The Australian reports the latest Victorian state Newspoll has Labor with a two-party lead of 52-48, a return to reality after the 55-45 lead they recorded in the July-August survey. However, the headline-grabber is the 19 per cent Greens vote (up two), dragging Labor down three points to 35 per cent with the Coalition up four to 40 per cent. John Brumby’s personal ratings are 45 per cent approval and 42 per cent disapproval, down three and up one on last time, while Ted Baillieu is on 39 per cent (steady) and 42 per cent (up one). Brumby’s preferred premier lead has narrowed from 52-27 to 49-31.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, we can now draw seat projections from Antony Green’s state election calculator, which asks of us two-party scores for both Labor-Coalition, which Newspoll gives us, and Labor-Greens, which it doesn’t. However, Newspoll does paint a beautifully straightforward picture of the Greens gaining 9 per cent on the primary vote since the 2006 election and Labor losing 8 per cent, with the Coalition treading water – making it a fairly simple matter of crediting the Greens with a two-party swing of 8 to 9 per cent. This puts Labor on 47 seats out of 88 and has the Greens right on the cusp of winning Northcote, to add to the lower hanging fruit of Melbourne, Richmond and Brunswick (and pushing them into second place in a brace of Melbourne Liberal seats). Assuming three seats as a more realistic scenario, and taking the re-election of independent Craig Ingram in Gippsland East as a given, hung parliament scenarios begin to occupy a big chunk of the two-party bandwidth: from 50.8 per cent for Labor at the top end (where the calculator gives Labor 44 seats out of 88 in scenarios where the Greens win three) to 48.0 per cent at the bottom. And that’s leaving aside the possibility of major party applecarts being further upset by the emergence of new independents.

However, all of this rests upon the assumption that the Greens will continue to receive Liberal preferences, and a growing chorus of voices can be heard within conservatism urging them not to. This was joined yesterday by John Howard, who said his party had “nothing to gain” from assisting a party that was “worse than Labor” – not that he was ever observably squeamish about the practice in his own time. Mixed with any genuine concern about a Greens threat to the fabric of society is frustration that the Liberals get nothing in return for their generosity, either in the form of preference deals or a realistic prospect of parliamentary support in the event of a hung parliament. Exercising their preference muscle, the Liberals would hope, would help keep Greens minds focused during such negotiations in future.

The threat certainly gives the Greens a lot to think about, providing Bob Brown with further cause for distaste about the preference negotiation merry-go-round. Adam Bandt’s victory in Melbourne rested heavily on the Liberals playing their normal preference game: Labor’s Cath Bowtell had a narrow lead when their candidate was excluded at the second last count, but obedient Liberal voters then proceeded to break 80-20 Bandt’s way on preferences. Without these preferences flows, seats in the lower house would become a distant prospect indeed – and they would also find life that little bit harder when competing with Labor for final seats on their more familiar upper house turf.

UPDATE: Now we have a small sample Morgan phone poll which concurs with Newspoll’s 52-48, but gets there from very different primary vote figures: 40 per cent for Labor, 42.5 per cent for the Coalition and 13 per cent for the Greens. Preferred premier is similar to Newspoll, with Brumby leading 47.5-32.5, but both leaders’ personal ratings are much worse: Brumby is on 36.5 per cent approval and 49 per cent disapproval, with Baillieu on 33 per cent and 46 per cent. The poll was conducted in two stages over the previous fortnight with a sample of 415 and a margin of error of about 5 per cent.