Over two weeks on from polling day, the new Victorian government finally knows the shape of the parliament it will face over the next four years.

The Victorian Electoral Commission this morning pressed the button on the preference distribution for the eight five-member Legislative Council regions, having yesterday completed the laborious process of data entry on a much-increased number of below-the-line votes.

This confirmed what had been clear since election night: that the make-up of the chamber will be scarcely less daunting for Daniel Andrews than the Senate is for Tony Abbott.

Labor has won 14 out of the 40 seats, two fewer than it was able to manage at a losing election in 2010.

But the Coalition fared a good deal worse, now reduced to 16 seats after having a majority of 21 in the previous parliament. This includes four losses for the Liberals and one for the Nationals.

The resolution of counting delivered the Greens another good turn following their surprise win in Prahran last week, confirming a haul of five seats.

This included a seat in the South Eastern Metropolitan region that the ABC computer had been projecting to go to the Sex Party, based on the assumption of all votes being above-the-line.

However, it appears some of the preferences that the Sex Party absorbed from Animal Justice and the Voluntary Euthanasia Party leaked away as below-the-line votes, causing them to fall behind Labor at the second-last exclusion.

Another seat that remained significantly in doubt until the moment the button was pushed was in Northern Victoria, where Labor sneaked a second seat that earlier looked like going to the Country Alliance.

Labor had contentiously placed the Country Alliance ahead of the Greens on its preference order, which would have been decisive if Labor rather than the Greens had dropped out of the count at the second-last exclusion.

However, Labor’s Jaclyn Symes was narrowly able to stay in front of the Greens candidate, after which Greens preferences determined the issue by flowing to Labor ahead of the Country Alliance — a favour Labor had failed to return.

The Greens likewise got out of jail with its preference deal with Palmer United, which in a slightly different scenario might have delivered PUP a seat in Western Victoria.

The arrangement proved to the Greens’ advantage in the Western Metropolitan region, helping re-elect Colleen Hartland to a seat that under an alternative PUP preference arrangement might have gone to Labor instead.

That leaves the traditional forces of the Left, Labor and the Greens, with a total of 19 seats — the best they could have hoped for under the circumstances, given that Northern Victorian and South Eastern Metropolitan respectively went in their favour.

But the decisive factor of the new upper house remains the five piggies in the middle: two from Shooters & Fishers and one each from the Sex Party, the Democratic Labour Party and Vote 1 Local Jobs.

The latter party is the vehicle of Moyne Shire mayor James Purcell, who won a seat in Western Victoria that the earliest projections had going to Nicole Bourman of Shooters & Fishers — whose husband, Jeffrey Bourman, won a seat for the party in Eastern Victoria.

The DLP returns to parliament after having won a seat in Western Victorian in 2006 and lost it in 2010, this time taking the last seat in the Western Metropolitan region.

The Sex Party’s president and long-established figurehead Fiona Patten has become the party’s first elected member after taking a seat in Northern Metropolitan, a result that became apparent early in the count.

The election of another confusing array of micro-party candidates again calls into question the utility of the above-the-line voting system and its consequence of mass preference transfers determined by party deals.

But in most cases, a quota’s worth of voters did indeed make the decision to vote outside the established channels of Labor, Coalition and Greens, and in doing so arguably provided a mandate for a parliament with a more-than-usual amount of colour.

However, that Shooters & Fishers in particular should have been the beneficiary in two separate cases was more to do with adroitness in preference negotiations than the clearly expressed will of the voters.

It was outpolled by DLP in Northern Victoria and both the Liberal Democrats and Sex Party in Eastern Victoria, the Sex Party being among the less intuitively obvious of its preference feeders.

The favour was returned duly with Shooters & Fishers preferences ending up with the Sex Party in Northern Metropolitan — although their votes were few in number here, and Patten would have won the seat in any case, the Sex Party preference snowball having put her well ahead of Labor’s third candidate.

For all that it may have been worse for Labor, the result puts the new government in a diabolically complex position in cobbling together the 21 votes needed to pass its legislation in circumstances where the Coalition lines up against it.

Greens support will at all times be essential — beyond that, it will need to find a further two votes out of the curious mix of the Sex Party, Shooters & Fishers, the DLP and Vote 1 Local Jobs.

Peter Fray

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