The Australian state of Victoria goes to the polls today in a ballot expected to see the incumbent Labor state government easily win re-election, which could be a worrying sign for Prime Minister Scott Morrison's ruling Liberal-National coalition ahead of looming federal elections.
Victoria's elections come just weeks after a terror attack in the centre of Melbourne, which disrupted the campaign. Despite efforts to paint Labor leader Daniel Andrews, the current state Premier, as soft on security and terrorism, his prospects do not appear to have been affected.
An opinion survey, published by The Age yesterday, found Labor was on track to win by a margin of 54 per cent to 46 per cent. If this holds in the ballot booths today, Labor would improve on its margin from the last elections in 2014 - a result that would be a terrible omen for Mr Morrison just before the federal elections, due to be held by May next year.
Mr Andrews campaigned on a big-spending plan to improve transport, particularly a series of long-term rail and road projects in and around Melbourne. He also controversially signed a deal to back China's infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative, despite criticism from some analysts that such agreements should be made only by the federal government. But the deal, which Mr Andrews said would boost jobs and trade, does not appear to have damaged his standing.
The opposition leader, Mr Matthew Guy, head of the state's Liberal-National coalition, focused on law and order, particularly following concerns about crimes involving young African street gangs.
Mr Guy pledged tougher jail sentences for serious crimes, increased monitoring of terror suspects, and laws to make it harder for people charged with violent crimes to be released on bail. He stepped up his calls for tougher measures following the terror attack in Bourke Street two weeks ago, in which an extremist stabbed three people before being shot dead by police. It later emerged that the terrorist, Hassan Khalif Shire Ali, was out on bail for minor driving offences at the time of the attack.
IMPACT OF TURNBULL'S OUSTER
Turnbull was popular in Victoria, which is traditionally a soft left state, and Morrison is not. Victorian Liberal strategists agree this caused brand damage that cost the state Liberals' support which, in turn, could be the difference on polling day.
POLITICAL COMMENTATOR PHILLIP COOREY, in the Australian Financial Review yesterday.
"Here you have a premier who has failed to keep Victorians safe asking for four more years," Mr Guy said this week.
But Mr Andrews accused the opposition of focusing excessively on combating crime. "There won't be any more hospitals built, there won't be any more Tafes (technical and further education colleges) built, you will be building prisons and that's all," the state Premier said during a televised debate this week.
Analysts have also suggested that a poor showing by the state's Liberal-National coalition would indicate Mr Morrison's recent efforts to present himself as committed to tougher measures on crime and terrorism - as Mr Guy has done - may not prove a vote-winner in the federal polls.
A political commentator, Mr Phillip Coorey, has said that the coalition's move to oust former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in August in favour of Mr Morrison may have damaged its brand in Victoria. He said Mr Turnbull was considered more progressive and was popular in Victoria, which tends to be more left-leaning than other states.
"Turnbull was popular in Victoria, which is traditionally a soft left state, and Morrison is not. Victorian Liberal strategists agree this caused brand damage that cost the state Liberals' support which, in turn, could be the difference on polling day," he wrote in the Australian Financial Review yesterday.
Victoria, Australia's second most populous state, has about 6.4 million residents and is the country's fastest growing state. In recent years, it has experienced large influxes of migrants from India and China.