In the last Victorian election, in 2002, the Greens directed preferences to the ALP in the vast majority of seats.

But in about 20 seats, mostly Liberal-held, their how-to-vote cards carried either split tickets (giving the voters two options, one with preferences to Labor and one to non-Labor) or open tickets (simply asking them to vote “1” Greens and distribute preferences as they saw fit).

That was enough for the Greens to get Liberal preferences ahead of Labor across the board, including the five inner-city seats (four lower house and one upper) in which they finished ahead of the Liberals and therefore came within striking distance of beating Labor.

They got Labor preferences as well, but that was of no importance since they never finished ahead of Labor: the closest they came was in Ted Baillieu’s seat of Hawthorn (30.5% to 19.8%).

This year, Greens behaviour is much the same. Most preferences are directed to Labor, none to the Liberals, and 27 seats have split or open tickets. Most of those (15) have margins above 6%; of the 12 marginals, only two (Morwell and South Barwon) are Labor-held.

Both times, the Greens have maintained that these decisions are made locally, although this should be taken with a grain of salt.

Again, it will have little effect. Greens voters usually preference Labor anyway, regardless of what the how-to-vote card says: at most it might bring Labor’s share from 85% down to 75%.

Liberal preferences are again going to the Greens in the inner-city seats, but the chance of knocking off one or more high-profile Labor MPs makes that a self-interested decision for the Liberals.

And whereas last time the election was being fought out in Liberal seats – because everyone knew there would be a big swing to Labor – this year they have received little attention.

Most of the action is in the eastern suburbs marginals that Labor is defending, and it will get Greens preferences in all of them. Yet the difference in Labor’s reaction between the two elections is stunning. In 2002 it made little fuss about Greens preferences, but this year it is accusing them of the basest treachery.

Two obvious explanations suggest themselves. One is that in 2002 the Greens, coming off a vote of only 1.15% in 1999, were not taken seriously as a threat. Labor is unlikely to make that mistake again.

The other is that following the 2004 federal experience, the Victorian ALP is especially sensitive about preference deals. Psychologists call this “projection”: the party that put Steve “Plan B” Fielding in the Senate now thinks its rivals are guilty of dealing with the devil.

Peter Fray

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