THE NEWS that the former President of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, Michael Kroger, will contest the role when it falls vacant in March is to be welcomed, applauded, and heartily endorsed; at a time the Liberals’ stocks have rarely been lower in the state once hailed as the “jewel” in its crown, we believe Mr Kroger is the likeliest candidate to enact reforms that will refocus the party on its primary purpose: to win elections.
50 days ago, the Liberal Party in Victoria lost government — after a single term — and with it, notched up its seventh defeat from the ten state elections held from 1982 until now.
That dubious achievement was recorded barely a year after the Victorian Liberal candidates — for the ninth time in 12 federal elections over the same period — failed to carry a majority of seats in Victoria despite the Liberal Party forming government nationally after five of those elections; one of the three majorities it scored in Victoria (in 1990) occurred largely as a result of state factors: one of the few genuine instances of an election result at one level of government being unquestionably influenced by goings-on at another.
Regular readers will have seen the blistering critique I published in this column one day after the embarrassing state election defeat last year, and with the benefit of the hindsight provided by even the seven weeks that have since elapsed, there is nothing in that assessment that I believe to be at all in error.
If anything — and with Liberal-led administrations in other jurisdictions and federally experiencing almost identical problems to varying degrees — the urgency to tackle those issues in the Party’s home state have grown even more pressing during that time.
With these observations in mind, I read with interest yesterday that the current President of the party’s Victorian division, Tony Snell, will not recontest the post at the meeting of State Council on 28 March; the declared candidates for the position are recently-retired upper house MP Andrea Coote (backed by state leader Matthew Guy) and former President Michael Kroger.
This column enthusiastically endorses Michael Kroger to return as state President.
Speaking as a rank-and-file branch member of the Liberal Party in Melbourne (and where factional considerations are concerned, completely unaligned) I have unswervingly, over a 25-year period, been prepared to work with anyone with the best interests of the Liberal Party at heart: and on this occasion, there appears to be two very good candidates who fully satisfy that brief.
Coote — a sporadic attendee at branch meetings in my area as an MP, whom I know (albeit not well) and who I hold in high regard — is an impressive and highly capable individual, and with many years’ recent first-hand experience in state politics would in ordinary circumstances seem an excellent choice to become the party’s state President.
But at a time when the Liberal Party’s standing in its own birthplace — the state Liberals boasted for decades was the “jewel” in their party’s crown — is nothing short of abysmal, its Victorian division needs a restructure, not a representative: and having performed in this role once before, delivering reforms that arguably led to the party’s only time in the sun in this state for more than 30 years, it is Kroger who stands out as the obvious, and only, candidate for the job.
I have no doubt Coote is more than able to discharge the role of state President of the party.
But so urgent is the remedial work to be effected upon it that it is critical the job is done properly the first time; and however cruelly, unfairly or otherwise in respect to Ms Coote, it is Mr Kroger’s past record that offers the best guarantee that this malfunctioning branch of a great political institution is whacked back into shape.
Kroger — President in the late 1980s and early 1990s — remains a controversial and polarising figure, and it is a monument to him of sorts that even now, the Liberal Party in Victoria is still often characterised as being split between Kennett and Kroger/Costello camps, although these demarcations have understandably blurred and broken down with time.
But the changes he was instrumental in seeing made in his earlier iteration in the post — tearing down antiquated organisational structures, overhauling and modernising preselection processes, orchestrating the removal of a great deal of deadwood from the ranks of the party’s elected representatives, and providing the party with mechanisms to better manage is political and organisational affairs — arguably underwrote what might have been a second golden era for the Victorian Liberals that has been progressively squandered in his absence.
Some have argued that the gain of nine Labor-held seats at the federal election of 1990 was merely attributable to the rancid, decaying government of John Cain that then held office in Spring Street; the fact remains that the organisational structures introduced by Kroger enabled the Liberal Party to fully capitalise and maximise their political advantage, and the Liberals’ haul of 24 of the (then) 38 federal seats in Victoria has not been bettered, or even equalled, since then: even at elections the party won in landslides in 1996, 2004, and 2013.
Similarly, the election of a Liberal government in 1992 was always likely to be a given, so decrepit and incompetent was the ALP incumbent the party faced, led by Joan Kirner after Cain’s departure from office.
Yet again, it is uncertain (or even unlikely) that the stellar win recorded by Jeff Kennett at the 1992 election could have been achieved with equivalent magnitude had Kroger’s reformation of the Liberals as a political fighting unit and professional electoral outfit not first taken place.
As a Brisbane boy still living in Queensland at the time, many of my contemporaries in the Liberal Party there were wont to regard what Kroger had achieved with great admiration and, indeed, awe: our own division of the party had never really fired a bullet — at the state level, at least — and to say we were impressed would be to understate the matter.
Many of us were regular visitors in Melbourne and some of us moved here permanently; some of those earlier contemporaries were and are in business with Kroger; others have worked with or for him, either in the companies he runs, inside the Liberal Party, or both.
For my part, I have only ever met him once, and then only as a fleeting pleasantry at the state funeral for former Premier Lindsay Thompson; unlike Coote I am unable to provide opinion on Kroger personally and I do not seek to do so.
But the bottom line is that political parties exist to win elections; stripped of fanfare and exposed as what they are in brutally blunt terms, they serve no other purpose whatsoever. The fellowships and friendships and coteries and committees that spring from them can be a great thing, but in the absence of the primary driving mission they would not exist at all.
And from elections wins — irrespective of your political stripe or ideological disposition — the delivery and implementation of policy and its consequent impacts are made possible.
It is on this basis alone that this column welcomes, applauds and heartily endorses Michael Kroger to resume the Presidency of Victoria’s Liberals.
Should he succeed, he will have his work cut out.
A moribund secretariat at 104 Exhibition Street needs and deserves to be gutted and rebuilt from scratch; as in his first stint in the post, a swathe must be cut through the deadwood among the ranks of the party’s elected MPs; and an end — in this state at least — must come to the insidious practice of recycling individuals through executive organisational roles within the Liberal Party (or the augmentation of their ranks with similarly odious persons) who add little or no benefit to the party’s electoral interests, and whose chief activities centre on butt-covering and the prosecution of personal and factional vendettas instead of focusing on the main task: fighting and defeating the ALP at the polls.
There is much more I could say, but in the interests of concision I will try to be circumspect.
I wish to place on record, publicly, an offer to provide whatever assistance may be required and/or sought by Mr Kroger in prosecuting his campaign to resume as President of the Victorian Liberal Party, and note in doing so that I do not have any parliamentary ambitions to pursue.
I do, however, remain in contemplation of whether to continue my membership of the party when fees fall due in March, and should Kroger win the role as President, any inclination to leave it will be immediately abandoned: the kind of fundamental change I believe the party requires is precisely what Kroger as President would deliver.
I would urge all readers with membership of the Liberal Party (or networks that intersect with its membership) to actively help to facilitate Kroger’s election as President; after all, the Liberal Party remains a party for its members, and it is only through mobilisation that this opportunity for basic, structural and desperately needed change can be grasped.
It is the position of this column that in the face of the indisputable problems the Liberal Party faces in Victoria that Michael Kroger represents the very best option on offer to address them, and to begin the hard and at times unpalatable work of internal reform that will yield the electoral success we seek as Liberals in the longer run.
Now Kroger has declared — and especially if he wins — the cacophony of public outrage from all corners of the Left will become deafening: evidence, however perverse, that his resumption of the role at the apex of the Liberal Party in this state is a development they fear.
This alone, in isolation from any other consideration, is reason enough for a Kroger victory to be engineered as decisively and as resoundingly as possible.