The Victorian state election is less than five months away. Residents in Essendon have been asking whether the controversial level crossing removal at Buckley St is likely to make a difference.
Victorian governments have been held by the slimmest of margins since 2010 when the Coalition won government with 45 seats to Labor’s 43. Geoff Shaw’s mid-term resignation from the Liberal Party left parliamentary numbers precarious.
A redistribution of electorates in 2013 meant that at the 2014 state election Labor needed to win two more seats, as well as retain three seats that had become notionally Liberal (Bellarine, Monbulk, Yan Yean, Wendouree or Ripon).
Transport was a key issue in the 2014 election with the East West Link, Metro Rail and Level Crossing Removals playing a central role.
Labor won the election, despite losing Melbourne to The Greens, by retaining the necessary seats, except Ripon, and winning Bentleigh, Carrum, Frankston and Mordialloc.
The Coalition lost two seats, Prahran and Shepparton, to The Greens and the Independent candidate, Suzanna Sheed.
Although Labor won with 47 seats, since 2014, Labor has lost Northcote to The Greens, and Don Nardella (Melton) has resigned and sits as an independent. And in Morwell, Russell Northe became an independent in 2017 after leaving the Nationals.
- Labor – 45
- Coalition – 37
- Greens – 3
- Independents – 3
With 88 seats, 44 seats plus a speaker are needed for government. The margin is at its slimmest (although Nardella’s seat is still notionally Labor, and Morwell is notionally National with a small margin).
The VEC has a very helpful map depicting the winners and their margins.
For the government to change hands in 2018, the Coalition needs to win back eight seats – or seven seats and the support of an independent (it’s unlikely The Greens would ever support the Coalition to form government).
Is this possible? There are several seats in play.
1 Prahran: The Coalition could win Prahran back from The Greens. In 2014, the incumbent Liberal candidate polled 44%, with Labor and The Greens polling around 25% each. Equally, Labor could take this seat, or it could remain with The Greens.
2 Shepparton: The Coalition could regain this seat from Sheed.
3 – 6 Frankston, Carrum, Bentleigh and Mordialloc are marginal seats and could all be regained by the Coalition.
Cranbourne, Eltham and Yan Yean are also marginal seats despite being retained by Labor in 2014.
Labor candidates in Albert Park, Ivanhoe and Macedon polled below the Liberal candidate on primary votes, but won their seats after the distribution of preferences.
Brunswick, Richmond: Both of these seats could be lost by Labor to The Greens.
Morwell is currently held by independent Russell Northe who won the seat for the Nationals with 52% after preferences. It is the most marginal seat in regional Victoria.
Assuming The Greens collect two more seats (which is not a certainty, but a real possibility), if the Coalition performed well enough to gain a 2% swing, we could see:
- Coalition – 43 (current +Shepparton, Morwell, Frankston, Carrum, Bentleigh, Mordialloc)
- The Greens – 5 (current +Richmond, Brunswick)
- Labor – 40 (current +Melton, – Frankston, Carrum, Bentleigh, Mordialloc, Brunswick, Richmond)
Which would make things very interesting in Victoria. This does require a swing of 2.1% not currently evident in opinion polls which have suggested, at most, a one per cent swing to the Coalition.
However, elections are not won on overall swings (which is why opinion polls can be misleading). They are won in individual seats where local voting can sometimes go against state-wide trends.
Local issues, individual candidates and changing demographics can all play a role despite efforts of main parties to focus voters on central issues such as crime, education or national parks.
A question for Essendon voters, a key readership of the Moonee Valley Blog, is whether the level crossing removals are likely to be decisive local issues, and where this leaves the seat of Essendon, in which much of Moonee Valley is housed.
Noticeably, four of the most marginal Labor-held seats are along the Frankston train-line, where several level crossings have been removed (North Rd, McKinnon Rd and Centre Rd) and more promised.
I’ve tried to find a map cross-checking these projects and stations against electorates, but finding nothing, I will have to produce one, although it looks as though these stations are in the seats of Clarinda and Keysborough (tbc), both held by Labor on large margins.
One of the frustrating aspects of the level crossing removal project is that its purpose is to ease traffic congestion, rather than improve public transport. The target audience for improvements is the four-wheeled commuter, not the public transport user who has experienced months of inconvenience without reaping benefits.
So locals catching the trains haven’t necessarily been wowed by public transport improvements to balance the the negative impacts of overhead train-lines, or actual and potential land acquisitions.
Labor is banking on improvements to safety and car-based commuter travel times to justify the investment in and disruption from the projects.
The question is whether the projects have produced more local concerns than local benefits – and commuters sitting in cars are often not locals.
This is a real question in Essendon where the Buckley St level crossing removal has caused considerable frustration and concern for local residents and traders. The minor improvements to the station itself, and changes to bus routes and cycling routes, means that public transport users, and walkers and cyclists, will experience limited benefits as a result of the crossing removal.
Essendon is not considered a marginal seat. The 2013 redistribution, with the inclusion of Flemington, nominally increased the margin in Labor’s favour from two to four per cent.
At the 2014 election, the seat was won comfortably by Labor who polled 41% on primaries to the Liberal 36%. The Greens improved their vote to 18% (from 15% in 2010) and, like in 2010 (when this author was the Greens candidate), preferences from the Greens gave Labor a result of 58.5% after preference distributions (a 6% increase on 2010).
In 2010, the Liberal candidate was winning at the last distribution of preferences, when Greens’ voters preferences got Justin Madden over the line by just 1700 votes.
It’s likely that in 2018, the preferences of voters for the Greens and independents will again play a decisive role in the result in Essendon – as will local issues and the quality of candidates.
The Labor campaign team is probably feeling confident they can retain both the seat of Essendon and government, but there are twenty weeks until polling day. There’s much more to be said on this as the election draws nearer.