Picture via Port of Melbourne

Victoria’s new Labor government may need Liberal and Nationals votes to push through a lease on the Port of Melbourne, which is vital to funding a swag of election promises. The Greens have vowed to block the lease, and with numbers in Victoria’s Legislative Council adding up to a mess, that could put the kybosh on Labor’s plans.

Both Labor and the Liberals went to the election with plans to lease the port, which handles 36% of Australian container traffic. Labor’s plan was to net an estimated $6 billion by selling a 99-year lease of the port. The money would be put into a transport fund and used to remove 50 level crossings, a key plank of its election platform.

The Liberals responded with a shorter 30- to 40-year lease plan with a lower expected return to be invested in expanding the Port of Hastings, south-east of Melbourne.

Victorian Deputy Labor Leader James Merlino sounded confident on ABC Radio in Melbourne yesterday morning as he tried to reassure voters the Andrews government would be able to get its legislation through what’s shaping up to be a complicated Parliament.

“They [voters] want majority, stable leadership, and that’s what they’re going to get from the Andrews Labor Government,” Merlino said.

Goals are good, but the Victorian Legislative Council could turn hostile. The Greens’ election policy is to block the lease of the Port of Melbourne, and without their support Labor must bargain with the Coalition or gain the support of three right-wing micro-parties.

Greens Leader Greg Barber defends his decision to block the lease: “I think we’ll find a lot of sympathy amongst farmers, automotive is gone, and aluminium is soon to go. Manufactured food exports is going to be one of our most valuable products and a lot of them go through the Port of Melbourne,” he told Crikey.

Barber said other funding sources could be found for the level crossings, noting the former government had built up a war chest.

The Greens’ blocking power in Victoria’s upper house is consolidating in an estimated five seats, according to the geekLections vote calculator.

Counting of votes from the Victorian election held Saturday is showing a clearer picture of the deadlock in the new Parliament’s upper house. According to predictions on geekLections, Labor is expected to get 13 seats, the Coalition to get 15 and the Greens to get five, leaving the Shooters and Fishers party with three seats from each rural region and the Sex Party a good chance of taking two seats in Northern and Southern Metro. Rounding out the 40-seat upper house will likely be an Australian Country Alliance MP and a Democratic Labour Party MP, according to predictions on geekLections.

A Labor source said the party could seek support from the Coalition for the port lease. “There are three parties that went to the election with plans to sell the port: Labor, the Liberals and the Nationals,” the source said.

Some solace for Labor is that probable Sex Party MP Fiona Patten might vote for the lease as long as she can see the financials. “We are not there to stymie government; Labor does have a mandate to govern,” she said.

Her party’s policy to remove level crossings did not mention funding arrangements.

Labor’s Natalie Hutchins, who was the ports spokeswoman in opposition, declined to comment. Former ports minister David Hodgett also declined to comment.

Peter Fray

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