Polling day Saturday

Candidate statements: Gippsland South     Gippsland East

CONTROL of Victoria’s parliament will be up for grabs on Saturday, with Victorians going to the polls.

Opinion polls taken just two weeks out from the election point to a Labor victory based on a two party preferred indication of 44 per cent for the Coalition and 56 per cent for Labor.

While broad base opinion polls do not necessarily indicate how each seat will swing, a number of uncertainties arise in marginal seats around Bendigo, Ballarat and the Frankston train line seats of Melbourne, where redistributions and former Coalition member Geoff Shaw standing as an independent could influence the outcome.

Whichever side of politics wins control in the Lower House faces the probability it will not control the Upper House.

A single interest party or one of the smaller parties such as the Democratic Labor Party or Greens could end up holding the balance of power, with that possibility enhanced by the option of one tick voting above the line for the Legislative Council

However Swinburne Institute for Social Research professor Brian Costar has argued Victorian voters can lock the micro parties out of parliament and counter the tricks of ‘preference whisperers’ by voting below the line.

With 21 political parties contesting the Upper House seats, the scene is set for a repeat of the federal deal making that resulted in several micro parties, such as the Motoring Enthusiasts, gaining the balance of power.

Professor Costar said in federal elections for the Senate, 95 per cent of voters chose to vote ‘above the line’ rather than trying to correctly rank dozens of candidates ‘below the line’ and risk an informal vote.

“What these voters need to know is that by just voting one above the line they are accepting that party’s full allocation of preferences, which means they might help elect someone they heartily disapprove of.

“In other words, voters aren’t allocating their preferences; party managers are doing it for them.

“Victoria’s Legislative Council is elected on essentially the same system as the Senate, but with one major variation. Those who vote below the line only need to correctly rank five candidates that is, the number of places to be filled. If they wish, they can rank more, but five is enough to record a formal vote,” Professor Costar said.

While the Victorian Electoral commission explains this ‘optional preferential’ method on its webpage www.vec.vic.gov.au, the political parties do not promote it as they wish to control the flow of preferences to enhance their ability to negotiate with other parties.

Adding to the complexity of predicting a state wide outcome is the number of people voting early, which has been increasing steadily with each election.

Last September 27 per cent of voters chose to vote at pre-poll stations in the 2013 Federal election, with that trend expected to continue, something that concerns Gippsland East Green candidate Scott Campbell-Smith.

“Pre-poll is obviously very popular but there’s a risk here that people voting early won’t be as informed as they could be when they vote.

“That’s especially true for the sections of the community that particularly need pre-poll, such as the elderly, disabled and rural residents.

“I’m concerned that there will be an increasing temptation for politicians to release policies as late as possible and especially the ones that might that negatively affect those people, to minimise the number of votes they might lose,” he said.

He called on all politicians to announce their full policy platforms politicians to release their policy platform before the opening of pre-poll.

In Gippsland South and Gippsland East the incumbent National Party members Peter Ryan and Tim Bull have campaigned strongly, making significant financial commitments.

The Labor candidates however have not presented a high profile in the electorates, perhaps in recognition of the Nationals’ stranglehold of those seats with majorities of more than 20 per cent in primary votes.

Among Mr Ryan’s commitments are $500,000 to build a pedestrian bridge over Bruthen Creek and $15 million to build the Sale Specialist School.

Mr Bull has said a re-elected Coalition government would inject $10 million into the Macalister Irrigation District modernisation, which involved modernising the Southern Tinamba delivery system with pipelines and automated channels.