Major parties’ tarnished credibility clouds election prospects

With 100 days left until the state election, Victoria’s political parties are beginning to campaign. This is no ordinary election. Victoria suffered more than most during the pandemic. The extended lockdowns and disruption put enormous pressure on just about every aspect of our lives.

During the darkest days of 2020 and 2021, there was no shortage of criticism of how Labor was managing the health and financial crisis. “Dictator Dan” became shorthand for those frustrated by the level of restrictions and mandates that were imposed.

Daniel Andrews and Matthew Guy will battle it out during the next 100 days before the state election. Credit:Fairfax Media

The time has come for Victorians to make a judgment at the ballot box. While most political watchers believe the likely outcome will be the return of Labor, the last federal election made clear that the major parties can no longer bank on attracting the vast majority of voters.

Labor is likely to be returned, but it is possible that Victoria could vote for a minority government, something the state has not seen since former Labor premier Steve Bracks convinced three rural independents in 1999 to support him, ending the tumultuous reign of the Coalition government under Jeff Kennett.

It’s not just talk. Progressive independent candidates, echoing the federal success, may have a chance in the Liberal seats of Caulfield, Kew, Sandringham and Brighton and Labor-held Hawthorn. That has to make the major parties nervous.

The Greens are buoyed by their federal election success, having convinced Labor and Liberal voters to switch support to their party, particularly in wealthy inner-city seats. In Victoria, the party believes it has a strong chance of winning Richmond. Labor holds the seat by 5.9 per cent, but it will be vacated by long-time member Richard Wynne. The Greens are also targeting Northcote and Albert Park, where former Labor minister Martin Foley is retiring.

With so many seats held by the major parties in play, election night is likely to throw up some surprises. What doesn’t appear to be on the cards is a Coalition majority government led by Matthew Guy. Having taken back the leadership nearly a year ago, Guy finds himself struggling to build the momentum towards a victory. His announcement of a big policy idea – a pause on the costly Suburban Rail Loop to redirect spending to the health system – has some chutzpah about it, which the Coalition needs. The policy, though, will need greater scrutiny.

The Andrews government’s record during the past four years is mixed. No doubt, Labor has notched up some successes. Its work on developing a mechanism for an Indigenous treaty and truth-telling has been groundbreaking. Despite some major cost blowouts and questions over the economic viability of the Suburban Loop, Labor’s big build continues at a rapid pace. It has been at the forefront of national thinking on mental health and building new schools. The Age wants to see a third-term agenda on skills shortages, the revival of the CBD, health and the spiralling cost of living.

Labor’s management of the pandemic will be tarnished by the mistakes of the first few months in hotel quarantine that led to an outbreak of COVID-19 and the shutting down of the state. And Labor’s lapses in transparency, accountability and integrity are clear. The recently released two-year investigation Operation Watts, from Victoria’s integrity watchdogs, delivered a damning assessment of the party’s culture and outlined a “catalogue of unethical and inappropriate behaviour”.

But Guy’s refusal to explain the detail behind a contract in which his former chief of staff requested an extra $100,000 in payment from a Liberal donor has dented his shaky credibility on this front.

On the night of Labor’s election victory in 2018, Premier Daniel Andrews declared that Victorians had backed his “positive and optimistic plan”. Little did he know of what was ahead. It has been a term of office like few others in the state’s history. Victorians have a lot to reflect on before they head to the polls.

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