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Teal independent Monique Ryan with her supporters on election night, May 21 2022
Luis Ascui/AAP

Will the teal independents be disruptors in Victorian politics?

Victorians will be heading to the polls on November 26 to select their next state government.

This will be the first election since Labor won national government in May, and it will also be the first election in Victoria since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is also great interest about the “teal” independents and whether they will be able to consolidate their position in Australian politics as a potential disruptor to the established party system.

Many expect they will further challenge the established parties in the Victorian election. But there are some key differences from May’s federal election that mean it might not pan out the same way for the teals.

The political context in Victoria

The Daniel Andrews-led Labor Party was first elected to government in 2014. In 2018, Labor achieved a remarkably strong result, winning 55 of the 88 seats in the Legislative Assembly after attracting 57% of the two party preferred vote.

The Coalition, on the other hand, experienced a disastrous result in 2018, winning just 27 seats. The Liberal Party in particular had a very poor election as it lost ground across many urban electorates.

Shock losses included the seat of Hawthorn, in which incumbent John Pesutto lost his seat on live television, while the party came perilously close to losing traditionally safe seats in Melbourne’s east.

Read more: Victorian Newspoll gives Labor big lead three months before election

The road to the 2022 poll

The pandemic had a profound impact on this term of parliament. In an attempt to stop the spread of the virus, the Andrews government implemented lockdowns and curfews that led Melbourne to become known in some media as the “world’s most locked down city”.

This shaped the policy debate and it appeared that Victorian politics became highly polarised between those who supported the government’s policies, and those who demanded a different approach.

Opinion polls, however, suggested the government continued to enjoy the support of Victorian voters in the midst of the pandemic.

In 2021, the Liberal Party, ostensibly concerned with these poll results, deposed Michael O’Brien as leader and reinstated Matthew Guy to lead the party to the 2022 poll.

Read more: How the Liberals lost the 'moral middle class' - and now the teal independents may well cash in

Teals in Victoria?

In the federal election in May, the “teal candidates” mobilised and succeeded in winning seats from the Liberal Party. In Victoria, the Liberal Party lost its previously safe electorates of Goldstein and Kooyong to teal candidates.

Based on these results, there’s an expectation the “teals” will provide further challenges to the established parties, especially the Liberal Party.

Reported opinion polling, for example, shows the Liberal Party is in danger of losing once-safe Victorian seats such as Brighton, Sandringham, Caulfield, and Kew to teal candidates.

There are, however, some factors that differentiate the upcoming Victorian state election from last May’s federal election.

One key factor relates to fundraising rules which have changed in Victoria since the last election. Unlike the national level, Victoria now places significant constraints on political donations. As a result, political donations are capped at $4,320 over a four year period for a single donor, which makes an impact on the capacity of candidates to amass financial resources. These arrangements have been described by some commentators as a “wall to keep independents out”.

The funding rules have already had an impact on the electoral contest with one nascent party, the Victorians Party, deciding not to field candidates because of these arrangements.

Another factor that may impact on the fortunes of teal candidates relates to how voters will judge the Liberal Party. At the national level, the teals were effective in targeting the Morrison Coalition government that seemingly appeared unable, or unwilling, to respond to their policy demands effectively.

In the Victorian context, the Coalition is in a weak position. This raises the question of whether voters will enthusiastically support challengers to a Liberal Party that has been out of government since 2014.

Furthermore, service delivery and infrastructure projects have been prominent features of the political debate during the informal election campaign in Victoria. The electoral fortunes of the teals may be linked to how effectively they position themselves within this policy debate.

Implications of the 2022 election

The 2022 Victorian election will have significant implications for the party system, and policy debate, in the state.

For the Liberal Party, losing ground to either the teals or other candidates will further weaken the party in the state. The most recent opinion polls continue to show Labor to be in a commanding position. Unless the polls are off by some margin, the Coalition looks destined to be on the opposition benches for another four years.

The challenges for Labor are different. The party is expected to win, and Premier Andrews may have to continually respond to questions about succession and generational renewal throughout the campaign.

The opportunity is there for the teals to make a major impact on the Victorian Parliament. It will be up to Victorians to determine whether that impact will be as powerful as what we saw at the national level in May.

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