Opposition Prepares for Victory in Australia's Victoria State

The Liberal-National Coalition prepared to form government in Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, for the first time in 11 years after the Labor Party led by John Brumby lost seats in an election two days ago.

“There are votes yet to be counted, but the fact is, Labor cannot form government,” Nationals leader Peter Ryan told reporters yesterday.

The Victorian Electoral Commission yesterday began tallying some of the 550,000 votes lodged before the election as the count focused on a decisive contest in the seat of Bentleigh. Brumby earlier yesterday forecast a hung parliament and said Labor was unlikely to gain a majority.

Labor held 55 of the 88 seats in parliament, compared with the Liberals’ 23, the Nationals with 9 and one independent before the election. The coalition may have won 44 seats and Labor 43, with one seat in doubt, the Herald Sun newspaper said before counting of pre-poll votes in Bentleigh. A total of 45 seats is needed to win.

Brumby, who became leader in 2007 after Steve Bracks resigned, last year steered Victoria through Australia’s worst wildfires, when 173 people died in what has become known as Black Saturday, and international criticism of attacks on Indian students. Labor won state elections in 2002 and 2006.

The election was fought on issues including health care, education, improving public transport and law and order.

“The coalition is on the verge of forming government and the Brumby government is on the verge of defeat,” Nick Economou, a political scientist at Melbourne-based Monash University said yesterday by phone.

Seat Count

“I don’t want to get into hypotheticals,” Brumby told reporters. “I don’t think it’s fair to the people of Victoria to call seats before they’re counted.”

The swing may have reflected voter fatigue with Labor, even as the state economy was strong and the government remained functional, Economou said.

“The voters were no longer impressed by the government’s policy successes and took more notice of its failures,” he said.

The Liberals had 38.3 percent of first preference votes, Labor 36.9 percent, the Greens 10.6 percent and the Nationals 6.6 percent, according to the commission’s website as of 1:03 a.m. in Melbourne, with 68.5 percent of the vote counted.

Melbourne, Victoria’s capital, is home to BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest mining company, Foster’s Group Ltd., Australia’s biggest liquor maker, and Telstra Corp., the nation’s largest phone company.

To contact the reporters on this story: Wendy Pugh in Melbourne wpugh@bloomberg.net; Gemma Daley at gdaley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Tighe at ptighe@bloomberg.net

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