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Victorian election: voters have tough choice

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Voters judge politicians on how they perform and the promises they deliver on – not last minute, multi-billion dollar, hand-on-heart pledges that stretch over the next three or four elections.

If their elected Premier is a man or woman for the times, and inspires them, they can be slightly excused.

But the 2014 Victorian election hasn’t been notable for its soaring rhetoric or political vision. Dozens of people have expressed the dilemma to me: “We have to vote for someone, don’t we?”

Victorian election: all the big issues
Libs: we can still win this thing
• Victorian leaders face the public
• Labor set to win Victorian election: poll

Denis Napthine or Daniel Andrews? The Coalition leader Denis Napthine should be a firm favorite. Every government for the past 60 years in Victoria has won a second term.

Daniel Andrews
Daniel Andrews is the favourite. Photo: AAP

But Labor’s Daniel Andrews is the favorite, winning all opinion polls for the past year, by a minimum of 4 per cent, enough to give him a five to six seat majority.

Labor had 11 years in power. It lost by one seat in 2010, handing over a triple A rated budget in surplus to the new government.

But Labor also left the legacy of big controversial projects; rich pickings for any incoming government to exploit: the myki ticketing system, the desalination plant and the north-south pipe.

So, if the polls are right, when 3.8 million Victorians have cast their votes by Saturday night, and Labor wins, what has gone wrong? How could the Liberals and Nationals stuff things up that they’ve opened the door to a Labor victory.

Firstly, it’s hard to win any game when you don’t trouble the scorer in the first half. Denis Napthine took over from the lacklustre leadership of Ted Baillieu just 20 months ago but also inherited a failing manufacturing base and rising unemployment. Statewide its 6.8 per cent but some areas in Melbourne record 26 per cent jobless.

The vet from Port Fairy has done his best, bouncing from event to event, repeating well-worn lines about not trusting Labor and unions taking over the state, while tip toeing around the Tony Abbott factor after a lead balloon of a federal budget.

Government to cut cost of train, tram travel
Both sides are promising billions in trains and trams.

But voters appear tired of spin and unbelievable project promises.

Both sides are promising billions of dollars – literally hundreds of trains and trams stretching out for a decade or more.

Voters aren’t silly. They remember that Ted Baillieu promised a rail line to Doncaster. He said four years ago: “We intend to plan it, find the funds and build it.”

No, he didn’t find the funds or build it. The same happened with the promise for a rail line to Avalon.

Ted Baillieu’s signature policy was a firm promise to have two armed Protective Services Officers on EVERY metropolitan rail station at night by this state election.

He had four years to do it. He failed. About one in five stations don’t have armed officers because the government misjudged the numbers.

But when asked about the failure, Denis Napthine refuses to recognise the truth and just spouts media lines about recruiting 940 officers – not enough to cover all the stations. Once again, the commuters and voters are treated like fools.

The coalition didn’t have a mandate to build the East West Link tunnel, let alone start to plan it or sign contracts just weeks before the election.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott Victorian Premier Denis Napthine
Denis Napthine (r) has badly sold the East West Link. Photo: AAP

But that’s what’s happened, and the project has been badly sold, leaving taxpayers in the dark over the details of the contract, the side compensation guarantee deal for the developer, annual payments for 25 years and the tolls.

Labor used to support the East West Link concept but changed horses when it saw a gaping issue, and one that helps it hold off The Greens in the inner seats of Melbourne, Richmond and Brunswick, where The Greens vote could be well above 30 per cent.

Daniel Andrews has run a simple, small target campaign, refusing to talk about government policies and winning hands down the media pictures war.

He’s 20 years younger than Napthine and lost 10 kilograms before the campaign, swapping the traditional pollie’s suite and tie for casual jeans, boots, open neck shirt and jacket. The unions have helped him too, relentlessly campaigning (gold medal to the paramedics here) against the government for years.

Some of Andrews policies read like they are written for 10 year olds. Labor will support more music teachers. Here’s $2 million over four years. And some great pictures of the Labor leader trying to play bass with a school band, while his deputy James Merlino did a fair job on the drums.

If Napthine holds on against the tide, it will probably be by one or two seats, although he would take that result with open arms.

Victorians are more likely than not going to usher in a new government sometime next week. And then start scratching heads about why they did it. And the Upper House won’t be controlled by either party, introducing four years of horse trading and balance of power hi-jinks.

But the people never get an election wrong, do they? Even when the choice isn’t that inspiring, no matter who triumphs.

Brendan Donohoe is State Political Reporter for Seven News.

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