Aside from the small matter of the change of government, Saturday’s Victorian election was, from a psephological perspective, a fairly modest result.

Particularly by Australia’s recent electoral standards, the changes in the parties’ shares of the vote were fairly small. On the count so far, Labor is up 2.5% on its 2010 primary vote with the Coalition down 3% — both of these should moderate further in late counting.

However, Labor’s two-party preferred swing was a fairly solid 3.5%, slightly less than 1% of which was down to a stronger flow of preferences from minor parties and independents. That should put the overall result at around 52%-48%, which is well in line with what the final polls predicted.

After the smoke and noise of early counting subsided, it became apparent that Labor had carved out a modest victory by retaining seats where the redistribution had left their sitting members needing swings in their favour to hold on, and supplementing them with a handful of Liberal marginals.

There in fact remains a worst-case scenario for Labor in which it lands a seat short of a majority, with 44 seats out of 88. However, this would entail Melbourne falling to the Greens, whose support for a Labor government over parliamentary deadlock would surely be forthcoming.

Of the much-touted quartet of “sandbelt” seats, only Mordialloc is a certain gain, although Carrum is extremely likely to get Labor to the magic 45th seat. You would also rather be the Labor than the Liberal candidates in Bentleigh and Frankston.

A little further to the north in Prahran, the question for much of the night was whether Liberal member Clem Newton-Brown would lose his seat to Labor or the Greens. But late counting of postals restored Newton-Brown’s position, and he may yet hang on.

It was a particularly sobering night for the Nationals, who went into the election with very safe margins in each of the nine seats they held post-redistribution but still managed to lose one to an independent and hold on by their fingernails in another.

Independent Suzanna Sheed pulled off a surprise win in Shepparton after the retirement of Nationals member Jeanette Powell, which can only be seen as a reflection on the issues surrounding the town’s struggling SPC-Ardmona cannery.

The government might well have thought its $22 million bailout would have done the job, but it appears the good work was undone a week out from the election by Barnaby Joyce, federal Agriculture Minister and “retail politician” of great renown.

Speaking on ABC television for a documentary about the history of the National Party, Joyce said it wasn’t for him as a National to lobby for the cannery’s future in cabinet, as it is located in a Liberal-held federal seat.

Another local issue that bit deep was the Hazelwood coal mine fire, powering the biggest swing of the election in Morwell, where Nationals member Russell Northe emerged with less than 2% intact from his 13.3% margin.

An interesting exception to the trend came in the seat of Lowan at the western end of the state. As in Shepparton, the Nationals were burdened by the retirement of a long-serving sitting member, Hugh Delahunty. But Lowan in fact proved to be the one seat where the Nationals actually picked up a swing, compared with 10 Liberal-held seats to do so.

This could be seen to vindicate the preselection of Emma Kealy, who as a woman in her 30s may help revitalise the party’s stodgy image.

The Greens appeared to be making major breakthroughs in early counting, but this faded as the night progressed, to the extent that not even the seat of Melbourne is as sure a bet as you might have been led to believe.

In the upper house, the Greens have made one or possibly two gains to add to their existing complement of three seats, but another bewildering array of micro-party winners will again cost them the balance of power.

Shooters & Fishers have won seats in Eastern Victoria and Northern Victoria, and simulations conducted by the Geeklections website find them a strong chance for a third seat in Western Victoria. Alternatively, the latter seat will go to Moyne Shire mayor James Purcell of Vote 1 Local Jobs or, just maybe, Palmer United.

The Country Alliance looks set to win a seat in Northern Victoria on the back of Labor’s decision to preference it ahead of the Greens, provided the seat doesn’t go to Labor’s second candidate instead.

The incoming government’s hopes for a manageable upper house rest with the Sex Party. Its figurehead Fiona Patten looks likely to win a seat in Northern Metropolitan (although there is, amusingly, an alternative scenario in which it instead goes to Family First), and she may have a party colleague joining her in Southern Metropolitan.

With Labor and the Greens looking to have a clear 18 seats between them, two seats for the Sex Party would mean the three parties between them had 20 seats out of 40, which would become 21 if Labor rather than the Country Alliance won the last seat in Northern Victoria.

To these myriad questions, definitive answers may be as much as a fortnight away.

The election was distinguished by an acceleration of the long-term trend towards pre-poll voting, and contrary to the modern practice of federal elections, these votes were left uncounted on election night.

Upwards of 10,000 votes are still to be counted for each lower house seat, and the many variables involved in upper house counts mean the result might not be determined until the laborious work of data entry is completed and the button pressed on the final result.

Saturday night may have brought down the curtain on the Napthine government, but for the dedicated election watcher, the party has barely begun.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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