Welcome to Victoria, the progressive state

Welcome to Victoria, the progressive state

Politically, socially and culturally, Victorians are a breed apart from other Australians. Parochialism aside, Melbourne isn’t some backwater; it’s Australia’s fastest growing city and, by some accounts, will be its largest in a little over a decade.

An ABC journalist based in Victoria was fretting recently about how the national broadcaster’s Sydney focus could distort national debate. This person argued that the concentration of ABC decision-makers and programs in Sydney meant that, unconsciously, there was an assumption that what mattered in Sydney mattered to Australia.
It isn’t always true – a fixation with boat people taking jobs and refusing to fit in is keeping few Melburnians up at night, but ”Stop the Boats” resonated in parts of Sydney.
Parochialism aside, Melbourne isn’t some backwater; it’s Australia’s fastest growing city and, by some accounts, will be its largest in a little over a decade.
The ABC journalist tried but failed to explain to Sydney editors, producers and program makers that the Melbourne perspective was different.

This is not a cheap shot at the ABC’s Sydney-centric management. It’s more a curiosity about why Victorians, and Melburnians in particular, are more progressive than other Australians.

There was scant national attention on Victoria during the 2010 federal election campaign – the focus was on New South Wales and Queensland – but it was this state that delivered Julia Gillard victory. Doubtless it was a well-run Victorian campaign by Labor, shameless on the last day when it ran newspaper advertisements asking voters to ”Help make a Victorian Prime Minister today”. There was our girl from Altona, on the hallowed ground of the MCG.
The result that night was astonishing. On a two-party preferred basis, 55.3 per cent of Victorians voted Labor. As the ABC’s election analyst Antony Green pointed out, it was Labor’s best result since World War II.

The national swing to the Coalition was 2.6 per cent; in Victoria, there was a 1 per cent swing to Labor. The ALP retained its precarious seats of Corangamite, sprawling west of Geelong and along the Great Ocean Road, and Deakin, in Melbourne’s east. The Coalition’s performance was poor. It lost two seats – the outer metro electorate of La Trobe and McEwen, north of the city. Labor did drop one – inner-city folk lurched further left and chose the Greens in the seat of Melbourne.

Labor figures in Victoria still congratulate themselves on their performance in 2010, but there are no illusions that this state will save Gillard in September. For a start, Labor did so well last time that there is nowhere to go but backwards. Liberal leader Tony Abbott seems to be in town every other day, and has dubbed Melbourne his ”second home”, a nice balm after his shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, bemused us with his pronouncement that ”what is good for western Sydney … is good for Australia”.

There are suggestions that support for the federal government is collapsing here along with everywhere else. That’s true, but so far it’s a relative collapse. Opinion polling of mainland states consistently shows Labor’s support is strongest in Victoria. The Newspoll looking at aggregate results from January to March, for instance, found first-preference Labor votes at 37 per cent in Victoria. With 12 per cent intending to vote Greens, the two-party preferred vote for the ALP was 51 per cent. Oh, how Labor would wish those figures were national. Last month’s Age/Nielsen poll had the Coalition ahead 57 to 43 per cent nationally, nothing short of a rout.

So what’s going on? It seems that if you are a conservative in Victoria, you’re probably more a small-l liberal than a turn-back-the-boats sort. When he became premier, Ted Baillieu was under pressure to scrap the Human Rights Charter – loathed by the far right as the epitome of legislative evil – but he decided to keep it.
Jeff Kennett, for all his bluster, condemned the racial policies of Pauline Hanson in the late-1990s with more force than any other politician, and now spends some of his days campaigning against discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. Victoria may have been once dubbed the jewel in the Liberal Party crown, but the last prime minister we produced – Malcolm Fraser – quit the party in dismay over what he saw was its shift to the right.

Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the union presence. Maybe it’s the waves of successful migration. One guess is that it goes back to the Labor reforms of the early 1970s, out of which emerged a non-threatening, middle-of-the-road party, appealing to moderate Victorians.

It’s there wherever you look. Sydney radio presenter Alan Jones appears ridiculous to Melburnians. We just don’t like that kind of talk. Most Australians support gay marriage, but nowhere more strongly than in Victoria. At the republic referendum in 1999, the state with the highest ”yes” vote was Victoria.

”Left” and ”right” are tired terms that can’t pick up the nuance of people’s views, the genuine difference of opinion, the greys in any argument. But we Victorians are generally socially progressive, supportive of multiculturalism, wary of extremes of any kind.
As for you, readers of The Age, Roy Morgan research data quoted in Sally Young’s book How Australia Decides, found that in 2008, almost 54 per cent of you supported Labor, just 23 per cent the Liberals and fully 16 per cent of Age readers intended voting for the Greens.

But you knew that, didn’t you?

[Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, May 12, 2013]