Watts scandal not decisive: expert

Premier Daniel Andrews during a visit to Cranbourne Secondary College in June. 283928_03

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A damning anti-corruption bodies’ joint report on Labor branch-stacking comes at a “problematic time” for the State Government but won’t have much standalone impact, a political expert says.

Months ahead of the November State Election, the IBAC and State Ombudsman’s Operation Watts report came after recent “big changes” for the Government’s Cabinet, Monash University politics senior lecturer Zareh Ghazarian noted.

“It’s been distracting for the Government. But I’m not sure how much impact that it will have on who people vote for.”

The ‘Red Shirts’ scandal, which led the Victorian ALP to repay $388,000 of misused taxpayer funds, didn’t seem to dent the Government’s vote at the 2018 election, Dr Ghazarian noted.

On the other hand, the recent Federal Election revealed electoral “volatility”, with a swing to independents and non-major parties.

Even while winning Government, Labor’s candidates in South East heartland seats suffered falls in primary votes.

“It suggests that voters aren’t necessarily welded on.

“(The IBAC report) won’t have much impact on its own, but it may give more reasons for people looking to not vote for a major party.”

Traditionally, voters’ intentions are based on health care, education and transport as well as the economic situation.

But added to the mix is the handling of the Covid pandemic, including the long lockdowns, by the Government and Opposition.

Other factors include the impact of the new seats of Berwick and Pakenham, and the return of a “combative” and “proactive” Matthew Guy as Opposition Leader.

He led the Coalition to a dismal 2018 election result, with few improving signs in the latest poll.

A Roy Morgan survey in July recorded a 59.5 to 40.5 two-party preferred lead for the Victorian ALP over the Coalition.

Labor’s Daniel Andrews led Mr Guy 64.5 to 34.5 per cent as preferred Premier, according to the survey.

“At the moment the Coalition is coming from a very low base in 2018 but because of the volatility – as we have seen in Queensland – oppositions can make up ground very quickly.

“Looking at the polls, the Premier and Labor has retained its popularity. At the moment, (Mr Andrews) would still be a very strong asset for the Government.

“Governments tend to lose support the longer they’re in office. There’s been some renewal in terms of the make-up of the Ministry, which is important in a long-term government.

“The constant has been Daniel Andrews.

“Looking at the numbers, this election is Labor’s to lose.

“They enjoy a very big majority in the Lower House and it’s a difficult thing for an opposition to win the seats they need to form government.”