Sunday, November 26, 2006
Four More Years
There are two ways for people who care about state elections to spend polling night. You can watch the numbers roll on TV while blogging, trying to beat the professionals to some unique insight on the unfolding drama. Or you can watch them in a pub drinking beer with fellow politics wonks. Going with option 2 proved an inspired choice, since it helped break the blogging drought I've had since the last legislative horse-race. So here I am, competing with a hundred other desktop psephologists to dissect Victoria's Choice.
It's not the thrilling stuff of US mid-terms. Granted, 'modest swing to the Liberals' doesn't have the same ring as 'Republicans get their asses handed to them on a plate'. But I'd hoped for something more than a mirror image of the 2004 federal election, with the opposition kept two cycles from a realistic bid and the incumbents left with a wafer-thin majority in the upper house. The foretold Day of the Minor Parties was a non-starter, with the Greens failing to come through, the Democrats consigned to oblivion and People Power nowhere in sight. Family First's relatively respectable polling just shows that other groups are waking up to the 'values' niche that Howard has been working for a decade. All told, the LegCo results were an uninspired outcome for the biggest constitutional shakeup in the state's history. Instead this election's 'historic' character was pinned to it being the second time Victorian Labor has won three consecutive terms. My heart beats faster...
More noteworthy was Labor's ability to hold regional Victoria, or rather the Libs' inability to gain traction there. It's the latest instance of a much-remarked trend that sees country voters drifting from the traditional conservative parties, while battling suburbia becomes Liberal heartland. The driving factor? Reaction against change - neoliberal economics on one side, multiculturalism and 'political correctness' on the other. You want tariffs and subsidised services? Don't vote Coalition. You want government that will roll back black-armband history and lock up the Muslims? Then do.
Taking this further, perhaps the state-federal divide really is hardening into a fixed feature of the nation's political landscape. The major parties have staked out their territory, and a party trying to climb the other hill has to struggle either against urban masses fearful of their identity and lifestyle being eaten away by globalisation, or a hinterland resentful at being cut adrift by coastal metropolises increasingly linked to the outside world. It can't be coincidence that in the face of the Bracks' government's failures, country Victorians confirmed their 1999 decision to throw out the party which sank tax dollars into Melbourne landmarks pitched at city sophisticates and tourists.
Admittedly the parties aren't helping themselves, with their penchant for eleventh-hour dumpings of seasoned leaders in favour of glamorous neophytes (think Quinn-Flegg and Beazley-Latham). Yet another lesson driven home on Saturday; Baillieu's song-and-dance routine was fun for a while, but it proved what US Republicans learned earlier this month - dominating the campaign doesn't translate into votes. It certainly can't blot out this litany of errors:
- Refusing to shave your share portfolio, when your nickname is already the Toff from Toorak.
- Refusing to discuss a coalition that your party needs to govern.
- Promising to scrap the state's renewable energy scheme while the federal Libs scramble to deal, or be seen to deal, with global warming.
- Promising a river-killing dam, in lieu of said renewable energy scheme.
- Promising free public transport for the age-group that is so pleasant to be around on trains and trams.
- Trying to outbid an incumbent, in-surplus government on tax cuts.
- $285 million costing holes.
The Libs definitely seem to be getting the worse of the talent drought, having turned over management in 7 of 8 states and territories within the past half-year (all 8, if you go back a full year). Coming so soon after the Queensland rout, Saturday's outcome and the Bracks-Costello sniping that followed shows what to expect from Australian politics over the next decade, assuming that Canberra and the High Court don't bludgeon the states into irrelevance: federal-state jousting as a substitute for policy differentiation. It might be a healthy balance, but for COAG's inability to get work done on health, water or indeed anything.
Small wonder that the only cheering in the James Squire on Saturday night was for 'Four More Beers!'.