Briefing | opinion

With Labor's landslide in Victoria, it's looking more like Australians are simply turning on the Liberal Party

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)Re-elected Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, pictured in a union march last month.

  • The Andrews Labor government has romped home in the Victorian state election, with a swing to it of nearly 5%.
  • This is another electoral disaster for the Liberal Party after vicious swings against various by-elections in Longman, Wagga Wagga, and Wentworth this year. It’s a pattern.
  • Some of the swings could probably be ascribed to local or state issues, but the Liberals would be reckless not to consider the most troubling explanation of all: that voters are turning their backs on them.

Within three hours of the polls closing in Victoria last night the recriminations in the Liberal Party were underway.

Jeff Kennett, the former state premier, was calling for Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger to resign.

Upper House Liberal MP Mary Wooldridge said there had been a “takeover” of state party branches by hardline conservatives, warning the party would be unelectable if those elements were to define the party brand over the years to come.

“And we need to make sure that those members who are Liberal, genuine Liberals, are empowered not to desert the party but hunker down with us to make sure that we can get back to being that broader party that we were in the past, and need to be in the future, in order to be successful,” Wooldridge said.

The federal parliamentary party’s actions in knifing Malcolm Turnbull were also in the spotlight. Federal Treasurer Josh conceded that the “noise didn’t help” but argued it “didn’t determine the outcome”.

“I do want to pay credit to [opposition leader] Matthew Guy and the campaign that he and his colleagues ran … but as Matthew said, this was a state election run on state issues,” Frydenberg said.

As of this morning the ABC’s election results were showing a swing of nearly 5% to the Labor government. The Liberal Party was staring at a swing against it of over 6%.

“DANSLIDE,” declared the Sunday Herald Sun.

Shadow Attorney-General John Pesutto, who represents what was regarded as the safe seat of Hawthorn, discovered live on air that he looked in danger of losing his seat. Hawthorn has been held by conservatives for all but one term since the seat was created in 1889. As of this morning, it looks like Pesutto has managed to scrape in, but he has suffered a swing against him of over 8% and the seat is no longer safe.

The Andrews government has romped back into power on a platform largely based on increased infrastructure spending and funding for schools and hospitals. The Liberal side had accused the Andrews government of being soft on crime and reckless with public money. The tactics, quite simply, haven’t worked.

The root causes of the swing against the Liberals will continue to be debated, but there are some basic facts that the conservative side is staring at in terms of how voters have judged it in various electoral tests with just over six months to go before an expected federal election in May.

Remembering that the Coalition needs to hold every single seat in the next federal election to retain power, consider:

  • in the September byelection for the NSW state seat of Wagga Wagga, the Liberals lost the seat they had held for 60 years, with a swing of 28% against it, with the seat falling to Independent Joe McGirr;
  • the federal by-election for the Queensland seat of Longman was one where the Coalition thought it might be competitive, but instead Labor incumbent Susan Lamb was easily returned with a swing of nearly 4% to her; and
  • in Wentworth, Australia’s wealthiest electorate and considered one of the safest Liberal enclaves in the country, Malcolm Turnbull’s resignation was followed by his proposed successor Dave Sharma seeing a 19% collapse in his primary vote and the seat falling to independent Kerryn Phelps.

These are enormous numbers any way you look at them. They are electoral maulings. Frydenberg and others can argue the toss that these are isolated and based on state issues, individual personalities, Matthew Guy’s lack of funding, or the optics of leadership instability. Take your pick.

But it would be beyond naive for senior Liberals not to consider the Occam’s Razor explanation: that the Liberal Party is simply failing to engage middle Australia; that internecine fights are derailing its ability to offer a coherent message, and as a result, people are turning their backs on them.

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