Victoria has been noteworthy in providing the Senate with both of the micro-party candidates to win election since the era of six-seat half-Senate elections commenced in 1990, electing Steve Fielding of Family First in 2004 and John Madigan of the Democratic Labour Party in 2010. The first of these results was a consequence of preference deals which Labor and the Democrats entered into with Family First in the unrealised hope of being their beneficiary. When Fielding emerged ahead of them in the count with help from One Nation and Liberals for Forests preferences, there occurred a transfer of preferences from the “left” to the “right” in the shape of the Democrats vote and Labor’s surplus after the election of its second candidate. The effect was to freeze out the Greens, who despite their strength in the state would have to wait until 2010 to win a seat. The intervening election in 2007 saw the Labor vote up 5.6% to 41.7%, which despite a strong Greens vote of 10.1% left their candidate well short of the 13.1% surplus left to the third Labor candidate.
Richard di Natale finally achieved the Greens’ breakthrough in 2010 in comfortable fashion, scoring a quota in his own right with 14.64% of the vote. Labor’s Senate vote slipped by nearly 4% to 37.75%, precluding the possibility of them winning a third seat in addition to the Greens. The other watershed of 2010 was that it marked the first six-seat election where the Coalition failed to win seats, the third right seat instead going to John Madigan. This was down to the Coalition recording its weakest result in Victoria since the Second World War, leaving them with a surplus of only 5.8% after the election of their second candidate. That Madigan rather than Steve Fielding was the beneficiary was largely down to preferences from the Liberal Democratic Party (a typically substantial 1.84%, some presumably from voters confusing them with the Liberal Party) and smaller amounts from One Nation and the Christian Democrats. The combined vote for these parties was 4.93% including the DLP’s base of 2.33%, well clear of the 2.64% vote for Family First. Family First preferences in turned flowed to the DLP ahead of the Coalition, whose only substantial source of preferences was the 1.39% vote for Shooters and Fishers. That put Madigan ahead of the number three Coalition candidate, Julian McGauran, a former Nationals Senator who had defected to the Liberal Party, whose preferences comfortably pushed Madigan to a quota ahead of Labor’s third candidate.
The outlook for the coming election looks on the surface to be straightforward, with an increase in the Coalition vote likely preclude another win by a micro-party of the right, and the Greens’ strength in Victoria suggesting they should be safe to take the third seat on the left rather than Labor. However, the Greens face the wild card of Julian Assange, bringing his enormous name recognition to bear at the top of the Wikileaks Party ticket. The party has suffered a serious blow from the negative publicity surrounding its preference tickets in other states, with prominent academic and ethicist Leslie Cannold resigning as his running mate (albeit too late late to affect her inclusion on the ballot paper) complaining that the party’s democratic processes had been bypassed. Nonetheless, Assange’s capacity to drain anti-establishment votes away from the Greens remains an imponderable that opinion polling is not well placed to measure, and he could potentially draw preferences from the Sex Party, the Pirate Party, two drug law reform parties and, less intuitively, Family First.
Labor’s ticket is headed by Gavin Marshall, who entered parliament from the number two position on the ticket at the 2001 election, which he maintained at the 2007 election. He has been promoted to top position this time, despite having failed to win promotion from the back bench. Marshall is an associate of Left faction powerbroker Senator Kim Carr, and like him was a principal of the move for Julia Gillard to be dumped in favour of Kevin Rudd. In second position is Jacinta Collins, whose background is with the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) and its attendant socially conservative Catholic tendency. Collins first entered the Senate in 1995 when she filled the casual vacancy created by the death of Olive Zahkarov, who was killed after being struck by a car in St Kilda. Collins was re-elected from the third position on the ticket in 1998, before being squeezed out by Steve Fielding’s election in 2004. She returned after securing the top position on the ticket at the 2007 election, from which she has now been knocked down a peg in an exchange of positions with Marshall.
It long appeared that Right faction powerbroker David Feeney would remain with the number three position from which he was elected in 2007, which on all analyses was unlikely to get him re-elected. Feeney had been obliged to settle for number three in 2007 after the top position, which had been vacated with the retirement of Robert Ray, was secured by Jacinta Collins, the number two position being reserved for the Left. Collins emerged the winner on that occasion after a turf war between her SDA faction and the Right sub-faction associated with Bill Shorten. His failure to rise further up the ranks followed a split in the Right which left him on the wrong side of a “stability pact” his factional colleagues Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy forged with the bulk of the Socialist Left faction. With a lower house berth appearing unavailable, it had reportedly been arranged that Feeney would be accommodated if a by-election was held in a safe seat in the wake of an anticipated election defeat, Julia Gillard’s seat of Lalor being an obvious possibility. However, Martin Ferguson’s retirement announcement in the wake of Kevin Rudd’s abortive leadership pitch in March had him successfully contesting preselection for his seat of Batman.
That in turn required a new preselection for the number three Senate position which was won by Mehmet Tillem, a Turkish-born electorate officer to Right powerbroker Senator Stephen Conroy. Tillem won 37 votes in the public office selection committee preselection against 25 for Kimberley Kitching, a former Melbourne City councillor, current Health Services Union No. 1 branch acting general manager, and the wife of controversial former VexNews blogger Andrew Landeryou. The result was another rebuff for Kitching and her backer Bill Shorten, who had become estranged from his long-term ally Conroy after his defection to the Rudd camp. Kitching had also been an unsuccessful contestant for preselections to fill the vacancies of Nicola Roxon in Gellibrand and Julia Gillard in Lalor. The Socialist Left abstained from the vote on the grounds that the Shorten-Conroy split meant the Right had failed to fill its end of the “stability pact” between the two factions. Tillem will at the very least serve out the remainder of Feeney’s Senate term, which expires in the middle of next year.
The Coalition runs joint tickets in Victoria by a long-standing arrangement in which the Nationals take the second and fourth position at alternating elections. This election gives the Nationals fourth place, meaning only Liberal candidates can be regarded as serious contenders. The ticket is headed by Mitch Fifield, who has held the outer shadow ministry portfolio of disabilities and carers since the 2010 election. Fifield has been in the Senate since March 2004, when he filled the casual vacancy created by the retirement of Howard government minister Richard Alston. He was previously an adviser to Peter Costello, and was closely associated with his never-to-be-realised leadership ambitions. Two further incumbents, Scott Ryan and Helen Kroger, occupy the second and third positions on the ticket, a reversal of the order from 2007 which followed a spirited preselection contest.
Key to Ryan’s promotion ahead of Kroger was his attainment of the position of shadow parliamentary secretary for small business and fair competition after the 2010 election, which on some readings of party convention entitled him to the higher position. According to one account, Ryan had used to his advantage new rules to democratise preselections by cultivating support in divisional branches with low membership, turning the tables on a Kroger camp whose power base was at higher levels in the party organisation. Like Fifield, Ryan and Kroger had both been associated with the Michael Kroger-Peter Costello axis in the Victorian Liberal Party, Helen Kroger being Michael’s ex-wife, but this tie had been weakened by the disengagement of each from factional politics and their eventual falling out. It was reported at one point that Fifield might be drawn into the fray, with Kroger’s supporters accusing him of engineering Ryan’s manoeuvre and considering keeping her afloat with a challenge to Fifield’s position at the top of the ticket. In the event, Fifield easily won the first round preselection with 251 votes against 92 for Ryan and 71, before Ryan won by 276 to 139 on the second round.
The Greens’ lead candidate for the election is Janet Rice, a former mayor of Maribyrnong and staffer to state upper house MP Colleen Hartland, who has most recently worked as a transport planner for the City of Hume. Rice held the second position on the party’s Senate ticket at the 2010 election behind Richard di Natale. She emerged the winner of a presleection vote in February 2012 with a final round vote of 355 against 327 for Brian Walters, a barrister and former president of Liberty Victoria who ran unsuccessfully for the state seat of Melbourne at the 2010 state election.