As counting continues in the Victorian election, Labor’s prospects of controlling the new upper house have slid further into doubt.

Labor is assured of 19 seats out of 40, with another two in doubt. One is star recruit Evan Thornley in Southern Metropolitan: he has been losing ground as the count progresses, and it now looks likely that the region will return just one ALP, three Liberals and one Green. The below-the-line votes could still change the picture, but Thornley’s chances don’t look good.

Also in trouble, however, is Elaine Carbines, Labor’s number three in Western Victoria; Labor and the Liberals will get two each there, but the fifth is now up for grabs, with a serious possibility that the DLP will win a seat.

To win, the DLP has to do three things: first, get ahead of rival fundamentalists Family First; second, with the aid of Family First preferences, get ahead of the Nationals (who will also have what’s left as surplus from the Liberal ticket); third, keep the Greens ahead of the ALP at the end of the count.

If they fall at either of the first two fences, then the final spot will be fought out between the Greens and ALP; whichever gets ahead will win on the preferences of the other. But if the DLP stays in, and the Greens are ahead of the ALP, then ALP preferences go first to the DLP, and will elect them.

At the moment, the DLP is passing all three tests, although like Southern Metro it will depend on the distribution of below-the-line votes.

The Greens have been improving through the count; that increases their chance of winning, but only if the DLP gets knocked out by either Family First or the Nationals. If the DLP gets up instead, it will be entirely at the gift of ALP preferences: a repeat of the 2004 Family First Senate victory.

So Labor would lose upper house control and be in for more internal recriminations, but it would not be all bad news. It would have an extra option in the same way that John Howard does with Steve Fielding: support from the DLP would give it the 20 votes to block opposition motions or, if Thornley gets up, the 21 to pass legislation.

And the DLP preference deal did involve a quid pro quo: in Northern Metro, the DLP varied its usual practice to preference the third ALP candidate, Nazih Elasmar, ahead of the Liberals. The Labor vote has been dropping throughout the count; Elasmar will get up comfortably, but without those DLP preferences his spot would be looking precarious.

Peter Fray

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