In 2006, a lot of the interest in the Victorian election was centred on the upper house, the legislative council. It was its first election under a new voting system and new boundaries, and there was real doubt about the outcome — in contrast to the legislative assembly, where everyone treated a Labor victory as a foregone conclusion.

This year things have changed: the lower house is more of a genuine contest, and the novelty of the reformed upper house has worn off. Which is a pity, because there are likely to be some close races and an outcome that again reflects the will of the electorate much better than the assembly does.

The upper house consists of forty members, all serving four-year terms, elected five each by proportional representation from eight regions (each region consisting of eleven lower house seats). It is much like a half-senate election, but the fact that there are five seats per region instead of six makes it easier for one side to win a majority, while the slightly larger quota — 16.7% rather than 14.3% — makes life slightly more difficult for minor parties.

In four of the eight regions — Eastern Metropolitan, Eastern Victoria, South Eastern Metropolitan and Western Victoria — there is no real doubt that Labor and the Coalition will win two seats each and the battle, as in 2006, will be for the fifth seat. (Note that I’m treating the Coalition as a single entity, although in 2006 Liberals and Nationals ran separate tickets.)

Last time, the Coalition picked up the final seat in Eastern Metropolitan and Eastern Victoria, Labor did so in South Eastern Metropolitan and the DLP got up in Western Victoria. The last of those is the most likely to change; since they are no longer getting Labor preferences the DLP’s chances are slight, and the seat is most likely to go to the Coalition, although the Greens are also in with a chance.

The Greens also have a shot at Eastern Metropolitan, but their position on preferences is so bad that they will probably miss out unless they can get a quota (or very close to it) on primaries — difficult, but not impossible. There are many fewer Greens in South Eastern Metropolitan, but they could get up there just by getting ahead of the third ALP candidate if there’s a big enough swing against Labor, an outcome that now looks unlikely.

Eastern Victoria is very unlikely to change. So is Western Metropolitan, which last time elected three Labor, one Liberal and one Green: the last vacancy was very close, but with Labor’s vote likely to drop the Greens should be a bit more comfortable this time.

The other close result in 2006 was Southern Metropolitan, where the third Liberal just missed out, leaving two Liberal, two Labor and one Green. This time there’s no real doubt that there’ll be enough movement to shift that last seat from Labor to Liberal.

The last two regions are hard to predict. Northern Victoria last time elected three Coalition and two Labor, but Labor’s preference deal with the shooters (Country Alliance) means they could conceivably unseat the third Coalition candidate. However if Labor’s vote drops as expected, its second candidate may miss out in favor of the shooters, or just possibly the Greens.

Even more difficult is Northern Metropolitan. In 2006 it was very straightforward — three Labor, one Liberal and one Green — but the expected swing against Labor makes its third seat precarious. A range of minor candidates are in contention, including the Sex Party, the DLP, an independent carers’ ticket (with the donkey vote) and Crikey founder Stephen Mayne.

Mayne has a strong position on preferences, and in his long record of quixotic candidacies this is probably his strongest chance, but it’s still a lottery. More likely the minors will all fall short and it will come down to whether their preferences are enough to put the second Greens candidate ahead of the ALP; the preferences of one of those will then elect the other.

(Disclosure here: said second Greens candidate, Alex Bhathal, is a close friend and I’ll be handing out how-to-vote cards in an attempt to get her across the line.)

In summary, the most likely result is that the Greens will end up with the balance of power on their own. But if the Coalition does well they could go from 17 seats to 19 (16 Liberals and three Nationals), and if the shooters beat Labor in Northern Victoria, or if one of the minors gets up in Northern Metropolitan, they could have the power to block legislation even without the Greens. A re-elected Labor government could be in for a difficult time.

For a slightly different view check out Tim Colebatch’s piece in this morning’s Age. (He’s more confident about the Greens’ chances than I am, although he doesn’t seem to include them in the hunt for Northern Metropolitan.) Enthusiasts can devise their own results with the aid of Antony Green’s calculator; he also has details of the 2006 results and handy summaries of the above-the-line preference tickets.

Peter Fray

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