The Victorian election, like the Federal election, demonstrated that there are two Australias. One Australia is engrossed in politics and is addicted to political media. This Australia is male dominated.
The other Australia is busy trying to keep up with the soaring cost of living, taking care of loved ones, and meeting the vicissitudes of life. This Australia is led by women, who budget for households and shoulder the caring burden.
When the media and political classes are reminded that the ‘others’ aren’t consuming the same information sources they are, they mistakenly assume that ordinary punters are ‘disengaged.’
Our research shows a more complicated picture. Regular Aussies, particularly women, are deeply engaged with political issues, but they’ve had a gutful of the political process. They’re sick of blokey negativity, division, and superficiality. They want bold vision, integrity, and compassion.
As with the Federal election, the Victorian election demonstrates the limits of what women are prepared to tolerate – whether it’s those of us who are ‘promiscuously’ educated or those of us who’ve had fewer opportunities. The repudiation of the Liberals in Melbourne’s east was a rejection of toxic politics combined with religious extremism that imperils women’s freedom.
The Liberals seem to understand that their neoliberal economic agenda won’t win them votes. So they wage culture wars, hoping division might distract from their core aims of eviscerating the tax base, privatising public goods, and getting rid of regulations that protect ordinary punters. Our research demonstrates that women are least prepared to buy into this because they know such policies will harm them most.
But this repudiation is visceral. Our research doesn’t show Victorian women poring over policy and making decisions based on political minutiae.
Indeed, the lack of interest in the Victorian election was palpable. People (particularly women) are exhausted by the pandemic’s ruptures. They expended their limited political attention on the Federal contest in May. That said, Victorians are deeply concerned about infrastructure and services – particularly those living in the neglected west/north-west of Melbourne and in regional areas. Labor’s enormous buffers inoculated it against the considerable swings to the Liberals in some of Melbourne’s outer suburbs. It is worth noting, however, that such swings occurred despite a catastrophically bad Liberal campaign. As we saw in Melbourne’s east, seats that were expected to return to the Liberals did not, precisely because of the Liberal campaign’s woeful inadequacy.
Where there were considerable swings to the Liberals, these were born of desperation; from being ignored by a Victorian Labor party that has taken the west/north west for granted. There was certainly no positive Liberal vision to inspire them. These votes will be up for grabs in 2026.