As the fragmentation of the Senate crossbench continues to dominate headlines, one of the most pressing questions ahead of Victoria’s state election on Saturday is what manner of upper house the incoming government might face.
The electoral system for Victoria’s Legislative Council is very much like that for the Senate, and there have been few indications that voters have become any less disaffected with the major parties than they were at the time of the federal election.
Furthermore, the example of the Senate result has encouraged a swarm of new contenders to enter the fray, giving voters more than twice the number of options they had in 2010.
The machinations of “preference whisperer” Glenn Druery in co-ordinating alliances of mutually preferencing micro-parties have also been back in the news, although the extent of his influence is no doubt overstated.
On the other hand, there are also reasons to think that the preference-harvesting game will not be quite so easy this time around.
The Legislative Council system doesn’t make life nearly so hard for below-the-line voters, who need number only five boxes, not all of them, as they do for the Senate. This hasn’t made much difference to the above-the-line voting rate in the past, which was 97% at the 2010 state election, but the Senate result may well have raised awareness of the undesirability of having one’s preferences determined by party negotiators.
There is also a higher quota for election to the five-member regions that constitute Victoria’s Legislative Council than there is at the six-seat elections typically held for the Senate, meaning candidates must harness 16.7% of the vote rather than 14.3%.
What chance then a new squad of Jacqui Lambies and Ricky Muirs determining the fate of Victoria’s legislation over the next four years?
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Antony Green’s upper house election calculators offer an indispensable tool in considering such questions, allowing the user to enter hypothetical party totals and watch the flow of preferences unfold (allowing for the slight inexactitude that all votes are assumed to be above-the-line).
“The chances of a Legislative Council entirely dominated by the established players would appear to be exceedingly slim.”
However, the calculators are only as good a guide as the numbers that are put into them, since the order in which even the smallest of parties are excluded can have a decisive bearing on the result.
For the larger parties, a baseline can be determined by comparing the trend of state opinion polling with the results from past elections.
The best available guide to the strength of the smaller parties is the Senate election result, from which results for each of the eight regions can be derived with reference to polling booth data.
There are still a few difficulties here, particularly with respect to the Liberal Democratic Party, which wiped itself out of contention at the Senate election in Victoria by failing to submit a group voting ticket, thereby requiring supporters to number every box below the line. It’s also clear that the Senate results sell short the Country Alliance, which has put in a far more determined effort at state elections than it did in the Senate.
However, educated guesses can respectively be reached with reference to results from other states and the 2010 Victorian state election. Numbers reached in accordance with these principles suggests that we are indeed more likely than not to see a few boil-overs, particularly in the country regions.
The Country Alliance came very close to winning a seat in the Northern Victoria region at the 2010 election, and there’s nothing in the preferences this time to suggest candidate Robert Danieli won’t go the distance if the party’s vote holds firm and the Coalition vote drops anything like as much as the polls are suggesting.
Jeffrey Bourman of Shooters and Fishers looks a strong chance of landing a seat in Eastern Victoria, which would give the party a presence in a third state upper house to add to its two seats in New South Wales and one in Western Australia.
In Western Victoria, Moyne Shire mayor James Purcell, who is running under the banner of Vote 1 Local Jobs, stands to follow the example of Ricky Muir in absorbing preferences from both sides of the ideological fence by virtue of his very inoffensiveness.
The metropolitan regions are somewhat less promising for the minor players, but here too it is possible to cook up scenarios in which the stars align for Family First, People Power, Voice for the West and no doubt others I have failed to consider.
Taking all that into account, the chances of a Legislative Council entirely dominated by the established players would appear to be exceedingly slim.
The more likely question is how many micro-party players will find their way into the mix, and whether the electoral gods will see fit to deliver them the balance of power.