Victoria election 2022 report card, week one: attack ads, train promises and the cost of living

Three guest panellists give their verdict on how the parties performed in the opening week of the campaign

Margaret Simons, journalist and academic

Both major parties have released competing health and public transport promises. Are voters sitting down with calculators working out if they are better off under Matthew Guy’s promise to halve V/Line ticket prices and cap Melbourne public transport fares, or Daniel Andrews’ promise to cap V/Line fares? I doubt it.

I also doubt they are following the detail of competing health promises. Although the commitments are substantial, neither side is making a decisive impact in voters’ minds.

Among the ordinary voters I have spoken to, the only election promise to have registered was Andrews’ announcement last week to bring back the State Electricity Commission and generate government-owned renewable energy.

A shadow fell across the campaign late in the week when the Age reported it had been prevented by an after-hours injunction from revealing draft findings of an investigation by the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission. On Friday, tiptoeing around the legal issues after failing to get the injunction overturned, it reported that the investigation concerned two grants worth $3.4m to the Health Workers Union. Andrews has been caught up in a number of Ibac inquiries, but this is the first to be directly examining his conduct, the Age reported.

Meanwhile, we saw competitive dirt-throwing about old car accidents. Labor launched an attack ad featuring the drink-driving outgoing MP Tim Smith. The Herald Sun – venue of choice for Daniel Andrews attack jobs – dug up the 2013 accident in which the Andrews family Ford Territory collided with a teenage bike rider, Ryan Meuleman. Andrews’ wife, Catherine, was driving. The news was that Meuleman has engaged lawyers and is disputing the previously accepted account of the crash. The report has been heavy on innuendo and short on specifics.

Most Victorians I spoke to shrugged this brouhaha off. It is taken for granted that the Herald Sun is partisan, and that limits its influence.

Who won the week: Daniel Andrews, but only because he was already ahead and nothing happened to change that. Given the late breaking news about the Ibac inquiry, that may change fast.

This week’s dux: Present and former federal governments which, in a welter of health promises by both sides, have escaped questioning about their role in long-term underfunding of hospitals.

This week’s dunce: Public servants in the Department of Transport who complied with a government request to cost the opposition’s public transport promise. We all lose when the public service is politicised. Have department secretaries forgotten how to say “no minister”?

Tony Barry, Redbridge pollster and former Liberal party exec

The start of the (official) state election campaign was instantly overshadowed by the RBA’s announcement of another 25-point increase to the cash rate.

This news came just a week after the Albanese government’s first budget, where they revealed that Australians can expect a 56% increase on energy bills in the coming two years.

Whilst most cost-of-living pressures are influenced by federal and global factors, the issue is now so pervasive it’s affecting the state political landscape – which is always dangerous for an incumbent.

The politics of grievance, which Anthony Albanese used so effectively in opposition, remains Daniel Andrews’ biggest vulnerability in coming weeks because voters rarely reward governments when they feel poorer and colder.

But as the recent Resolve poll showed, Labor currently enjoys a very comfortable lead over the Coalition. Not all hope is lost for the Coalition though, with the same poll also showing a 27% soft vote.

The opportunity for the Coalition campaign is to persuade those people to either vote for the Coalition or use their vote tactically to send Andrews a message.

If Liberal party campaign headquarters can produce a good creative execution, and if their media buy gives them sufficient repetition and reach, we might see a closer contest than the polls indicate. But with a little over a week before pre-polls open, the Liberal campaign is fast running out of runway.

Who won the week: A hesitant start from both campaigns but with breaking reports about an Ibac investigation involving the premier’s office, it could be the November surprise that changes the course of the election.

This week’s dux: Netball Australia for landing a lazy $15 million government sponsorship deal at a time of record state government deficit and debt.

This week’s dunce: Albanese is the loser as it becomes increasingly apparent that state politics is now an infinite policy auction. Federal fiscal restraint won’t be much good if the states continue racking up debt.

Kirsty Webeck, comedian

In a campaign strategy reminiscent of my battle to be school captain in year 6 (my opponent said he’d make the canteen food free, I said I’d have the prices slashed), both Labor and the Coalition are pledging to reduce the cost of regional travel.

Good news for out of town commuters and for my annual excursion to Bendigo Art Gallery. It might even help take some extra cars off the road and, let’s face it, any little bit helps at this stage in the war against climate change.

The opposition has gone a step further and announced a policy to cap public transport fares in metro Melbourne at just $2 a day. Absolute bargain but at what cost? Funny you should ask that – the public service took the liberty of crunching some numbers, estimating that a $2 cap would cost $900m more than the Coalition has promised. Coalition MPs were fuming about the public servants’ actions. Who needs Love Island when you’ve got this drama to watch unfold?

At this stage of campaigning, all focus is on the soaring cost of living, an area that holds a lot of interest, for good reason. It’s shaping up as the core issue of the campaign. I, for one, am looking forward to kicking back in the quiet carriage and heading out to regional Victoria for an afternoon with a bargain basement ticket in hand.

In case you’re wondering, my opponent won school captain and he was unable to make the canteen food free.

Who won the week: Regional travel. Here’s a direct quote from the V/Line: “why is everyone obsessed with me?”

This week’s dux: The Victorian Greens, for launching a plan to phase out pokies across the state.

This week’s dunce: The Coalition, for upsetting the Victorian Ambulance Union by using a 1970s ambulance with “Ditch Dan” written on it instead of a campaign bus, indicating they need to resuscitate their strategy (cough).

  • Dr Margaret Simons is a board member of the Scott Trust, the core purpose of which is to secure the financial position and editorial independence of the Guardian.

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