The position of Brumby's Labor bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the Coalition when it lost by a whisker in the '99 poll.
Source The Age
HERE'S the nightmare question keeping Victorian Labor awake in these last days: will the 2010 state election turn out to be a mirror image of 1999? The similarities are eerie - spookily so, for the Labor Party.
In 1999, the Labor opposition had to win an extra 13 seats to rob the Kennett government of its majority. Even ALP optimists doubted they could do it. Before the election, the party's best number-crunchers reckoned they could identify up to 11 seats that could fall, but could never quite find 13.
In 2010, the Liberal/Nationals opposition has to win an extra 13 seats to snatch back a majority in its own right. Even Coalition optimists doubt they will quite get there. On their calculations, they can quickly identify seven, eight or even nine seats that could fall, but none can confidently get to 13.
In 1999, the premier, Jeff Kennett, was seen as a superior politician to his sometimes unsure opposite number, Steve Bracks. Kennett's problem was that he was regarded as arrogant. Bracks's problem was that, likeable though he was, he was seen as a bit of a lightweight; certainly not in the Kennett league.
In 2010, Premier John Brumby is widely regarded as a superior leader to his rather diffident opposite number, Ted Baillieu. But again, the Premier's problem is perceived arrogance. And again, the Opposition Leader is seen as decent, but perhaps not quite in the Brumby league.
The bush was crucial in '99. Kennett and his Coalition colleagues, the Nationals, believed they ''owned'' it. But Labor campaigned hard outside Melbourne, and won government on the back of a bush revolt.
The bush will be important on Saturday, too. Brumby and his Labor predecessor, Steve Bracks, have worked hard to portray themselves as leaders for the whole of the state, not just Melbourne. But the opposition has been promising a lot of largesse for electorates outside Melbourne, and if the Coalition gets across the line this weekend it will be because the bush, or at least parts of the main regional cities, have returned to the non-Labor fold. It is certainly no coincidence that Brumby and his ministers yesterday ''blitzed the bush'' in an 11th-hour effort to prevent a backlash against some of their more unpopular policies.
There's at least one other analogy that hasn't escaped modern Labor's more thoughtful strategists.
In the 1996 election - the one before Labor's victory - the Coalition government had a thumping win and the ALP was left demoralised. But something little noticed did happen: Labor picked up a swing against the government of about 3 per cent; enough, as it turned out, to construct a foundation from which to mount a successful assault on the government at the subsequent poll.
In the 2006 election, the Labor government had a big win and the Liberals were left demoralised. But the Libs did pick up a swing against the government of more than 3 per cent. Labor's fear is that that may prove to have been enough of a foundation for the Coalition for 2010.
It is no exaggeration to say the great Labor victory of '99, when Bracks slew the Kennett dragon, is one of the highlights of the lives of ALP people in this state. The very mention of ''1999'' is enough to light up the eyes of Bracks, Brumby, Rob Hulls, John Thwaites and numerous other Labor luminaries, some of whom had wondered whether the ALP would ever get the chance to rule again after the Cain/Kirner government ended in tears. But now, Labor fears that the elation they experienced then could turn to despair on Saturday night.
It's a fear, not a prediction. Brumby is sincere when he says he believes the election will be close. Labor's research points to as many as 15 ALP-held seats being ''in play''. But Coalition hardheads acknowledge the most likely result is a Labor win. For there to be an upset, everything would have to fall the Coalition's way (just as in 1999 everything fell Labor's way - for example, Labor won the seat of Geelong by 16 votes; had it gone the other way, Kennett may well have been back).
Not everything has gone right for the Coalition so far in this final week. Baillieu has made the policy running - promising bigger-than-Labor cuts to stamp duty, more-generous-than-Labor electricity bill concessions for pensioners and tougher-than-Labor sentencing ''reforms'' - but he made a tactical error by suing the ALP for its TV advertisement attacking him over school sales during the Kennett era.
Baillieu is deeply upset by the ad, which points out that ''his'' real estate firm got a contract from the Kennett government to sell some of the sites of state schools closed in the 1990s. He says in his writ that it is designed to smear and discredit him and inflict the maximum damage to his reputation and standing, thereby advancing Labor's prospects.
You bet it is! And Baillieu can hardly be surprised by it; the ad is a reprise of a highly effective Labor attack ad from the last campaign. But by suing for defamation, Baillieu drew much more attention to the ad than it warranted or would otherwise have received - ensuring it became a dominant theme in the final days and allowing Labor to depict the alternative premier as having a glass jaw.
Mind you, not everything has gone right for Labor this week, either. Treasurer John Lenders gave a train wreck of a news conference on Sunday about the government's stamp duty policy, leaving the impression, not to put too fine a point on it, that he didn't know what he was talking about.
Nonetheless, Labor remains overwhelming favourite to win on Saturday. It would be a big surprise if the Coalition got up. But Jeff Kennett was the overwhelming favourite to win in '99. Surprises happen at elections. Just ask those bleary-eyed Labor people you will see at your polling place on Saturday.
Paul Austin is state political editor