Bickering, Stunts And Terror: It's Election Time In Victoria
The campaign to run the state has taken some twists and turns.
Victorians head to the polls this Saturday to vote for their state government, with Labor leader Daniel Andrews looking to retain the position of premier in the face of a concerted challenge from Liberal opposition leader Matthew Guy.
Modern election campaigns are tightly planned around communicating on certain specific issues, decided long in advance by party leaders and focus group research.
But an unexpected issue can throw a spanner in the works, and knock that carefully-calibrated messaging off. In Victoria, it was the tragic Bourke Street attack, which has seen the Liberal opposition double-down on rhetoric on law and order, terror and crime.
Guy has promised a new minister for counter-terrorism, as well as trying to hammer Andrews for being 'soft' on crime.
In a state dominated by headlines over the contentious "African gangs" issue, basing a campaign on law and order might not seem like a bad idea: Andrews and Labor only enjoy a one-seat majority in the 88-seat Legislative Assembly.
It's also why the Greens, who hold three lower-house and five upper-house seats, are talking up their chances of holding the 'balance of power' and their hopes of securing a ministry in a Labor-led minority government.
The few polls taken in recent months indicate the final result on Saturday will be close, with Labor likely to hold on.
But if you haven't been paying attention, here's what you've missed:
Greens vs Labor
The two major parties on the left side of politics, who you might think could be somewhat allied, have been at each other's throats.
Parts of trendy inner Melbourne are so progressive that the Liberal party has either not fielded a candidate or isn't running a strong campaign, leaving the Greens and Labor to fight it out.
The Greens, already with eight members of the 128-member parliament, are confident of boosting that number at Saturday's poll.
Labor is worried, and a number of damaging stories about Greens candidates and staff have appeared in Victorian media.
The Greens have raised the idea of being given a ministry if they control the balance of power and use their numbers to back Labor, but Andrews has ruled out any such power-sharing deal.
“I will not sit down with people, never, who have a toxic cultural problem and sadly, tragically, refuse to call out the denigration of women, the vilification of women," the premier said.
The election comes while the Greens in NSW, and at a broader federal level, grapple with issues related to sexual harassment and treatment of women.
Both major parties have been running on big-ticket infrastructure and health announcements. Both want large-scale rail projects for Victoria, both have plans for hospitals and healthcare funding, both want to throw cash at schools, and both are talking up being tougher on crime.
Victoria's population is growing by more than 100,000 a year, and both parties are looking to deal with infrastructure, transport and housing solutions to deal with the growing state.
Metro tunnels, rail lines and new stations, new healthcare facilities and more police are policies shared by both parties.
But crime has come to the fore of the campaign, following the Bourke Street attack. Law and order is traditionally seen as an issue beneficial to the Liberal party, which is why Guy was left embarrassed when it was revealed he visited a cafe on a campaign stop which was linked to a woman with a criminal drug history.
Guy has also promised to close the state's safe injecting room.
Both leaders have had their fair share of controversy as well. Andrews has come under fire for his government's "secret" deal with China, and the 'red shirts' campaign staff scandal; while Guy's opponents have kept his 2017 'lobster with a mobster' dinner with an alleged criminal in the public consciousness.
'Not happy Dan'
Central to the opposition push is a campaign personally targeting premier Andrews. He is a divisive figure, lauded as a progressive star by his supporters and slammed as a soft-on-crime leftie by his critics -- for the very same reasons. Victoria has arguably the most progressive government in the country, with Andrews' administration regularly clashing with the federal Liberal government over the environment, social policy and refugees.
The things that make him a rock star among his supporters, are the things that make him a pariah to conservatives, and the opposition is looking to target him personally.
Specifically, the Liberals have started a new website -- danielandrews.sucks -- blasting him.
Yes, that's really the URL.
"Daniel Andrews sucks. Here’s why," the website's top banner blares, above a series of videos and content criticising the premier's record on crime, tax, drugs and electricity. There's even a joke about a card game Victorians should play, where Andrews is the 'joker' card.
There's another one, called NotHappyDan.com, created by the shooting industry's peak body SIFA, also criticising the premier over power prices and crime. This campaign came under fire for riffing off the famous Yellow Pages ad 'Not Happy Jan', with Sensis distancing itself from the SIFA push.
So who will win?
Really, it's hard to say. There have been a lack of opinion polls so far, with the few that have been published showing Labor holding a slim lead that should see them keep government.
But if Guy and the Liberals grab power, it would be a fundamental shift for the progressive state, and for the nation at large.
Labor currently holds government in five of Australia's eight states and territories, with the Liberals only in power in NSW, South Australia and Tasmania -- and, of course, at the federal level.
Victoria flipping to the Liberals would be a big blow to Labor not just at state level but also federally, with a number of marginal seats in the state to be key at the coming national election next year.
The results will start rolling in on Saturday night, so watch this space.