There’re many theories purporting to explain Saturday’s stunning electoral swing to Victoria’s incumbent Labor Government. A popular explanation is the lacklustre performance of Coalition leader, Mathew Guy, which also conveniently deflects blame from the conservative national government.
Others argue it’s a clear rejection of the Opposition’s stand on climate change, injecting rooms and law order. Some reckon it’s due to Premier Daniel Andrews progressive stand on key issues in education, social policy and health.
I don’t discount any of those, but they don’t strike me as the key explanation for the ‘Danslide’. Some observations on the outcome of Saturday’s poll:
- The scale of the swing is primarily down to the Andrews Government exceeding the expectations of the electorate by honouring its promises from the 2014 election and, crucially, delivering on key infrastructure projects within its first term. They include completion of big projects such as the Mernda rail extension and removal of 29 level crossings, plus a substantial start to Melbourne Metro. Voters used to governments that merely produce a business plan in the first term, or at best a small start on construction, were delighted and wowed by ‘Dan the Delivery Man’s’ ability to produce tangible outcomes.
- This is essentially traditional “development” politics pretty much from the Joh Bjelke-Peterson rule book. The electorate was persuaded the Government would similarly deliver on its longer-term productive infrastructure promises like North East Link, West Gate Tunnel, airport rail, and the suburban rail loop.
- The Government has made immigration less of an issue by persuading voters it can deliver the infrastructure and the additional services necessary to deal with population growth. It doesn’t necessarily follow, though, that the infrastructure it delivers will do the job.
- Governments and Oppositions can’t promise major infrastructure projects anymore and expect to get away with just producing a business case before the next election. Now that voters have seen what can be done within four years, they’ll expect projects to be completed, or at least a substantial start made, before the next election.
- That makes it less likely parties, especially those in opposition, will make infrastructure promises contingent on a positive business case. The consequence is the scope for being stuck with truly awful projects is now even higher. Mostly though it probably means projects will get built much sooner than the flow of benefits indicates they should; the promised suburban rail loop is a signal example.
- The emphasis on speed also means some projects, even good ones, might not get the proper level of analysis and planning required to make them effective. A major risk for governments might be projects that go out of control (e.g. cost overruns) due to inadequate preparation and planning, or that can only be funded on unfavourable terms.
- There’s a possibility the Andrews Government might be emboldened by its electoral success to put less weight on matters that delay projects or increase costs e.g. it might be less inclined to put road and rail projects underground.
- It’s more important than ever that Governments and Oppositions confine their major election promises on infrastructure to potential projects that’ve already been assessed in-principle by an independent body such as Infrastructure Victoria.
One other important point. The ability to deliver so much in such a short time frame isn’t down to superior public sector management; Victoria doesn’t have a special breed of bureaucrats. It’s due to the politicians who, I suspect, stumped up funding without blinking and, most importantly, simply got out of the way. That’s great but it’s unlikely it can be sustained; Victorians should be careful that ‘Delivery Dan’ doesn’t turn into ‘Development (at-any-cost) Dan’.