A close election doesn’t necessarily mean close seats: the new Victorian government has the narrowest possible majority, two seats, in the legislative assembly, but there’s been no real interest in the counting for the last week. As with August’s federal cliffhanger, every seat was decided in the first few days, and none of them shifted from what looked likely on the night.
Still, there’s some interest attached to the final lower house figures, as shown today on the Victorian electoral commission website. Most interesting perhaps is the turnout: despite the foul weather 93% of enrolled voters showed up. Contrary to all expectations, and sharply against the federal trend, that’s actually a small increase (up 0.2%) on 2006.
The cause is apparently the new system of on-the-spot enrolment. The commission says that about 30,000 people (0.8%) who took advantage of this turned out to be eligible and their votes were duly counted. But the turnout will make it harder for anyone to spin the result as a protest vote gone wrong: the electorate was apparently not quite as disengaged as we thought.
The Coalition of course led the primary vote with 44.8%, up 5.2%, for its 45 seats. Of that, 38.0% was for the Liberals and 6.7% for the Nationals, but since very few voters were given the opportunity to choose between them that breakdown should be treated with some scepticism. Nonetheless, it was clearly a good election for the Nationals; they gained ground on the Liberals in most of the three-cornered contests, knocking them into third place in Bendigo West and Gippsland East.
Labor’s primary vote fell to 36.3%, a drop of 6.8%, while the Greens solidified their position in third place with 11.2%, up 1.2% (a good deal better than it looked on the night — the absentee votes ran strongly in their favour). Of the minors, only Family First (2.3%, down 2.0%) and Country Alliance (debuting on 1.4%) passed the 1% mark.
One can argue about whether a coalition with about 45% of the vote should win a majority of seats — maybe the need for stable government can justify that — but it’s hard to see any argument for the distortion further down the scale. The Greens comfortably outvoted the Nationals for the third time running and won almost a third as many votes as Labor, but still failed to win a seat.
A system of proportional representation, on my calculation, would have returned an even left-right split: 34 Labor and 10 Greens, against 35 Liberals, six Nationals, two Family First and one Country Alliance.
In two-party-preferred terms, the Coalition emerged with 51.6% to Labor’s 48.4%, a swing of just on 6%. To win back the two seats it needs for a majority, Labor would need a uniform swing of just 1.2%, even though that would not give it a majority of votes — suggesting that the boundaries are weighted slightly towards the Coalition. But a redistribution due before the next election will presumably change those numbers.
The swing was remarkably uniform: only Murray Valley, with the retirement of its long-serving National Party MP, showed a swing to Labor. Previously safe Labor seats are now looking precarious, while the Coalition parties have entrenched themselves in seats that once looked marginal, with double-digit margins in seats like Ferntree Gully, Hastings, Kilsyth and Morwell.
Generally the swing was smaller in the regions, but that will be little consolation for the ALP as it is faced with defending a range of marginal seats there in 2014. There are now 15 Labor seats with margins below 4% — eight of them outside the metropolitan area — and if the new government maintains an even keel, it can be hopeful of further gains next time around.
And as icing on the cake, the government looks like having a majority in the upper house as well — but the final results from that are not due until next Tuesday. Stay tuned.