Victorians could be forgiven for thinking that barely a day has passed in the first weeks of this campaign without a big-spending announcement from one or other party.
Why the deluge when election day is a fortnight off? Because early voting starts on Monday, and up to half of all Victorians are expected to cast their votes before polling day.
Both parties have front-loaded their campaigns, making impressive billion-dollar announcements to catch the early voters’ attention.
Another impressive set of figures announced this week with somewhat less fanfare was the Victorian Treasury’s pre-election budget update.
Despite a softening housing market, Treasury confirmed that Victoria was on track for a $2.3 billion surplus this financial year, and almost $10bn in surpluses over four years.
Economic output is also expected to continue to grow solidly, while unemployment is forecast to fall to just 4.75 per cent in 2018-19. This will be music to the ears of Premier Daniel Andrews.
Victoria’s powerhouse economy has enabled Labor to make big infrastructure spending a key part of its pitch to voters. Andrews is asking voters to trust him on his record over the past four years of getting on with delivering the infrastructure Victoria needs.
Andrews has the runs on the board to back this up, with the level crossing removal program, building the West Gate Tunnel, and widening the Monash and Tullamarine freeways.
Treasury’s budget update confirmed that a re-elected Andrews government would invest on average a staggering $10.6bn a year into infrastructure out to 2021-22.
Labor’s massive infrastructure program will contribute to an increase of $9.3bn in Victoria’s net debt by mid-2022, with net debt projected to be a modest 6 per cent of state gross product.
Last year’s federal budget saw Scott Morrison as treasurer endorsing the difference between debt for infrastructure projects and that for recurrent spending.
This is exactly the “good debt” being wisely invested that will see a significant economic return for Victoria through increased demand, job creation and improved infrastructure.
If Treasury’s forecasts had Andrews seeing rainbows, they were about as inviting as the thunderstorms over Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day for Matthew Guy. Economic credentials should be a strong suit for the Coalition, but Labor’s sound economic management has left the Opposition Leader with nowhere to go.
Guy bleats about the need to “get back in control”’, while his Treasury spokesman is struggling to argue that Labor cannot afford its spending commitments.
But their arguments lack any credibility in the face of almost $10bn in surpluses.
No wonder last week’s Newspoll found Labor had a commanding 45-37 lead on who would better manage Victoria’s economy.
Worse still, the campaign has exposed Guy as a hollow weathervane politician. Oppositions can be shortsighted in their day-to-day fight for political advantage. Guy spent the better part of four years trying to stymie Labor’s infrastructure program by blocking the West Gate Tunnel project, the route of the North East Link and the removal of level crossings.
But with an election in sight Guy flip-flopped, and committed to funding these projects — along with his own commitments to a modified East West Link, country roads and an airport rail link.
Having opposed Labor’s infrastructure program before performing a last-minute backflip worthy of a gymnast, Guy now wants voters to believe that population growth is out of control and only he has the infrastructure plans to solve it.
Trying to present yourself as a credible alternative while treating voters like mugs with the memories of goldfish is a risky strategy.
Doubly so when Guy’s credibility is already in the dumps, with only 31 per cent of Newspoll respondents satisfied with his performance and just 29 per cent convinced he would make the better premier.
So what should you expect in the final two weeks of the campaign? Labor will feel increasingly confident it has the Coalition’s measure at the macro level, allowing Labor to turn its full attention to the marginal seats it must hold and those it hopes to win.
But Andrews will need to do more to combat the Greens in the inner city.