Crossbencher Fiona Patten concedes Victorian upper house seat to former Labor MP Adem Somyurek

Reason party leader says she is in an unwinnable position against Democratic Labour’s candidate

Fiona Patten has conceded she will be ousted from Victorian parliament’s upper house by former Labor minister Adem Somyurek, who contested the election for the conservative Democratic Labour party.

The Victorian Electoral Commission was set to distribute preferences for the upper house on Tuesday – which has been since been rescheduled to Wednesday – but with 3.6% of first-preference votes to Somyurek’s 4.8%, Patten says she is in an unwinnable position in the Northern Metropolitan region.

“Of course I’m disappointed, but I also feel like I’ve had a pretty amazing eight years and I’ve been able to do so much in my time in parliament,” Patten told Guardian Australia on Monday.

“I didn’t take any moment for granted, I certainly won’t die wondering.”

After a wonderful 8 years in Parliament I’d like to congratulate the successful candidates for Northern Metropolitan Region & indeed all successful candidates in the Victorian election.

Sadly I wont be joining them in the 60th Parliament but I do have some homework for them …

— Fiona Patten MP (@FionaPattenMLC) December 12, 2022

The Reason party leader, who entered the upper house at the 2014 election as a member of what was then called the Sex party, helped lay the groundwork for several of the Andrews government’s signature progressive policies over the past eight years.

This includes the introduction of voluntary assisted dying laws, Melbourne’s first safe injecting room, safe access zones around abortion clinics and the decriminalisation of sex work.

Patten was also pivotal in introducing a spent convictions scheme and extending protections for young people in state care from 18 to 21, and has chaired several parliamentary inquiries including into homelessness and cannabis use.

“My approach has been: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you can make steps in the right direction, take them – and that’s what we did,” Patten said.

“We saw every opportunity to lead debate as a very precious and important opportunity and we worked hard to gain community support that then hopefully would result in government support for progressive policy changes.”

Patten said she would continue working to ensure the Labor government follows through on commitments it made to her during the 59th parliament, including replacing the Lord’s prayer at the start of sitting days, reviewing caps on electoral expenditure and creating a ministerial portfolio to end loneliness.

“I want to continue doing the work that I’ve been doing. I was an advocate before I went into parliament, I was an advocate while in parliament, and I anticipate being one afterwards,” she said.

Patten has also urged changes to Victoria’s “undemocratic” group voting ticket system in the upper house.

The system was brought into focus during the election campaign, when the Herald Sun published a leaked video of “preference whisperer” Glenn Druery – whose actions have been scrutinised for years – boasting about manipulating the system.

“There will definitely need to be reform of the upper house. But I actually wonder if it’s a question for the community rather than for the parliament,” Patten said.

“I would like to see a sort of a citizens’ assembly or citizens’ jury to ask this question of what we want from our Legislative Council: do we still want to keep regions or do we want more of a Senate style? Do we want to abolish it altogether? I would hope not.”

Somyurek, who was sacked from Daniel Andrews’ cabinet and quit the Labor party before he was expelled following allegations of branch stacking, announced in November he would be joining the conservative Democratic Labour party.

The party is led by ex-Liberal and anti-abortion advocate Bernie Finn, who could also pick up a seat in the Western Metropolitan region.

Election analyst Ben Raue said it was clear the duo had benefited from Druery’s preferencing arrangements as well as the name “Labour DLP” and position on the ballot.

“They appeared four places to the left of Labor in Northern Metro and seven places to the left of Labor in Western Metro, so it was likely many voters mistook the DLP for Labor,” he said.

On Monday Somyurek said it was too early to claim victory, given the complexity of upper house counts.

Whilst it’s gracious of candidates to concede before the counting is concluded I’d urge caution. LC counts are complex. Every point of elimination may throw up surprises which change the dynamic of a count. I’ll wait till the button is pressed before I claim victory.

— Adem Somyurek MP (@AdemSomyurek) December 12, 2022

Labor is expected to pick up two seats in the Northern Metropolitan region, and the Greens and the Liberals the remaining two.

Raue believes a bloc of leftwing crossbenchers will likely hold the balance of power in the upper house, and said the Greens were on track to pick up as many as four upper house seats, while Legalise Cannabis was on track to pick up one to two and the Animal Justice party one, following a sting on Druery by its election manager.

Labor, which is likely to drop from 18 seats to 15, would be able to pass legislation with the bloc’s support.

The Liberals and Nationals, meanwhile, look likely to increase their representation from 11 to 14 seats.

Jeff Bourman from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers is likely to be re-elected, while One Nation’s Rikkie-Lee Tyrrell is expected to reach quota for a seat in the Northern Victoria region.

Patten, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy for kidney cancer following a nephrectomy, will take a short break before planning her next move.


Benita Kolovos

The GuardianTramp

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