Even The Age’s Ewin Hannon is visiting the marginals an election must be in the offing. Hillary Bray reports on what’s going down in Victoria.

The one problem with November 30 is you would have to call the election on November 4, the day before the Melbourne cup. Not exactly a day to gain any friends in the media by announcing an election.

December 7 sounds a slightly more convenient .

The battle for the Victorian Legislative Council

With everyone expecting the Bracks government to romp it in, the real interest will be what happens in the Legislative Council. The current house has 24 Liberals, six Nationals and 14 Labor members, with the members facing election this time being 13 Libs, three Nats and six Labor. In addition, a 14th Liberal seat faces a by-election in East Yarra, and the National Party’s Roger Hallam creates a fourth National seat with a by-election in Western Province.

A repeat of the 1999 elect would see Labor gain three seats in Geelong, Chelsea and Waverley provinces, and Eumemmerring and Gippsland Provinces both sit on margins if under two per cent. That result would give the National Party the balance of power in the Council, and the ability to negotiate Legislative Council reform with the Bracks government.

If it sounds far-fetched that the Labor and National Parties would do a deal on Council reform, don’t forget that’s exactly what happened in Western Australia in the 1980s. Labor couldn’t get one-vote one-value boundaries through, but instead did a cosy little deal which created low-quota regions that helped Labor and the National parties at the expense of the Liberals. Something similar occurred in the Federal Parliament in 1984, too, when the Nats sided with the Hawke Government to support the enlargement of the Senate.

The only problem in Victoria is the number of National Party vacancies. Ron Best is retiring in North Western province. Jeanette Powell is moving to contest the lower house leaving a vacancy in North Eastern province, and Roger Hallam’s retirement adds a third National seat with no sitting MP. In addition, Labor has some chance of winning Gippsland province from the Nationals.

With Liberal Leader Robert Doyle announcing the Liberals will contest every seat, you can see the Liberals will be going all out to cannibalise the Nationals to maintain control of the Council. But contests in four provinces means full campaigns in 16 lower house seats. Of those 16 seats, four are held by Labor, one has a Labor MP in a seat now notionally Liberal held, two are held by Independents, the balance being three Liberals and six Nationals, two of whom are retiring.

Labor must be rubbing its hands together at the thought of the Liberals devoting resources to cannibalising the National Party rather than trying to defeat the government.

And what’s THIS ballot paper for?

The poor old Victorian Electoral Commission is faced with a slight administrative problem in the Legislative Council seat of Western Province at the coming election.

Victoria is the only mainland state that has not moved to using proportional representation for the Legislative Council. The state has 22 provinces covering four lower house electorates, each province having two MPs elected at alternate elections.

However, if a member retires midterm, a by-election can be held in conjunction with the state election, meaning two separate elections are held for the same province.

At the looming state election, two MPs have announced they will be retiring, East Yarra Province Liberal MP Mark Birrell, and Western province National MP Roger Hallam.

The problem is that there has been a redistribution, and the state election will take place on the new province boundaries, but by-election vacancies will be filled using the old province boundaries.

This is proving a nightmare for the electoral officials. All voters will receive a lower house ballot paper as normal. About 125,000 voters will receive two Western Province ballot papers, and 27,000 voters added to Western Province will not take part in the by-election but vote in the Western Province election.

But how about this. Some 5,000 voters will vote for North-east Province, but also vote in the Western Province by-election, and 20 that’s right, 20 will vote in Geelong Province and the Western Province by-election.

Administrators are scratching their heads about whether this means some people are voting absent for one election and not the other, and how to determine who should receive what ballot paper. No doubt the parties will also have to figure out what to do with how-to-vote cards.

You can’t help thinking the Bracks government will use the whole issue as another argument for reform of the Legislative Council.

Saving the Best for Louise

Victorian National Party MLC for North-east Province, Ron Best, has chosen to retire. Not exactly earth shattering news, but one joke doing the rounds is he is doing it to spend more time with his family.

The joke of course is that he is married to former Liberal Deputy Leader Louise Asher, which is why the old “family reasons” excuse has not been used. When Asher first ran for pre-selection in her seat of Brighton in 1999, the fact she was shacked up with Best and not actually married was used as a part of a whispering campaign to try and defeat her. At least Best has since been good enough to make Louise an honest woman.

And while on Asher and Brighton, we can’t help putting forward our six degrees of separation entry. Asher used to work for former NSW Liberal Health Minister and later Opposition leader Peter Collins. She won pre-selection for Brighton after the retirement of former Kennett government Treasurer Alan Stockdale. And who is Stockdale married to now? None other than Dominique, former second wife and glamorous opening night partner of Peter Collins.

That’s the sort of political connection that normally only occurs in Adelaide.

How to win an election

Speaking of Adelaide, the part-time South Australian Liberal Leader Rob Kerin was spotted in Spring Street last week. Presumably he was sharing his experiences, not his expertise.

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Peter Fray

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