Why the Greens won North­cote

CPI strate­gic di­rec­tor and ad­viser to Field & Game Aus­tralia and the Aus­tralian Deer As­so­ci­a­tion, Rick Brown, cau­tions against view­ing the North­cote by-elec­tion as an en­dorse­ment of Greens pol­icy.

Field and Game - - NEWS -

Last Novem­ber, the pre­dictable hap­pened: the Greens thrashed La­bor in a Vic­to­rian by-elec­tion in North­cote, caused by the death of the sit­ting mem­ber, Fiona Richard­son.

Ex­perts and pun­dits who, not un­der­stand­ing of the dy­nam­ics of the elec­torate, re­lied on in­sider as­sess­ments and a Reach­tel poll com­mis­sioned by the Con­struc­tion, Forestry, Min­ing and En­ergy Union (CFMEU) con­ducted nine days ear­lier, pre­dicted that La­bor would win the con­test.

The poll was never cred­i­ble and us­ing it to claim that the cre­ation of a new na­tional park in the Cen­tral High­lands was not a crit­i­cal is­sue for vot­ers in North­cote was a high-risk tac­tic.

There should have been a fo­cus on the key is­sues, which al­ways were go­ing to in­flu­ence the re­sult.

Since the 2014 state elec­tion, there has been about a 40 per cent turnover of vot­ers in North­cote. Many of the new res­i­dents live in apart­ments. Few peo­ple liv­ing in apart­ments have chil­dren. Be­cause of in­ner sub­ur­ban prop­erty prices, house­hold in­comes in North­cote, and es­pe­cially in sub­urbs like Al­ph­ing­ton and Fair­field, need to be well above the av­er­age. At least a quar­ter of vot­ers have a ter­tiary qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

This de­scrip­tion fits the pro­file of a Greens’ voter.

Se­condly, while the per­sonal sup­port for a local mem­ber is of­ten ex­ag­ger­ated, there are ex­cep­tions.

Fiona Richard­son was one of the ex­cep­tions. A com­par­i­son be­tween fed­eral elec­tion re­sults in North­cote booths and state elec­tion re­sults sug­gest her per­sonal sup­port was sig­nif­i­cant.

Then, the Lib­er­als did not nom­i­nate a can­di­date. In the 2014 state elec­tion the Lib­eral can­di­date, who pref­er­enced Ms. Richard­son, ob­tained 16.5 per cent of the pri­mary vote.

The Lib­eral Democrats nom­i­nated a can­di­date for the by-elec­tion, pre­sum­ably at the in­sti­ga­tion of La­bor which they pref­er­enced but their can­di­date ob­tained only a quar­ter of the 2014 Lib­eral vote.

For the best part of 70 years, Lib­er­als and La­bor have ed­u­cated their sup­port­ers to put the can­di­date of the other party last on bal­lot pa­pers.

With­out ad­vice to the con­trary, it was fore­see­able that many Lib­eral vot­ers would put La­bor last, bear­ing in mind that tra­di­tion­ally, in a by-elec­tion, it is easy to vote against the govern­ment.

This com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors eas­ily ex­plains a swing of 10 per cent against La­bor.

How­ever, the CFMEU tac­tic back­fired, en­abling the Greens to claim the by­elec­tion re­sult is an en­dorse­ment of their pol­icy to cre­ate an­other na­tional park. This re­sult has other ram­i­fi­ca­tions. It should strengthen the po­si­tion of those in both La­bor and Lib­eral who ar­gue that their party should fo­cus on is­sues that are pri­or­i­ties for peo­ple liv­ing in the outer sub­urbs and re­gions, which is where most of the seats that de­ter­mine govern­ments are lo­cated.

Dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign, La­bor an­nounced a ban on plas­tic bags to carry gro­ceries, the es­tab­lish­ment of a heroin in­ject­ing room in Rich­mond and but­tered up to an­i­mal lib­er­a­tionists. It did not get them a vote.

Be­ing Green-lite is not the way to beat Greens. Iron­i­cally, this is an ap­proach Ms. Richard­son ve­he­mently re­jected.

Se­condly, it has strength­ened the ar­gu­ment of those in­side Lib­eral ranks who ar­gue that the sim­plest way not to waste money act­ing a siphon for La­bor is not to nom­i­nate can­di­dates in in­ner sub­ur­ban seats.

This way the Lib­er­als leave the Greens and La­bor to bat­tle it out with­out their hav­ing to choose be­tween sup­port­ing Greens or act­ing as a prop for La­bor.

Pref­er­enc­ing Greens has not helped the Lib­er­als. The in­stinct of 80 per cent of Green vot­ers is to pref­er­ence La­bor, and, re­gard­less of car­rots dan­gled by Greens’ lead­ers, their vot­ers would not coun­te­nance their en­ter­ing into al­liances with Lib­er­als.

All it has done is to send a mes­sage to Lib­eral vot­ers that vot­ing Green is a valid op­tion.

It seems the Lib­er­als have learnt the les­son. They have said they will not con­test in­ner sub­ur­ban seats in the Vic­to­rian elec­tions next year and not nom­i­nate a can­di­date if David Feeney, the Mem­ber for Bat­man, of which North­cote is a sig­nif­i­cant part, has to re­sign, forc­ing an­other fed­eral by­elec­tion.

La­bor’s but­ter­ing up to the An­i­mal Jus­tice Party (AJP) to un­der­mine the Greens was point­less.

The AJP claimed La­bor se­cured the Party’s pref­er­ences by promis­ing to spend $500 000 of tax­pay­ers’ money on an­i­mal lib­er­a­tion is­sues, cre­ate An­i­mal Wel­fare Vic­to­ria, is­sue an an­nual re­port on an­i­mal wel­fare is­sues, and de­vise an an­i­mal wel­fare plan.

La­bor dis­missed the claims, say­ing the AJP had nom­i­nated ac­tiv­i­ties the Govern­ment al­ready un­der­took or had in­tended un­der­tak­ing.

What­ever the pref­er­ence deal was, it was a fu­tile ex­er­cise. Of the 773 votes the AJP at­tracted and the ad­di­tional 160 votes they ac­cu­mu­lated, La­bor re­ceived only 30 per cent.

While the lessons to learn from the by-elec­tion ap­pear to be ob­vi­ous, it re­mains to be seen how La­bor re­sponds to the Greens’ chal­lenge in the lead-up to Vic­to­ria’s state elec­tions next Novem­ber.

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