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A Brief History of the Bracks Labor Government

The Bracks Labor Government took office in Victoria on October 20, 1999. The election of September 18 had resulted in the surprise defeat of the coalition government led by Jeff Kennett since October 1992.

BracksFollowing the general election, the ALP had increased its share of the seats in the Legislative Assembly from 29 to 41. The coalition parties had 43 seats and 3 more (Mildura, Gippsland West and Gippsland West) were held by independents.

A supplementary election was required in the electorate of Frankston East, caused by the death on polling day of the sitting member, Peter McLellan. McLellan had been elected as a Liberal, but had sat as an independent since 1997, following his resignation in which he cited concern at the direction of government policies, particularly in relation to changes to the office of Auditor-General.

The Frankston East by-election was held on October 16 and resulted in a substantial win to the ALP. Two days later, the 3 Independents announced that they would support the ALP, giving it a majority of 45 seats in the 88 seat chamber. Jeff Kennett saw the Governor the next day and tendered his resignation.

The Labor government that assumed office was the first since the defeat of the Kirner government in October 1992. It offered to meet all the demands of a Charter put together by the Independents.

Following his defeat, Jeff Kennett resigned from his seat of Burwood, causing a by-election which was held on December 11. The ALP won Burwood with a swing of 10%. By now it was becoming clear that suggestions the September election was merely a “protest vote that went too far” were wrong.

On May 13, 2000, the ALP won another by-election in the seat of Benalla, vacated by National Party leader Pat McNamara. The dramatic turnaround in political fortunes over the previous year was now complete with the ALP holding the seats of the previous Premier and Deputy Premier.

The Victorian Constitution ensures a fixed three-year term, allowing the Premier the opportunity to choose an election date at any time in the fourth year. On the eve of the Melbourne Cup, Steve Bracks seized the first available opportunity to call a general election for November 30, 2002. Facing a new Opposition Leader, Robert Doyle, Bracks said he was seeking a mandate to govern in his own right.

The government’s election campaign was based around the argument that it had been working to repair the damage of the Kennett years in Health, Education, Police and the Environment. The Opposition suffered a catastrophic blow mid-way through the campaign when the Shadow Treasurer, Robert Dean, was disqualified from contesting the election because he had failed to ensure he was on the electoral roll. The Liberal campaign never recovered and by the final week opinion polls were unanimous in their predictions of a landslide Labor vistory. The Liberals campaigned in the final week on fear of a Labor majority and future industrial strife.

The 2002 election produced an historic victory for the Bracks government. Polling over 58% of the two-party-preferred vote, it decimated the Liberals by winning 62 seats in the 88-seat lower house. The Liberal Party was reduced to a rump of around 18 members. More significantly, the ALP won control of the Legislative Council, a chamber it had only controlled once before, for a matter of weeks in 1985. The ALP won 25 of the 44 seats in the upper house. On election night, senior government members promised swift action on Legislative Council reform, including a reduction in total numbers and the introduction of proportional voting.


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Malcolm Farnsworth
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