No winners here

One week from the vote and the results are in for the State seat of South West Coast. The VEC website might say that there is no declared outcome yet, but they have rechecked 91% of the total enrollment and history shows that at least 5% of those enrolled regularly do not vote so there is realistically only a handful of votes left to be rechecked with an average of 6.5% of those likely to be informal. They probably haven’t counted mine yet (a postal vote from Europe) but I don’t think that single vote is going to help Terry Riggs in his quest for a miracle.

So, how did we go? Well, no-one won; least of all the South West.

In a remarkable election which saw safe Liberal and National party seats falling to Labor and independents across the state, South West Coast delivered the same result it has since its inception in 2002 and the same result for the old seats of Portland and Warrnambool that were merged to form it that voters in those seats have plumped for since at least the early 1970s when flares and flower-power were really the in-thing – a do-nothing conservative. This was the seat’s best opportunity since 2002 to get smart and deliver a marginal outcome with a local member who’d be in government. The voters blew it so that there’ll likely be no wins at budget time for south west roads, the train, schools, hospitals, etc. Sure, there might be a few dollars thrown at sporting clubs here and there or the odd CBD improvement investment, but upgrading infrastructure like our roads, rail line and services, Reid Oval and the saleyards? Forget it. Why would either major party invest in a seat that continues to deliver the same result regardless, while they have competing demands from a swag of marginal seats they do hold? Why would the Labor Party ever think that their support of the area (which has been considerable, in my view, despite it not being a Labor seat or anything close to that) might convince voters to change their underpants let alone their life-long habits? Why would the Liberal Party ever think that it needed to do anything other than show up, with whatever candidate, to win the seat , again and again and again?

Nope; the people and communities of South West Coast are the big losers of this election.

Not that the candidates fared much better. Let’s look at the figures, candidate by candidate.

The likely elected member, Roma Britnell of the Liberal Party, secured 32.4% of the primary vote. This is 7.6% less than she gained in the 2015 by-election and a whopping 25% less than Denis Napthine’s result in the most recent general election in South West Coast in 2014. The Liberal Party’s 2018 statewide vote (widely assessed as a total train-wreck for them) was 6% down on its 2014 result. I have never, ever before in my life, agreed with Adam Kempton about anything at all, but I agree with him that Roma has delivered an unacceptably bad result for her party in this election. How can a sitting member, with three clear years to work on building a positive profile and ‘results’ and the publicly-funded resources to go with being a sitting member, deliver a vote that is 1.6% WORSE than a statewide party wipeout vote and 25% less than the previous Liberal member’s vote? How is that even vaguely possible? My tip? Roma will occupy the seat until 2022 and then be turfed in a preselection battle. She has proven herself incapable and inept. Essentially, she’s unelectable in a fair fight. James Purcell would have rolled her if Michael Neoh and Jimmy Doukas had got out of the way and given him clear water.

Kylie Gaston is not the ALP’s Boadicea. Her primary vote of 24.5% was 5.5% short of the Labor average vote for the seat. If you include analysis of the seats of Portland and Warrnambool going back to the earliest records you can get from the web, 30.1% is the ALP pass mark for South West Coast. I fell short of it in 2014 with 28.2%. So did John Herbertson in 2010 with 24.6%. You simply can’t win in South West Coast as a Labor candidate without at least 35% of the primary vote, and even then you need everything else to go 100% right to get over the line. I know this from harsh personal experience. Under Kylie, the ALP’s two-candidate preferred margin below Roma (post distribution of all preferences) is likely to be 4.6% at 52.3:47.7. I gotta tell you – that ain’t marginal; especially considering the swag of other seats that will be sitting in the true marginal zone of 0-1.5%. Kylie was the wrong candidate at the right time.

I despair of The Greens Party. Thomas Campbell is an exceptional candidate who deserves to be in parliament – somewhere, sometime. But his vote fell 1.5% from the 2015 by-election and 3.7% from the 2014 general election. His 2014 9.8% primary vote was a highwater mark for The Greens Party in South West Coast. Given climate change, the importance of the renewable energies industry to jobs in the South West and the dark cloud of racehorses trampling hooded plover chicks, vegetation and important sites for Aboriginal Australians on our local beaches, I’m very surprised that his vote went south like that. It doesn’t bode well for The Greens Party vote in the future. It seems that the disfunction of the party at an organisational level was noted by some voters who then decided to revert to type and vote conservative – Liberal, Neoh, Purcell or Labor.

Michael Neoh lost 5% of his primary vote against his 2015 by-election result. I cannot help but think that his swapping from the Liberal Party to the National Party to rudderless independent confused his voters. Some say that he is popular with young people and that he uses Facebook well to maintain this. Against this I think, yes but do many of them vote? If they are enrolled to vote, do they turn up or are they overly represented in the 5-6% of enrolled voters who don’t vote? I’m not sure that Michael Neoh is the man to inspire the youth of today (and tomorrow) to rise up for major change.

Nor is Jimmy Doukas of The Country Alliance the man to inspire hard-bitten farming types to march on Spring Street in their gumboots. His primary vote dropped by 2% against his 2015 by-election result to 8.1%. Not a bad result, all things considered. And, given the fact that The Country Alliance is as high-profile and well-known as the Koroit Sentinel, that 8% is all his. Jimmy could do a lot better if he hitched his horse to another post – the Liberal Party, maybe? He could do just as well as Roma, and he brings an 8% core vote with him.

James Purcell. James, James, James. My shrivelled heart bleeds. At 16.5%, your primary vote was UP 5% against your previous lower house effort in 2010. But you of all people know that 16.5% is about ten percent short of where it needed to be. What if Neoh (9%) and Doukas (8%) had left you to it? Would you have picked up enough of that 17% to overtake Kylie Gaston and then have a crack at Roma (whose primary vote might, admittedly, have then been at about 39%). My gut says that – if it was a three (four, including The Greens Party) horse race like it was in 2002, it would have been a run-off between you and Roma but that you would have fallen just short by less than 1%. In reality, you had no choice but to jump from the Upper House to the Lower. You couldn’t pull off that weird Upper House preferencing hocus-pocus twice in succession. So, when you did make the leap, you had to have everything go right to even have a chance of winning. I tip my hat to you for what you achieved for the region during your time in the Upper House (actually achieved, not claimed credit for like the Lower House member), but unfortunately for you – and for the South West – everything didn’t go right. You got stuck in a packed field of candidates and couldn’t get the voters to pay enough attention to realise that there was genuine choice other than the main parties they have always so blindly seen as their choices. I went through that in 2015, with a remarkably similar primary result – 16.8%. History shows your base vote in the South West to be 5000 and a good result for you to be somewhere between 11 and 15%. Of course, if you were a major party candidate, ...?  It looks like Roma might be looking over her shoulder in all directions. While your vote was up, you still lost, I’m afraid – by about 10%.

I’m yet to analyse preference flows and final booth-by-booth figures to assess how all of this happened (and how it might be different in the future), but – based on this analysis of the 2018 South West Coast State election results – there are no winners, just the wreckage  from a train – or more to the point, replacement bus – crash. Hang your head, South West Coast. I’m shaking mine.