Matthew Guy is under no illusions about the difficulty of the feat he’s attempting this month.
“Winning government from opposition is the hardest task in politics,” the Victorian opposition leader told the cheering Liberal Party faithful on Sunday.
“It’s like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. And here in Victoria, Labor have been in government for 19 of the past 23 years. It’s like doing it in a blizzard all backwards.”
His party’s campaign launch on the eve of early polling in Victoria was framed around the government weaknesses he hopes will help him pull off an upset.
But it also contained a big idea: a legislated guarantee that 100 per cent of new gas produced in Victoria would be quarantined for Victorian use.
“Because a guaranteed supply of natural gas means we can keep the lights on and keep energy affordable while we transition to a clean-energy future,” Mr Guy said.
The policy was met with scepticism by Grattan Institute energy expert Tony Wood, who said at first glance, the Coalition’s gas reservation policy would have little benefit and could further complicate an already-complex market.
“I struggle to find a good reason why this would actually deliver a significant change,” Mr Wood said.
There are concerns that a Victorian-only market would be a disincentive for investors seeking big returns, and Mr Wood also queried whether isolating a Victorian-only system could be done.
“Imposing constraints about how electricity and gas can move across the country would seem to be both physically and financially challenging,” he said.
The opposition’s energy policy was accompanied by a more modest cost-of-living pledge, as the Coalition promised to freeze supply charges on power bills for the first six months of 2023.
Mr Guy said the measure would save the average Victorian household up to $235 on their bill next year. He told those gathered he would like to extend it, but first the Coalition needed to assess the state of Victoria’s finances.
The issue of integrity, which has presented challenges for both sides of politics in recent months, came into colourful display at the Liberal Party’s launch, as a small group of protesters in lobster suits gathered outside to remind voters of Mr Guy’s past.
Inside, the party was circulating a colourful frequent-flyer-themed card to remind voters of the IBAC investigations that have played out during the Andrews government’s time in power.
Opposition hopeful Victoria’s mood is ‘changing’
A huge billboard at the launch was emblazoned with the words Mr Guy hopes will loom largest in Victorian voters’ minds: “We will put an end to Daniel Andrews’ era of spiralling debt and higher taxes.”
It is a reference to the fact that Victoria’s net debt is forecast to rise to more than $165 billion by 2026, more than the net debt of Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania combined — a line the crowd chanted along with Mr Guy during the launch.
The Labor government argues the state needed to take on the debt to keep its economy going through the gruelling years of COVID-19 lockdown.
But Mr Guy is hoping eight years of Labor government has wearied Victorians, and the Coalition’s modest cost-of-living pitches and big pledges on health will be enough to make change on November 26.
“You can feel that mood changing, can’t you?” he asked the crowd.
“The growing wave of anger and resentment against Daniel Andrews and his Labor administration.
“For everything they’ve done over the last three years in particular, you can feel it picking up speed.”
Labor hones in on putting power generation in public hands
In Melbourne’s south-east, Labor’s campaign aimed to shift the focus away from debt and towards the projects it funded with its own slogan — “Doing What Matters”.
The party had the slickly produced videos to go with it, including a compilation of newsreels listing off government projects and reforms from its second term.
Like the opposition, Labor was promoting its own big-picture energy policy and a modest cost-of-living policy beside it.
Deputy Premier Jacinta Allan reminded the crowd of Kennett-era privatisations as she underlined the party’s pledge to revive the state electricity commission so it could play a leading role in the transition to renewable energy.
“It (privatisation) meant that instead of being delivered by engineers and electricians — people who understood our electricity network, understood what it meant … — our state’s energy system was sold off and carved up and abandoned to accountants,” she said.
“Suddenly profits became more important than people’s energy supply, more important than people’s jobs, more important than people.”
The opposition has voiced its scepticism over the proposal, which Mr Guy said was trying to take the state back to 1975 based on an idea that had “no evidence it’ll actually lower energy bills”.
But Mr Andrews argued a revived commission would provide a “sense of opportunity” for the next generation of Victorians.
“As part of our plan to revive the SEC and create 59,000 clean-energy jobs, at least 6,000 of those jobs will be for apprentices and trainees,” he said.
In a nod to the pain felt by households facing rising power prices, Labor unveiled another round of its Power Saving Bonus, which offers $250 for households who compare electricity prices on a government website.
The party also used the campaign launch to announce a $207 million plan to extend after-hours care to every single specialist school in the state, based on the results of a recent pilot program.
Towards the end of his speech, Mr Andrews attempted to pitch the election as a choice between privatisation and public ownership — despite the fact the Coalition is not taking any plans to privatise public assets to the election.
“Do we choose cuts and closures and privatisation … or do we keep striving for something better and fairer and kinder and for everyone?” he asked.
Record number of candidates could throw up wildcards on polling day
The Coalition faces an uphill battle to wrest power from the Andrews Labor government, which holds 55 seats to the Coalition’s 27 in the lower house.
But Labor’s path to win a third term of majority government is far from certain, with a record 740 candidates contesting lower house seats this election.
Independent candidates are vying to put pressure on the party in previously safe seats in Melbourne’s west such as Melton, where infrastructure strain is emerging as a key issue.
In inner Melbourne, the Greens are threatening to seize the seat of Richmond. And the minor party believes it is in a strong position as it contests Northcote and Albert Park nearby.
And several candidates are putting up competitive fights in previously safe Liberal seats in Melbourne’s inner east as they attempt to replicate some of the “teal wave” that washed through at the federal election.
The election campaigns from both Labor and the Coalition have been dominated by promises to pour billions into the state’s health system and a raft of cost-of-living announcements aimed at easing the pain of rising inflation.
Last month, the opposition pledged to cap public transport fares at $2 a day, in a policy it said was costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office at $1.3 billion over four years.
Labor sought to counter the pledge weeks later as it claimed the costing was underdone and offered its own public transport discount, capping V/Line fares.
Teachers and healthcare groups have welcomed a focus from both sides on building up schools and hospitals, but have warned whoever wins government will arguably face more significant challenges in building and retaining a workforce for the critical public sectors.
Liberal preference deal offers boost to Greens
The Greens, who are hoping to boost their lower house seats from three to six, have pledged to use whatever influence they wield after the election to push for a raft of reforms including the closure of two of the state’s prisons, more ambitious climate targets and substantially boosted public transport services.
The party will also push for more funding and power to be granted to the state’s anti-corruption watchdog and push for more ambitious social and affordable housing targets.
On Sunday, the party unveiled more details on its own energy platform, calling on the next government to subsidise the wages of Victorian coal workers as coal-fired power stations were closed and the state transitioned to renewable energy.
The Greens this week announced they would preference Labor above the Liberal Party in every seat across the state this election, flagging concern about the rise of far-right influence across Victorian politics.
But on the weekend, the Liberal Party said it would send preferences to the Greens over Labor in most seats, a move which will boost the chances of a Green victory in tightly fought inner-Melbourne districts.
Leave a Reply