Who to vote for and who to preference - that is the question

By Dr Colleen Lewis
Honorary Professor, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

As of 14 November, many Victorians will cast their vote in the forthcoming state election and in a few short weeks, at 6.00pm on 26 November, the polls will close.

The crucial decision facing voters is who to vote for; who can they trust to govern the state effectively, ethically and always in the public interest.  Who can they trust not to prioritise party and personal interests over the public interest for the next four years?  For the growing number of voters not rusted on to a particular party  this will be a difficult  decision.

The following outlines issues that Victorians may wish to consider before making what is one of the most important decisions they will make in the next four years.

Starting with the Government, can voters  trust what it says and promises in the lead up to the election and afterwards should it retain government?

When considering those questions voters should reflect on the fact that in the lead up to the 2014 election the then Labor Party Opposition, led by Daniel Andrews, was promising that if elected to power it would act with integrity and hence improve standards of behaviour in public life. While making the integrity pledge the Party was simultaneously planning and implementing the “Red Shirts Affair”, a highly unethical scheme deliberately designed to misuse tax-payers’ dollars for party political purposes.

If that was not bad enough, the Government, under the leadership of Daniel Andrews, did all it could to try to prevent one of Victoria’s key citizens’ watchdog bodies, the Ombudsman’s Office, from investigating and publicly reporting on the Red Shirts Affair. It tried to do so by taking the Ombudsman all the way to the High Court in an attempt to prevent her office fulfilling its rightful role to act in the public interest. The Government was unsuccessful at every stage of the legal process.

These matters are not the only issues that call into question the degree of trust it is possible to place in the promises made by the Labor Party Government in their quest to win power for a third term.

Fast forwarding several years, voters could reflect on the fact that the same Party was investigated by another key citizens’ watchdog body, the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission, in conjunction with the Ombudsman. These crucially important accountability institutions’ findings, outlined in their “Operation Watts” investigation are, to say the least, damning of the culture that infests the Labor Party.

The two independent accountability institutions found “… a political culture condoned or even actively encouraged by senior figures, of ends justifying means and of bending and breaking rules”. As they explain, “The report illustrates a catalogue of unethical and inappropriate behaviour ranging from the hiring of unqualified people into publicly funded roles, using those roles to support factional work, nepotism, forging signatures, bullying and attempts to interfere with the government grants process”.

IBAC Commissioner, Robert Redlich, noted that “while we saw evidence of disturbing practices engaged in by staff, most of whom knew what they were doing was wrong, primary responsibility rests with the MPs for whom they worked and their factional leaders”.

Ombudsman Glass made the telling point that her 2018 Red Shirts report stressed the need for reform yet the Watts Report “highlights how little has changed”.

There is also the matter of the worrying deficit that Victorian taxpayers will have to fund for many years. Despite the fact that it is greater than NSW, Queensland and Tasmania combined there is a daily cash splash announcement by the Labor Party.

So, what about the Liberal Party and its junior coalition partner the National Party? Can it be trusted to govern effectively and ethically by always prioritising the public interest over party and personal interests?

In fairness to the Andrews Government, the Coalition is a much more unknown quantity as it has not exercised the levers of government control for eight years. However, there are certainly reasons for concern over the very poor judgement exercised by the Coalition’s two-time leader, Matthew Guy.

In the lead up to this election, Guy appointed a person to the critically important role of Chief of Staff, someone who he must have considered capable of running his office in an effective and ethical manner. Surely, he did his homework to assure himself that this would be the case.

Apparently not, as Guy’s newly appointed Chief of Staff, Mitch Catlin, had to resign over an integrity issue. He had asked a wealthy Liberal Party donor to contract to make a contribution of more than $100,000 to his private business.

Surely Guy would be aware of the ethical standards Catlin would bring to the role, especially as he stated publicly that Catlin “is a friend of mine.  He has been very close to me – particularly since I got this position back.  I like him very much”.  Guy says no contract was signed, but this is not the point which needs to be considered by voters. They must also contemplate if his poor judgement will extend to public policy matters should the Coalition win government.

And then there are the minor and miniscule parties that are engaged in preference deals.  Voters should resist the temptation to only vote (1) above the line on the Legislative Council ballot paper and instead take the time to vote 1 to at least 5 below the line.

This is important as a above the line (1 only) vote will allow preferences to be allocated by a political party/group/candidate. Also, an above the line only vote could advantage those parties willing to pay a “preference whisperer” to have the best preference deal they can afford to buy.

Voters should also think very carefully about how they allocate their preferences on the Legislative Assembly ballot paper as numbering each candidate in order of preference is required.  It is worth remembering that second and sometimes even third preferences can determine who wins a seat and hence who wins government.

If in any doubt, the Victorian Electoral Commission website has a straightforward explanation of the voting requirements for the parliament’s Legislative Assembly and Council.

So, who to vote for and who to preference is the question voters need to carefully consider before filling out their ballot papers, as every person’s vote counts toward determining who will govern Victoria for the next four years.

Dr Colleen Lewis is Honorary Professor, Australian Studies Institute, ANU. She has been a resident of Melbourne for 26 years.

Banner image: Victorian Electoral Commission


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