Nominations will close tomorrow for registered political parties running in the Victorian state election, with independents having until Friday to nominate.
The Liberal Party today submitted their bulk nominations, but failed to nominate a candidate for the inner city seats of Brunswick, Melbourne, Northcote and Richmond – all of which are marginal Labor-Greens contests. Two are held by Labor, and two are held by the Greens.
This is a strange decision, not seen by a major party in decades. It will likely cost the party money and could hurt their upper house campaign, if the Liberals don’t change their mind in the next 18 hours.
The Liberal Party has been racked by difficulty in recent election cycles when it comes to making a decision about whether to preference the Greens or Labor higher on their how-to-vote cards. Most Liberal voters have been happy to follow the party line in these contests, which saw Liberal preferences substantially favour the Greens up until the 2010 federal election, when Liberal preferences helped Adam Bandt to victory in the federal seat of Melbourne.
Following this result the party changed its mind, and has preferenced Labor over the Greens at state and federal elections in Victoria, and usually in other states. This saw multiple races where the Greens would have won with the historical preference flows (see Melbourne state by-election in 2012 and Batman in 2016), but Labor instead held on.
Yet this was not a comfortable position for the Liberal Party: helping hold back the Green tide in the inner city while fighting Labor in other seats.
The NSW Liberal Party has consistently chosen to instead recommend voters just vote 1: effectively encouraging Liberal voters to abstain from the contest. But this can only be done in New South Wales state elections, which don’t require a full preference ticket.
Not standing candidates in the general election is another way to avoid this difficult decision, but it’s a strange one. It’s been decades since either major party chose to sit out contests at a general election (despite being commonplace at by-elections). The Liberal Party stood to receive $7 in public funding per vote in these seats, which is likely more than it would’ve cost to run a low-profile campaign in those seats. They could have instead chosen to recommend an open ticket, which instructs the voter how to cast a formal vote but does not recommend specific preferences.
The Liberal Party will still be contesting the Northern Metropolitan upper house region, where they polled 1.3 quotas and won one seat in 2014, and could have had a chance of winning a second seat. While I’m sure plenty of Liberal voters in these inner-city seats will still find their way to vote Liberal for the Legislative Council, it’s bound to hurt their vote and make it hard for the right in the upper house.
One possible explanation could be that the party is still considering nominating candidates, but is negotiating with Labor or the Greens. Quotes from Matthew Guy today suggest that the party is still discussing their options with Labor.
We should know what they are doing by tomorrow.
In the meantime, I’ve used this opportunity to run an update of our list of Victorian Legislative Assembly candidates. This list includes 454 candidates, including full slates of candidates for Labor and the Greens. Only 367 of these candidates had been listed as officially nominated as of 5pm on Wednesday night.
I will do a more thorough analysis of the breakdown of candidates once nominations are closed on Friday, but if you’d like to look at the list you can find it here.