By Danielle Kutchel
It’s the election result that’s got the experts scratching their heads: what happened to Labor?
Prior to Saturday’s poll, bookies and analysts were united: Labor was a shoe-in to form government, albeit with a tight lead over the Coalition.
Fast forward to Saturday night, and the castle collapsed as the Liberals gained seat after seat, including the key seat of La Trobe.
With the majority of votes counted in the electorate, Jason Wood has a comfortable margin over Labor’s Simon Curtis and looks set to return, with a slight swing towards him – despite predictions of the opposite.
Asked how the experts could have gotten it so wrong, Monash University senior lecturer and political analyst, Dr Nick Economou, pointed to opinion polls in the lead up to the election which consistently showed voters favouring Labor.
“I suspect we were operating on what the opinion polls were telling us, and if the opinion polls are wrong, we’ll get it wrong too.
“When we were operating on the assumption of a change of government, my opinion was that Jason Wood would lose his seat. He’s held, with a swing towards him – an excellent result for him.”
Pre-poll results are yet to be counted, which could have an impact on the number of seats the Coalition government will hold. A record number of pre-polls were lodged this year, with long queues of half an hour or more spotted at pre-polling locations around La Trobe.
Mr Economou said the poor result for Labor gives the impression that Labor “doesn’t get it”.
“Labor would probably be disappointed with their performance in the suburban booths. The bottom line is, it’s extraordinary to think that in three years where the Coalition government has had a series of difficulties, for Labor to have no impact on the seat of La Trobe is an indictment of how bad the Labor campaign was.”
Now, as Labor picks up the pieces and begins the search for a new leader, Mr Economou said the party needs to broaden its view on what Australia is.
“We have to remember that the Australian electorate, in totality, is a conservative electorate. Australians are suspicious of change, suspicious of the financial and economic costs of change, and all Labor managed to do was give the impression they would change everything and spend huge amounts doing it, and not everybody was convinced.
“…their view of reform and the beneficiaries of it are not shared by the Australian people.”
But it’s not all bad news for Labor, with Mr Economou noting that he had seen something similar back in 1993, when Liberal leader John Hewson lost what many assumed was an ‘unlosable’ election.
“The heartening thing for Labor is that three years later, the Coalition won a landslide against Paul Keating.
“But there is no guarantee of history repeating itself!”