It was evident by 9.30pm, Saturday night that Labor had lost the Victorian election, but Premier John Brumby took to the stage an hour later to talk about governing for four more years with a hung parliament.

He was still clinging on by his fingernails on Monday morning. He seemed unable to believe that the voters would do this to him. Supporters were less measured in their reactions. Disbelief and suppressed rage at the voters emanated from the Labor faithful.

But this election was less about parties than about principles.

In inner city seats, politicians with a solid progressive record and strong publicly articulated convictions successfully fought off the Green challenge. Former Education Minister Bronwyn Pike, former Housing Minister Richard Wynn and former Yarra Mayor Jane Garrett all came home strongly, and they’re about as progressive Labor as you’ll find – which is a sad indictment of how timid mainstream Labor is nowadays.

The Greens – who are nothing if they are not a party of principle – also did well, despite not winning any new seats. Their percentage of the lower house vote lifted from 10.04 percent in 2006 to 10.63 percent, and from 10.58 percent to 11.63 percent in the upper house.

Victorians seem to have had little appetite for a sharp right turn. Instead, they went for small-L Liberal leader Ted Baillieu, who differentiated his party from Labor with a counter-intuitive move. He preferenced the ‘Old Enemy’ – Labor – ahead of the new one, the Greens.

Voters read this as principled rather than pragmatic, and it gave Baillieu the final  boost he needed to win. To all the headless chooks running around crying disaster, remember, Baillieu is not Tony Abbott, and the Victorian Liberals are not the Feds.

Abbott & Baillieu have only two things in common – Speedos and Liberal membership. On most other measures they could almost be in different parties. Which is just as well for Ted: federal Liberals did poorly in Victoria, while the state party, with a much more moderate leader and agenda, will take power.

True, they have some shockers – the incoming Attorney-General, Robert Clark, thinks homos, like the handicapped, should shut up and learn to live with their disability – but the viles’ are more than counterbalanced by GLBTIQ supporters.

Upper-house leader David Davis, incoming Ministers Mary Wooldridge and Matthew Guy, and the eternally supportive Andrea Coote, to name a few; not to mention Ted Baillieu himself, though he won’t support equal marriage.

This is a government with whom we can do business. If there are any lessons for NSW, I would say to ACON and the like: if you’re not already doing so, start talking to Liberals. Make overtures and forge links. Identify supportive Liberal candidates and get behind them.  Make friends. You’re going to be working with them for a long time to come.

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