The official kick-off is not until tomorrow, but campaigning for next month’s Victorian election is already under way. Since the fortunes of the major parties aren’t expected to change much, an unusual amount of attention is falling on their lesser rivals.

Yesterday saw campaign launches by both the Greens and Family First. It’s interesting that as the Greens come to look more and more mainstream and respectable, the hysteria against them only seems to increase.

This is not really a paradox, since the hysteria is so obviously manufactured. Both the new professionalism of the Greens and the agitation against them come from the same source: the fact that they are the obvious frontrunners among the minor parties to win seats in Victoria’s new reformed Legislative Council.

Hence the Greens’ obvious air of confidence, and their determination to run a campaign that avoids the impression of extremism.

Hence also their stress on the positive, ignoring their competitors – with the notable exception of Bob Brown’s pointed threat yesterday against a Labor preference deal with Family First.

And hence also Family First – coyly described by The Age as “regularly linked to Christian groups” – gearing up for an almighty scare campaign. Steve Fielding yesterday said that the Greens holding the balance of power “will be devastating for the families of Victoria”.

This sort of negative strategy is risky, since it just gives the Greens more of what all minor parties need most: publicity. But Family First, with at best about a quarter of the Greens’ support, obviously feels it has little choice.

Even so, some commentators continue to play down the Greens’ prospects. Today’s Australian, for example, says “Most pundits are predicting the Greens could pick up three seats.” A repeat of the 2002 results, however, would give the Greens five or six seats, with another three well within reach.

The other leading minor party, the Nationals, have not been so quick off the mark, with only 15 lower house candidates so far (out of a planned 33) on their website.

But when they get going there’s no doubt that they too will have the Greens in their sights.