The challenge for the Victorians party, born from lockdown anger

UN new party born out of frustration with Covid lockdowns and a dislike for the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, is eyeing as many as 10 seats at the upcoming state election, though political insiders have cast doubt on their chances.

The Victorians party was launched a year out from the 26 November state election and has since received sustained media coverage, helping it to attract about 5,000 membri.

Co-founded by Small Business Australia executive director, Bill Lang, Moreland councillor Oscar Yildiz, former AFL footballer Paul ­Dimattina and businesswoman Ingrid Maynard, the party plans on fielding candidates in all 88 lower house seats and eight upper house regions.

Maynard says she has not been involved in politics prior to joining the Victorians party, and hasn’t voted for either Labor or the Liberals in 20 anni.

“I couldn’t see a really strong distinction between the two parties,” she told Guardian Australia. “I’m ashamed to say that sometimes I even felt compelled to do an informal vote because I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for anyone.”

Maynard also denies the Victorians party is “anti-Labor”, describing their ideology as centrist and based on principles of “integrity, honesty and competence”.

“There is a real desire for another option, a sensible option, that isn’t on the far left or conversely on the far right, led by people who aren’t professional politicians," lei dice, citing historically low primary votes for both Liberals and Labor in the recent federal election.

Senior Monash University politics lecturer, Dr Zareh Ghazarian, says there are some parallels between the teal independents who succeeded federally and the Victorians party.

“Rather than present a rigid, fixed position on policy it seems the Victorians party, like the teal candidates, seem willing to look at things on their merit and are willing to do politics in a different way to the established parties," lui dice.

“The teals proved voters are willing to vote for non-major party candidates if the message they are putting out resonated with them. But the message is key.”

But Ghazarian says the Victorians party risked becoming irrelevant by November if it didn’t come up with a clear set of policies.

“Relying on resentment against the government and banking on the idea that that is going to be enough to get people supporting a new party is a bit risky, especially when Covid-19 and lockdowns are no longer being talked about," lui dice.

“By the time of the election, it will be roughly about a year out from the most recent lockdown, so their moment may have passed. The question is whether the party will be able to maintain and build any momentum.”

Maynard says the idea to form a new party came about during the state’s Covid-19 lockdowns.

On the party’s website, the Labor government is described as “out-of-touch”, Andrews is “uncaring and arrogant” and the opposition is “weak” .

While Maynard is only now stepping into the political fray, her fellow co-founders have been critics of Andrews and his government throughout the pandemic.

Lang, a former Liberal donor, was ubiquitous in media coverage of the imposing, and easing, of lockdown restrictions, while Dimattina, a former Western Bulldogs AFL player who owns South Melbourne’s Lamaro’s Hotel, criticised the government for failing to support affected businesses in several interviews.

Dimattina was sounded out by the Liberals in July 2021 to run against health minister Martin Foley in the seat of Albert Park but he declined their offer.

Yildiz is a former Labor party member, who quit the party in 2018 e ran as an independent in Pascoe Vale after its factions failed to endorse him to run in the neighbouring seat of Brunswick.

A look at the federal election shows the risks of running an anti-Andrews campaign.

In several seats, the Liberals issued how-to-vote cards urging voters to “send Daniel Andrews a message”. An ad campaign targeting voters in Corangamite and McEwen attempted to paint Albanese as Andrews’s puppet. Both seats were retained by Labor.

According to the Victorians party’s polling, provided to the Herald Sun earlier this week, the party could win as many as 10 seats in the November election, including Labor seats in Melbourne’s outer west and north such as Broadmeadows, Kororoit, Melton, Point Cook and Werribee.

Ghazarian notes that in Broadmeadows and Kororoit, held on 25% margins, sitting MPs Frank McGuire and Marlene Kairouz haven’t been preselected by the party for the election.

“It’s really hard to imagine a new party coming in and having such a massive impact in terms of winning these seats. But if Labor’s candidates are parachuted in and don’t become a part of their community and the Victorians Party run effective, local candidates, they may be able to sway them,” Ghazarian says.

Kos Samaras, a former assistant state secretary for Victorian Labor turned pollster, is more blunt in his views on the newcomers: “There is not a chance they are going to win 10 seats.

“There’s a possibility that they put Labor into trouble in two to three of their western suburban seats, with the assistance of the Liberal party, and they could probably pick up a couple of upper house seats by nature of the voting system, but they’ve got some significant barriers to overcome," lui dice.

Samaras says a campaign in a single seat costs an average of about $100,000. Unlike the federal election campaign, in which both donations and electoral spending aren’t capped, Victorian laws introduced in 2018 limit donations from individuals or organisations to $4210 over four years.

“They are going to need at least a few million dollars and I don’t think they can raise that much money with micro donations," lui dice.

“And the second barrier, based on the research that we’ve collected so far since the [federale] elezione, is that people who voted for Palmer and One Nation, particularly in NSW and Victoria, feel like they’ve been taken for a ride.

“So the cynicism for the sort of minor party organisations that just spring up is very, very high as a result of that.”

According to the Victorian Electoral Commission’s disclosed donations register, the Victorians party is yet to receive a donation above $1,050.

Maynard says the party is in the process of selecting candidates and will be announcing some of them in the next few weeks, before it begins the process of setting out new policies.

She says some of the party’s main priorities include dealing with cost of living pressures, ensuring there’s no further tax increases and transparency and accountability around infrastructure projects.

It is looking at ways to raise money ahead of the campaign, but Maynard says donations are already coming through.

“I do know that we are well funded and that’s coming from a variety of different areas, and even just the other day, with the media that we got, we had donations coming in through our website," lei dice.

“There’s already a groundswell of support for us and we’ve only just begun. So we feel very confident that come November, we will be up there keeping the bastards honest.”

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