened box of ballot papers hidden behind a closed door “we have to choose between two unlikely things: that hundreds of people in North Melbourne alone chose not to vote, and that the VEC staff were so incompetent as to not notice a discrepancy. I can’t think of a third explanation.”
But locating a rogue box won’t change the overall result with the Greens only likely to pick up, at a stretch, 150-200 votes — not nearly enough to bridge the current Labor margin of about 750.
Rank and file Greens members are also eagerly awaiting the release of a Greens-commissioned YourSource exit poll, that may shed more light on why some voters decided to plump for or avoid the party.