The Legalise Cannabis party is leading a group of minor progressive parties in the running to enter Victoria’s upper house, vowing to bring drug reform to the next parliament if it claims the two seats it is hoping to secure.
Vote counting for the Legislative Council will take weeks to finalise, but early numbers suggest a bloc of left-wing candidates and parties could hold the balance of power.
The Greens were on Monday expecting to win four seats, the Animal Justice party may secure one and the Reason party leader, Fiona Patten, is in a tight race with former Labor powerbroker Adem Somyurek.
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Labor could secure 15 seats, while the Coalition was looking at 14, with between 20% and 30% of votes counted in each region.
Election analyst Ben Raue said Legalise Cannabis is now the highest-polling party after Labor, the Greens and the Coalition.
Raue said that, on average, the party has picked up about 4.8% of the primary vote.
Legalise Cannabis chair, Craig Ellis, said he was “quietly optimistic”, although was cautious to suggest they would claim seats in the Southeastern and Western Metropolitan regions.
“I’m not counting my eggs, we are very cautious,” Ellis said. “The most important thing to say is there are still lots of votes to be counted. On the surface we are very pleased with the level of support we’ve received.”
Ellis said the strong primary vote in regional Victoria was driven by their policy to abolish roadside drug testing for cannabis.
“It’s a tool of prohibition rather than road safety,” he said.
If elected, the party would focus on legalising cannabis, changing the law to allow people to grow their own plants and would also support reform to abolish the controversial group voting ticket system in the upper house.
Raue said the primary vote was so large for Legalise Cannabis was partly due to ballot placement.
“They did get relatively good ballot draws, that did help a little,” Raue said. “But really they’re an attractive name, it’s a popular issue. I think that’s about it.”
Raue also said the “discipline” of the left bloc had meant preference whisperer Glenn Druery’s group had taken a hit – with swings against Derryn Hinch’s Justice party and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers.
“Because the left bloc is disciplined, they preference each other and then Labor and the Greens – outside of that it’s hard to get preferences,” he said.
Druery defended the early results, saying while he had not done as well as 2018 – when he helped elect eight MPs – his preference deals looked likely to deliver up to five seats. This includes one that may go to the Animal Justice party, which managed to receive preferences from his bloc without reciprocation.
“At this point, my efforts have elected the Animal Justice party and the Shooters and Fishers. This is on current numbers,” he said. “That’s a nice little yin and yang right there.”
He said the Democratic Labour party could also pick up a seat in the Northeast Metropolitan region, and Somyurek may beat Patten for a spot.
Animal Justice party candidate Georgie Purcell said although she was quietly optimistic about winning a seat, early analysis suggested she could have done just as well without Druery’s preferences.
“I encouraged the party to preference other progressive parties, and that’s what they’ve done, I’m benefiting from those parties’ preference flows,” she said.
“It was still winnable without the flow from the [Druery bloc].”
In a statement, Patten said preference deals could help her retain her seat.
“On current numbers, I have a slight edge to retain the seat off a strong flow of preferences from the progressive parties,” Patten said.
“It will likely come down to below-the-line votes, which I’m glad to say is strong in northern metro, and likely to favour us.
“While we are in a good position now there are many more votes still to be counted and the numbers could change.”
Controversial Liberal candidate Moira Deeming will enter the upper house, after her preselection was met with criticism within her party largely due to her conservative views on abortion and transgender rights and her criticism of Victorian government’s Safe Schools program.
She joins fellow Liberal Renee Heath, who outgoing leader Matthew Guy said would be excluded from the party room after claims were made that she was a lifelong member of the City Builders church, and that it had been directed by its global leader to infiltrate the Coalition. The church, which is led by Heath’s parents, is opposed to gay, transgender and reproductive rights. Heath has denied having the same views as her parents.