Labor kicks off Werribee campaign early fearing Tim Pallas coup in Victoria election

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Labor is particularly worried about independents like Dai Le, a former mayor of Sydney’s western suburbs who beat high-profile candidate Kristina Keneally. Keneally was parachuted from the affluent northern beaches to the economically depressed and secure Labor seat of Fowler.

The Labor source said jobs, access to health care and a locally living MP were top of Werribee voters’ concerns for the upcoming national election.

They predicted that the lack of progress in the East Werribee employment district, CSIRO’s decision to move its food innovation facility from Werribee to North Melbourne and Pallas living in Williamstown will be a drag on the party Labor in November. While a top independent has yet to announce their candidacy, several names have been floated privately.

In a statement, Pallas said being the local Werribee member was a privilege and he never took it for granted.

“Whether it’s building new schools or upgrading local schools, the Werribee Mercy Hospital, roads or removing level crossings and delivering local trains – only Labor delivers for Werribee,” said he declared.

While the federal Labor party suffered significant swings in the outer suburbs, votes went to smaller parties and independents rather than the Liberal Party. In the federal electorate of Lalor, which occupies the seat of Pallas, the Labor primary fell by 7.13% and that of the Liberals by 4.89%.

And both candidates saw significant swings in the polling booths at Werribee State Headquarters, although on a preferred vote of two candidates after preferences, Labor MP Joanne Ryan’s margin in those polling booths increased by 2.74 %.

Monash University politics professor Paul Strangio said it was unclear whether the swing against Labor was the product of resentment against Labor or part of the general trend of disillusion to the main parties. He said some of those safe Labor seats saw massive swings in 2019, a sign that voters in those electorates are “just tired of being taken for granted”.

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“There’s certainly a narrative overseas that Andrews is unpopular in the outer suburbs because of his perceived hardline leadership during the COVID pandemic,” Strangio said.

“Notably, it is a narrative pushed hard by the conservative columnists of the sun herald, who resent Andrews’ progressive leadership of the state. I distrust this story [of Andrews’ unpopularity] lack of tangible evidence.

“If I were advising the Liberal Party, I would suggest they avoid obsessing over Andrews’ supposed unpopularity. Instead, they should run a campaign focused on common issues, including the healthcare system.

But he acknowledged that Werribee and Melton were the two state electorates that bucked the trend in the last election, after independents campaigned on “local issues and exploited the sentiment that Labor [and the Liberals] neglected areas”. Strangio said he expects to see more in this year’s state election.

“Polls have already garnered a growing number of non-majority support. It will inject volatility into the race,” he said.

“At the very least, I expect Labour’s primary vote of 43% in 2018 to come off significantly, but that won’t necessarily reflect an increase in support for the Coalition.”

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