WITH POLLING STATIONS set to open shortly, voters in Victoria will today elect a government to lead the state for the next four years; The Red And The Blue endorses Premier Denis Napthine and his Liberal team to win a second term in office, and encourages all Victorians to support his government. Napthine and the Coalition offer vision, a clear plan for Melbourne and beyond, and the energy to deliver. Labor, by contrast, cannot be trusted.
When even the Fairfax press editorialises against the Labor Party — which The Age did yesterday, offering the Premier its fulsome endorsement at today’s state election — it should provide anyone seeking guidance on which way to vote with pause for thought; a similarly clear recommendation from Murdoch masthead the Herald Sun was to some extent to be expected, but The Age‘s advocacy for a Liberal government was a bolt from the blue.
It was also entirely correct.
No government arrives at its first re-election hurdle without at least some negatives to outweigh what, in the ordinary course of things, should be a glittering itinerary of achievements upon which to campaign, and perhaps the most obvious of these in the Liberals’ case was the replacement of former Premier Ted Baillieu with Napthine a tick over 18 months ago.
Yet this change — far from really amounting to a negative at all — revitalised the government; what had been a pedestrian and at times directionless administration was transformed overnight into an energetic outfit led by an evergreen figure who clearly relishes the opportunity that accidentally fell his way, and has been determined to make the most of it.
Napthine, who has had to wait for more than a decade for the Premiership he must have believed had passed him by, has proven an effective salesman for Victoria, and a stout defender of its interests: his extraction of billions of dollars in federal funding for critical infrastructure projects is a case in point; his willingness to confront colleagues in what should be a friendly Liberal government in Canberra to ensure the best deal possible for his state is another.
And in a welcome throwback to the Kennett era, Napthine has proven more than willing to poke fun by allowing himself to be photographed in silly hats and awkward poses: all in the name of spruiking Victoria, and all in the name of keeping the best state in Australia moving in the right direction.
Early in the government’s tenure, under Baillieu, unfortunate missteps were made — particularly on TAFE policy — with changes including the closure of underperforming TAFE colleges poorly sold within local communities, and substantially reversed upon Napthine’s ascension to the Premier’s office.
The interminable dispute over teachers’ salaries that dragged on, literally, for years — underpinned by the admirable but ultimately unworkable principle of merit-based pay, thanks to the militancy of powerful education unions — was another running sore that could have been staunched far sooner than it was. Yet here, too, it was on Napthine’s watch that a deal was finalised, and in very short order indeed once he had been sworn in as Premier.
The disastrous legacies of the Bracks-Brumby government that Baillieu inherited — myki, the fiasco of the desalination contract plant, public transport systems that were neglected and under-invested in for eleven years, and Labor’s infamous North-South pipeline, to name a few — presented the Coalition with a series of no-win propositions that were no fault of its own; the botched myki ticketing system, years late and billions of dollars overdue, was deemed cheaper to retain and try to fix than abandon altogether (which, in hindsight, it perhaps should have been), whilst ironically, a forensic investigation of contractual arrangements around the desalination plant revealed there was no avenue whatsoever to dump this white elephant in the lap of the contractors who built it, saddling Victorian taxpayers with billions in residual obligations over the plant for decades to come.
Perversely, all of these problems, with their roots deep in the last Labor government, have been used intermittently and remorselessly by a shameless Labor opposition to try to embarrass the government, and to attempt to score political capital through a transfer of blame for its own misdeeds to the Liberal Party.
Yet despite these obstacles and setbacks, the Coalition has engineered the strongest budget balance sheet of any Australian state. It is the only state with an AAA credit rating, and its $2bn budget surplus is the envy of all of the other states — to say nothing of the Commonwealth.
The dividend from that is the raft of state-building projects that Napthine now presents to voters as he seeks the re-election of his government.
The East-West freeway link — a roadway identified as crucial to Melbourne’s development by Labor’s own infrastructure review in office six years ago — represents the first attempt in more than a decade to do something meaningful about Melbourne’s clogged freeways, congested urban areas, and its dangerously overworked West Gate Bridge; Labor leader Daniel Andrews has pledged to tear up the contract to build it, and this particular piece of economic lunacy will punch a $1.1bn compensation hole in the state budget, in addition to mandating the return to Canberra of $3bn in tied federal funding grants that had been allocated to the road project by the Abbott government.
In a further insight into Andrews’ dangerously delusional thought processes, he has announced that the federal funds would not be returned to the federal government; he believes, instead, that Victoria would be free to retain them — and redirect them to whatever pet fancy an Andrews government might deign to indulge. This is arrant nonsense, and the misunderstanding on his part it betrays of how federal-state relations operate should serve as a further, potent warning to voters of his complete unsuitability to serve as Premier.
In fact, Andrews himself admitted on the stump during the week that if Labor is elected today, it will come to office with no slate of major projects on offer at all; in addition to the East-West Link, the Napthine Government has made extensive pledges around suburban rail and capacity expansion, inner-urban renewal, a rail connection between the Melbourne CBD and the airport at Tullamarine, new port facilities, and a slew of more localised but nonetheless critical infrastructure investments that will not only maintain Melbourne’s liveability and enhance its status as the best city in the world, but provide thousands of jobs — and billions of dollars in economic benefits — to boot.
By contrast, Andrews has committed Labor to remove 50 suburban level rail crossings within eight years — it managed fewer than 10 in its last 11-year stint in office — and a “West Gate Distributor” that will purportedly get trucks off the over-burdened West Gate Bridge, with no indication of where it will run when constructed (or whether it will be built at the same elevation as the bridge to avoid the shipping traffic below) and which makes no practical sense to any of the (hundreds of) people I have asked for opinions about it over the past few weeks.
But the obvious inferiority of Labor’s policy pledges is not the only reason for voters to refuse to elect the party to office today.
Daniel Andrews leads a mediocre team that boasts few obvious potential standouts as ministers; aside from its shadow Treasurer, Tim Pallas — and perhaps up-and-comer Jill Hennessy, whom I am assured by usually shrewd and reliable sources is brilliant — the rest of Labor’s line-up looks like what it is: an assortment of spivs, hacks, union lackeys, seat warmers, time servers, and the dregs of its last period in government.
Andrews himself hardly presents as a competent candidate to be Premier; after all, it was on his watch as Health minister during the Brumby government that Labor was caught red-handed manipulating and doctoring the true state of public hospital waiting lists for PR purposes, and to compound this outrage, Andrews had the idiocy at the time to front the Melbourne media and defend the practice.
He graduated to being an apologist for fictitious hospital waiting lists from presiding over the debacle of awarding lottery contracts as gaming minister: yet another disastrous exercise in mismanagement that is now coming undone, and which has potentially exposed the Victorian taxpayer to liabilities of well over a billion dollars to sort the stinking mess out.
And Andrews himself inspires little confidence; he gives every indication that he never really accepted that his days as a student politician ended, and this has been reflected time and again in the juvenile, puerile, childish antics and pronouncements he has made as leader over the past four years: in particular, the “circus” analogy he has insisted on trying to draw, and which remained a constant before, during and after the Liberals replaced Ted Baillieu with Napthine.
Ominously, Andrews is close to the notoriously militant, violent, thuggish CFMEU; despite damning evidence tabled at the Heydon Royal Commission into the trade union movement and the extensive criminal history of its leader, John Setka, becoming public knowledge, Andrews has persistently refused to terminate Labor’s affiliation with the CFMEU, exclude it from Victorian Labor’s internal procedures, or to stop accepting donations from it.
Given the ALP is also close to other unions with question marks over the legality of their behaviour and which he has also refused to disown, it is no exaggeration to suggest that an Andrews government would be run for and on behalf of some of the worst elements of the trade union movement: and these thugs, who now represent a miniscule proportion of the overall population, ought to be about as welcome in Treasury Place as the proverbial fart in an elevator.
The big sleeper issue over the past four years has been miscreant former Liberal MP Geoff Shaw, and the at times chaotic state to which his antics have reduced state Parliament; and as adept as Andrews has unquestionably been in exploiting these to maximise the political damage to the Napthine government, this does not qualify him to be Premier.
Shaw has been a thorn in the side of the government for no other reason than the fraught state of the numbers in the lower house, with 44 Coalition MPs, 43 from Labor, and Shaw; had Napthine enjoyed a 10-seat buffer, Shaw would have been expelled from Parliament months ago.
I suggest to those voters angry about the damage done by Geoff Shaw that there was little — if anything — the government could have done to deal with him, over and above what it has done, without either exposing the State to legal risk through proceedings brought against it by Shaw and/or losing a by-election in his Frankston electorate that would have gridlocked Parliament and brought government to a halt.
This latter scenario would clearly have been in nobody’s interests, and would not have even facilitated a change of government as a way to clear the air: thanks to changes made to the state’s Constitution by Labor when it last held government, no election could be held until today. The fact Andrews has succeeded in making a lot of noise for the sake of causing trouble does not correlate with some culpability on the Coalition’s part that could somehow have been avoided.
On the contrary, the entire fashion in which Labor has prosecuted its response to the Shaw matter accurately mirrors both its conduct over the past four years and the campaign it has now concluded to attempt to win back government: smug, sanctimonious, devoid of any basis in fact or honesty, but vicious in its confected outrage and the bile aimed at its conservative opponents. I have often said in this column that those who yell the loudest are often the most likely to be heard, and this is certainly true in Victorian Labor’s case. But hot air and noise are no basis upon which to construct any serious manifesto for governing a state such as Victoria.
And in fact, it seems Labor has spent the past few years simply waiting to fall back into office in Victoria by default; it has been loose with the truth for years on virtually every issue of substance, mischievous to the point of irresponsibility in its methods, and has simply refused to accept that at an election four years ago, someone else was elected to office.
It is this entitlement mentality — and the arrogantly deluded belief that the only valid choice open to voters is to elect Labor governments — that should most concern anyone contemplating voting for it.
And the disgraceful politicisation of the state’s ambulance service — explicitly using an industrial dispute as an electoral implement to damage the government, including driving ambulances around Victoria with anti-Coalition slogans scrawled all over them (and I don’t care whether Fair Work Australia declared that technically legal or not) is so outrageous, and so reprehensible, that a defeat for the ALP today would be well justified by disgusted voters who wanted to take the Ambulance Employees Association down a peg.
Stories of unionists masquerading as firefighters in a marginal seat yesterday in Melbourne’s south and sexually harassing the local Liberal candidate merely underscore the abuse of public services by unions for partisan political purposes, and this type of misbehaviour should not be rewarded at the ballot box.
There is no sign Labor has learned the lessons of its defeat four years ago, and little to suggest it is in any fit state to countenance restoring it to the Treasury benches.
And a final point before summing up: Victorian electors are not silly. They can tell the difference between state and federal issues. Irrespective of the popularity or otherwise of the Abbott government, today’s election is about who should run Victoria for the next four years. Aside from representing a source of additional funding to augment projects undertaken by the state government, the Abbott administration in Canberra has precisely nothing to do with today’s state election in Victoria.
What all of this means for Victorian voters, as they evaluate the offerings and merits of the respective parties and weigh their decision as to which way to vote, is that one clear — and unimpeachable — theme emerges.
For all its faults, the Coalition has put Victoria into an enviable position over the past four years; a stable and competent government delivering hard-fought outcomes for all Victorians, Napthine’s team has worked hard to undo the legacy of Labor mismanagement, and to build effectively for the decades to come.
Its policy prescriptions and the agenda it has submitted to the verdict of the public will make a great state better: in Melbourne, in the regions, and in the daily lives of the millions of people who live in it.
The alternative, as personified in its leader Daniel Andrews, represents too much of a risk, and poses more questions than answers. Will Labor plunge the state into debt by tearing up the East-West contract? What influence will the unions really wield over a Labor government? And despite its clever stunts and smug campaigning tactics, is Labor really up to governing at all?
I think not.
A cynic might suggest that the refusal of The Age to endorse Labor amounts to payback for the disgusting incident in which the confidential contents of a dictaphone owned by one of its journalists were apparently accessed, copied and distributed by Labor figures for the express purpose of damaging the Liberal Party: and I think it salient to note that key senior figures in the ALP may yet find themselves facing criminal charges over that particular misadventure.
Again, the question of trust does not resolve itself in Labor’s favour.
Yet despite its penchant for supporting the politics of the Left in recent years, I think the journalists at The Age are too professional (and insufficiently petty) to let the incident colour their endorsement today: rather, they can see what other reasonably minded folk across the state can see, and that — very simply — is that the Labor Party is unfit to govern Victoria.
From Melbourne to Mildura, from Wodonga to Warrnambool, and from the Mallee to Mallacoota, this column urges all voters to place their trust, in the very best interests of the state — today, and for the future — in Denis Napthine as Premier, and in his Liberal and National Coalition candidates in both the lower and upper house, for a further four years in government in our great state of Victoria.