Today is the official start of campaigning for Victoria’s 25 November election, so it’s as good a time as any to ask what is really at stake in this election.

Like some other recent state polls – notably NSW in 2003 and Queensland 2004 – the future of government is not in doubt. Steve Bracks will be re-elected; the opposition’s goal is not to win, but to position itself so as to be able to mount a serious challenge in 2010.

A good result for the Liberals would be a swing of 5% or more and a gain of ten or more seats. (The theoretical target for victory is 7.6% or 19 seats.)

It would completely break the mould of results in the other states, giving Ted Baillieu heroic status and ensuring his survival as leader. It would also dent Steve Bracks’s image of invincibility, perhaps fatally weakening his leadership.

A bad result would be a swing of less than 2% and a gain of less than three seats. The pattern of the other states would be confirmed, Ted Baillieu’s days would be numbered, and the Victorian Liberals would be at each other’s throats.

Steve Bracks, on the other hand, would be in line for the title of the second most successful premier in Victoria’s history, surpassed only by Henry Bolte.

Somewhere between those two possibilities is the tipping point where defeat would turn to moral victory. If the commentators are doing their job, expect them to probe over the next three weeks as to just where that point is.

Malcolm Mackerras, writing in yesterday’s Australian, says he expects the opposition to win seven seats. That’s probably not a bad benchmark for the minimum that Baillieu needs to be able to claim a success.

Mackerras is actually only tipping six Liberal gains, with Morwell (plus Liberal-held Benambra) to go to the National Party.

I’ve already said that I will eat my Crikey t-shirt if the Nationals win Morwell (last time they came fourth, with 12.3%), and while I won’t be quite so reckless about Benambra, it’s also a long shot. But it’s such idiosyncrasies that make Mackerras so readable.

Peter Fray

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