Australia

Victoria election: Voter discontent with Abbott factor

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L) and Premier of Victoria, Denis Napthine visit Backwell IXL in Geelong. 30 April 2014 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Labor have drawn comparisons between Tony Abbott, left, and Victoria Premier Denis Napthine, right

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's unpopularity could play a key role in Victoria's state election, say experts.

Polls are pointing to a loss for Victoria's Coalition government at Saturday's election.

Voter discontent with Mr Abbott's national Coalition government is one of the reasons for the expected loss.

Described by the Labor opposition as "box office poison", Mr Abbott has barely set foot in Victoria during the four-week election campaign.

If Victorian Premier Denis Napthine's government loses to Labor opposition leader Daniel Andrews, it will be the first in the state since 1955 to lose office after serving only one term.

The Greens may also play a pivotal role. Analysts say the environmentalists could win some Labor seats in the lower house for the first time and possibly hold the balance of power in the Senate.

A Coalition defeat would be bad news for Mr Abbott, whose government is also suffering in the polls after just over a year in office. Political analysts blame his government's harsh budget measures and broken promises, in part, for the Victorian government's struggles.

"The reluctance to let [Mr Abbott] anywhere near the campaign shows his own party thinks he's a vote loser in Victoria," said veteran political commentator Laurie Oakes.

Labor is making the most of the "Abbott factor" by launching saturation advertising in the final days of the campaign that show images of Mr Abbott and Mr Napthine merging as one.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Victoria's Labor opposition leader Daniel Andrews hopes to secure a historic victory

"Need a reason not to vote Liberal?", the TV advertisement asks, before listing federal issues such as a proposal to make visiting a doctor more expensive, raising the retirement age to 70 and increasing a tax on the price of petrol.

The Liberal Party has countered with attacks on Labor's economic credibility in the wake of big infrastructure cost blowouts when it was in government, and the opposition leader's links to unions.

Polls have consistently put the two-party preferred vote at 48%-52% against the government.

If translated into a consistent state-wide swing, that would give Labor a comfortable working majority of five to six seats in Victoria's 88-seat parliament, says former Labor campaign director Nicholas Reece.

"This is obviously quite extraordinary if the Napthine government is the first Victorian government in 60 years to last only one term," said Mr Reece, Public Policy Fellow at Melbourne University.

If it loses, the Victorian government will not be able to place all the blame on the federal government, say analysts.

It was seen to "dither" on big economic and infrastructure issues during its first two years, made large education budget cuts, and had protracted industrial disputes with paramedics, firefighters, nurses and teachers.

'Warning' to Abbott

It also lost its first premier Ted Baillieu over the shock decision of "rogue" Coalition backbencher Geoff Shaw to become an independent, which at times paralysed parliament.

"Usually, voters associate a second leader with the later stages of a government, so it had the effect, I think, of speeding up the life-cycle of the government," said Mr Reece.

But the biggest policy difference between the parties is the government's plan to build an A$7bn (£3.7bn) freeway extension, which Labor has threatened to scrap if it wins office.

Analysts say a Coalition loss in Victoria, which in recent years has been Labor-leaning, would not carry the same weight as a Coalition loss in the states of Queensland or New South Wales. However, it would still be a warning to Mr Abbott.

"I think it sends a very real message to Canberra about using your power wisely and well, that you can't be guaranteed a second chance," said former federal and Victorian Coalition adviser Terry Barnes.

"I think voters are increasingly fickle... which means that governments don't have the luxury of trial and error in terms of getting their act together.

"The message to Tony Abbott is get your skates on."

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