Victoria state election descends into a battle for the biggest scandal | Benita Kolovos

There have been Ibac referrals, legal challenges and revelations about backroom dealings – and that was just in a few hours on Thursday

Elections are meant to be a contest of ideas. But with a little more than a week to go until Victorians cast their ballots, this campaign has become a battle for the biggest scandal.

In the space of a couple of hours on Thursday morning, it emerged that both Daniel Andrews and Matthew Guy were being referred to the state’s anti-corruption watchdog – the former by the Liberals and the latter by the Victorian Electoral Commission. The VEC, at around the same time, was at a tribunal thrashing it out with teal independent candidates, several of whom it threatened with jail time over their distribution of blank how-to-vote cards. The teals won their case, however.

This day of high drama followed on from tabloid news stories feeding conspiracy theories about the premier’s fall down steps last year and a nine-year-old car crash involving his wife.

“Preference whisperer” Glenn Druery was double-crossed twice in one week, with one minor party shifting its preferences in a last-minute sting and another released recordings of him boasting of ousting Greens via complicated preference deals.

Meanwhile, both sides have been rolling out the attack ads, including one from Labor focused on the behaviour of drunken Coalition MPs and the opposition labelling Andrews a “prick”.

It certainly hasn’t been a campaign for the faint-hearted. But there is the potential for it to get uglier still.

After referring the premier to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (Ibac) over the leaked Druery videos on Thursday, the opposition’s spokesperson for government scrutiny, Louise Staley, amped up the rhetoric.

Staley and the deputy Liberal leader, David Southwick, took a leaf out of the Republican playbook by accusing the premier on social media of “vote rigging” – despite Andrews saying he didn’t believe Labor had engaged Druery’s services.

Labor definitely has questions to answer about why it allows Druery to continue to influence parliament by getting minor parties elected via a group voting ticket system that is no longer used elsewhere.

As opposition leader, Andrews was approached by the then Liberal premier, Denis Napthine, with a plan to reform the voting system. It was rejected because it was too close to the 2014 election. But after his win, Andrews did nothing. This inertia – seemingly at odds with the government’s reform agenda – continued following the 2018 election.

But opposition claims of vote rigging risk people rejecting the legitimacy of elections and embracing conspiracy theories. In the worst possible scenario, the spread of conspiracy theories can lead to political violence.

These fears are not abstract. On Monday, a unionist was assaulted at an early voting centre in Wodonga by a man enraged over the state’s Covid-19 response.

It also comes after the Liberal candidate for Ringwood, Cynthia Watson, posted a photo of a man wearing a T-shirt demanding the premier be jailed. The party’s candidate in the premier’s seat of Mulgrave, Michael Piastrino, has also apologised for declaring that an elected Liberal government would get rid of “all the dodgy policies that Daniel Andrews has put through and he will be brought to justice for the murder of 800 people”.

The party itself has authorised ads using footage from anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne and has preferenced a minor party candidate who has called for the premier to be hanged ahead of Labor.

Asked about the preferencing arrangement on Thursday, Andrews broke his usual rule of not commenting on the opposition.

“I’m not here to talk about them but this has to be said … the Liberal party are preferencing people who are not just antisemites but they are Nazis, they are racists,” he said.

“There is no place for the alternative government of this state to be in a political partnership with people who have absolutely abhorrent views.”

Amid the rising temperatures, the electoral commissioner, Warwick Gately, issued a statement on Thursday expressing his disappointment at the “poor behaviour by some party workers and campaign volunteers at a handful of early voting centres”.

He has made it clear he will call police if staff or election volunteers are made to feel unsafe.


All parties would be well advised to follow Gately’s advice to “be patient, respectful and courteous to each other”. If the Capitol riot in the US taught us anything, it’s to not take our peaceful democratic tradition for granted.

Victoria has emerged from the pandemic with more than $100bn in debt, a battered health system, an exhausted workforce and a cost-of-living and housing affordability crisis. Our politicians might do well to concentrate on these things.

Continuing to fling mud can only give voters more reason to abandon the major parties.


Benita Kolovos

The GuardianTramp

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