By Stephanie Bastiaan
With the Victorian Parliament resuming this week, it’s a good time to reflect on the highs and lows of the recent Victorian election, and the lay of the land as Victoria begins a new parliamentary year.
The last term of the Andrews Government was tainted by one of the most brutal, totalitarian COVID-19 management schemes, record high state debt and multiple corruption probes. To all intents and purposes, it should have been an unwinnable election for the incumbent government. In a surprise twist, Labor retained their 2018 'Danslide' and increased their majority in the Lower House.
Victorians stuck with the devil they knew.
There were few points of difference between the major parties in their economic and social policy platforms. The usually fiscally responsible Liberal Party went into the election on a multi-billion dollar spendathon matched by Labor. Both had unconvincing commitments to reduce the state debt without spending cuts or new taxes. The Coalition's environmental policy announcement to legislate climate change targets and reach net zero by 2050 was outdone by Labor's commitment to reach net zero by 2045 and the promise of cheaper energy through the resurrection of the Victorian Electricity Commission.
There was very little pushback from the Coalition during the Andrew's government's heavy-handed approach to managing COVID-19 and, at times, mixed signals about where they stood regarding vaccine mandates, lockdowns and excessive use of police force to curb perceived dissenters until the lead-up to the election. The Coalition did, however, oppose the Pandemic Legislation, which transferred powers from the Chief Health Officer to the government.
While some commentators say that the election vindicated Daniel Andrews, there are strong indications that conservative voters deserted the Coalition for abandoning their core values of freedom, small government and responsible economic management.
The Liberal Party’s reactionary response to a 60 Minutes segment attempting to smear Liberal candidate Renee Heath for her association with a Christian church drew strong criticism from conservatives and migrant communities. Although the report presented no wrongdoing by Ms Heath and unsubstantiated allegations against her parents, the Liberal Party announced she would be excluded from the Coalition Party room if they won government. Just weeks earlier, Daniel Andrews published a media release saying the Liberal Party could not be trusted with Victoria’s multicultural and multifaith communities. One Australian-Indian news publication, The Bharat Times, published an article responding to Ms Heath’s treatment, questioning whether the Liberal Party’s move meant conservative migrants needed to abandon their values to contribute to Victorian politics.
Similar to the South Australian state election, traditional preference feeders to the Coalition, such as Family First, refused to preference the Liberal Party other than in a handful of seats with conservative candidates. They did not want to reward the Liberal Party for abandoning their values in favour of woke identity politics. Family First was particularly concerned about the Liberal Party's 'iron-clad guarantee' not to introduce amendments to the 2021 Conversion Therapy laws to safeguard medical professionals and parental rights in managing, treating and supporting children with gender dysphoria.
Sex-based rights for women, particularly in the justice system, were also ignored by both major parties, with the Labor Party actively supporting the placement of a violent transgender inmate in a female Victorian Prison while the Coalition ran for cover, refusing to address the issue.
Notwithstanding all this, there are some positive outcomes in this election. Fiona Pattern lost her seat in the Victorian Legislative Council. During her time in parliament, she was a crucial vote secured by the Labor Party to extend the State of Emergency during the pandemic and pass their draconian Pandemic legislation. In return, the Labor Party supported and passed her Sex Work Discrimination Bill 2022, which deregulated the sex industry, putting vulnerable women further at risk and permitting brothels to operate within the community with no restrictions around schools, churches or residential areas.
Ms Patten also wanted the government to open more medically supervised drug injecting rooms despite the failures during the trial of the North Richmond Centre. Residents say it has created a drug den in the area and has exposed students at the primary school next door to drug users injecting on the street. Despite the healthcare crisis in Victoria, Ms Patten also introduced a bill to strip Catholic hospitals of government funding if they failed to provide health services against their model of care such as euthanasia and abortion. Fortunately, it was voted down.
Despite Labor's wins in the Lower House, the Upper House has seen a dramatic shift. Several strong, principled women have been elected. These women are linked by their strength of character and focus on good policy outcomes to minimise the overreach of government, restore the rights of individuals and improve the lives of Victorians.
Bev McArthur, Member for Western Victoria Region, was re-elected. During her last term, she took every opportunity to hold the government to account, strongly advocated for personal, medical and parental freedom, crossing the floor on the Victorian Conversion Therapy Laws and publicly advocating for women's sex-based rights.
Moira Deeming, newly elected in Western Metropolitan Region. A former councillor at Melton City Council and a teacher, she has publicly campaigned against the government's Safe Schools program and is a strong advocate for women's sex-based rights.
Ann-Marie Hermans, elected in South Eastern Metropolitan Region. A former teacher, she is starting her term on the front bench in the Coalition Party Room as Shadow Minister for Emergency Services, Workcover the TAC. With a strong background in education and social work, she campaigned for education reforms, improving numeracy and literacy in the classroom and free speech.
Renee Heath, elected in Eastern Victorian Region. Renee's strength of character was tested and proven in the lead-up to the election after a 60 Minutes hit piece was aired targeting her for her Christian faith. In her dignified response, she prioritised her electorate and Party. She strongly advocates for small government, freedom of religion, free speech and for people to live according to their conscience without government interference.
Rikkie-Lee Tyrrell, elected in Northern Victoria Region. A farmer, Ms Tyrell, is a strong advocate for agricultural reforms, particularly water legislation, which is currently impacting drought-stricken farmers due to issues such as foreign ownership. A One Nation MP, she has been targeted as a racist threat by the Victorian Leader of the Greens, Samantha Ratnam, despite the fact Ms Tyrell is of First Nations descent. Ms Tyrell is also a proponent of medical freedom, government transparency, and accountability.
In closing, Margaret Thatcher's quote comes to mind: "if you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman."
These women will undoubtedly have their work cut out for them. But, as history demonstrates, strong conservative woman are the trailblazers who bring balance, fairness and good governance to society.
Stephanie Bastiaan is a Research Fellow with Women’s Forum Australia
Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.
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