The federal election was won and lost in Victoria and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese must orient his government accordingly if he wants another term .
Booooooo go the Western Australians. The west had a bigger swing to Labor and took five seats off Morrison they say. We even have our own teal independent too!
The Sandgropers have a point. Federal Labor formed majority government on the back of Perth votes.
But it was Victoria that holed the Liberals below the waterline and gave Albanese his best chance of survival.
Labor victories in Higgins and Chisholm built the foundations for the crowning glory of the WA swing. Deakin, Menzies and Aston were made marginal too.
The Liberals are one election away from complete obliteration in the city of their birth.
But it was Victorian independents who struck the blows that will most please Albanese. He will very much fancy his re-election chances against Peter Dutton.
The inexplicably popular outside Victoria Josh Frydenberg would have been a different story.
Albanese floats on other strong currents generated by the late autumn southern storm.
The COVID Wars of lockdown and borders and their legitimacy are over and Labor won, thanks to the brutal political streetfighting ability of Victorian Premier Dan Andrews.
While Albanese carefully avoided the fray in Canberra, and WA Premier Mark McGowan sat secure in his western fastness, Andrews successfully prosecuted the COVID argument for Labor values: public health before the economy.
COVID is now over as a mainstream political issue in Australia, and Albanese is on the team that carried the day. The electorate is willing to listen to Labor on the big issues for a while.
Another trend benefiting Albanese is the assertion of political muscle by “professional women”, which defined the Liberal rout in Melbourne’s east.
After a decade fetishising hi-vis blokey go Sharkies fauxganism in NSW and Queensland, a new political alignment decides governments.
The eastern suburbs of Melbourne are the new Western Sydney. Professional women are the new tradies.
The Greens, led by the Member for Melbourne, are also on the march. And the teal independents, whose spiritual home is Cathy McGowan and Helen Haines’ Victorian seat of Indi, are likely only just getting started.
The locus of political culture is shifting to Victoria and the Prime Minister must govern accordingly, or he’ll be a oncer.
Albanese understands this of course. The question is what he can, or will, do about it.
He campaigned hard in WA on keeping the shocking GST rip off in place and Treasurer Jim Chalmers has confirmed it will remain.
Labor will argue that the politics demand as much: WA gave Labor four seats.
Just as Victorian taxpayers had to fund the Coalition’s naked pork barrelling in Queensland, now we have to cough up to keep the Perthlings happy.
There’s a few smaller wins Chalmers could produce in his Spring budget, notably by “unlocking” the likely mythical billions stashed away for the East/West Link.
Labor can also move swiftly to lift Victoria’s wider share infrastructure funding from its current offensively low 6 per cent of new funding announced in this year’s budget.
This will mean taking money from other states, that will no doubt squeal at the thought of losing hard earned Victorian money for their own pet projects.
Do Albo and Chalmers have the political hide, and integrity, to stare down the sooks and return Victoria’s share of infrastructure spending to something reflective of our population?
The early signs are not good. Albanese wants to resurrect his pet agency Infrastructure Australia, and have Canberra boffins run their slide rule over what they think Victoria deserves.
Albanese and Chalmers appear to be trying to wriggle out of increasing Victorian infrastructure funding for much needed projects like the Suburban Rail Loop (SRL).
Labor committed $15 billion to SRL ahead of the 2019 election, but by 2022 this commitment dropped to just $2.2 billion.
To put this in context, SRL East will cost $30-34.5 billion, of which the Victorian government has already kicked in almost $12 billion.
In three years, Federal Labor has gone from equal partner in the project to a rounding error.
Any further Commonwealth funding will need to go through the Infrastructure Australia maze, despite an already complete business case on the table.
This is a grievous error as SRL is popular in newly rebellious Melbourne suburbs and crucial to the Andrews’ government re-election strategy. Spring Street will not accept the slap without punching back hard.
The Albanese government would also be wise to exercise what remains of Canberra’s soft power in Victoria: basing the new Federal ICAC in Melbourne would be an excellent start.
The Sydney-centrism of the previous government cannot be denied. The sneering attacks from NSW on Victoria when we were sick and scared in 2020/21 left scars that will take years to heal, if indeed they ever can.
As a Prime Minister with Sydney DNA, who leans on a log cabin story about his love for an NRL team, Albanese must recognise he will be viewed from Melbourne through the prism he has himself largely created.
The Albanese majority government deserves the opportunity to demonstrate it is different from the previous governments run by men from Sydney.
But it must also recognise that the political landscape has changed dramatically.
Victoria’s Premier and Treasurer have made abdundantly clear they will not abandon their fight for fair Commonwealth funding simply because Labor comrades are now hold power at the federal level.
The constitutional order is also significantly different from Labor’s last term in the early ‘10s.
The mechanics of federalism were significantly disrupted by COVID and state Premiers restored many powers that had long lay dormant. They will not relinquish them voluntarily.
The Council of Australian Governments was summarily executed during COVID and replaced by National Cabinet, or to give it it’s Sunday name, the National Federation Reform Council.
Albanese will convene a National Cabinet – which had fallen into abeyance since mass vaccination and the Omicron variant altered the COVID calculus – in coming weeks, where he’ll be besieged by health funding and governance demands from the states.
Will the Albanese government move to shore up Commonwealth power?
Given the scale of the economic challenges it is unlikely Labor will want to expend political capital on a long and contested constitutional process of little immediate interest to the average voter.
Instead, there will be a typically Australian fudge, one that doesn’t give Victoria what it wants.
Australia’s ludicrously short three year federal terms, where election dates are not fixed, allows Federal Labor very little breathing space and Albanese will face a Victoria made marginal, very aware of its newfound power.
Victorians know that states that squeal at the ballot box get chocolates and kisses from Canberra and we want our share, especially when it is our credit card buying the goodies.
There’ll be the usual handouts to NSW and Queensland, as our intellectually flabby Sydney based national media convinces itself that “elections are won and lost” in the only states they know or care about.
Albanese will put party first and shore up his WA gains while tryting to win more seats in the rugby league states. They’ll simply hope for the best in Victoria.
Victoria will be back where we started.
Labor will be incumbent at the next election, and their seats will almost certainly be targeted by community based candidates not aligned with any party.
The Victorian Independence Movement may also stand in the Senate.
If a Federal Labor government in Canberra won’t give Victoria our fair share, we’ll need to vote for more independents.
Or even independence.