The most interesting aspect of this morning’s Melbourne Press Club function on the upper house balance of power was seeing the Victorian National Party treated as just another minor party along with the rest.

It was quite a comedown for the party (then called the Country Party) that dominated Victorian politics for 20 years and provided the state’s second-longest-serving premier (Albert Dunstan, 1935-45).

Leader Peter Ryan gave a typically feisty speech, in effect promising retribution against the Liberals for trying to do the sort of deal with Labor that he did in 2002. But it must have galled him to be sharing a platform with representatives of such walking corpses as the D.L.P. and the Australian Democrats.

The Nationals, however, seem to have accepted their fate. They have just 20 lower house candidates (three more than last time), having given up on the Geelong and Ballarat seats as well as such metropolitan fringe areas as Macedon, Seymour, Evelyn and Nepean (see complete lists here).

That should put paid to their chances of winning an upper house seat in the Western Victoria region, where they have candidates in only four of the 11 corresponding Assembly seats, and will reduce their chances in Eastern Victoria.

What really has the Nationals upset, though, is Labor preferences. The ALP pre-poll how-to-vote card (available on its website) gives preferences to the Liberals ahead of Nationals in all National-held seats, and to the Nationals in all Liberal-held seats (as well as in the Legislative Council).

In country seats held by Labor or independents, they are about half and half: five to the Nationals and four to the Liberals.

In most seats, of course, Labor preferences will never be counted; the only places they might make a difference are Lowan, Rodney, Shepparton and Swan Hill, all of which are now possible Liberal gains.

The Liberals in turn are running an open ticket in the inner-city seats of Brunswick, Melbourne, Northcote and Richmond, as well as preferencing Labor ahead of the Greens in the upper house.

The Nationals depict this as a deal between Liberals and Labor, but to me it just looks like Labor going back to its old tricks of trying to destabilise its opponents as much as possible.

Peter Fray

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