John Elliott As Deputy Lord Mayor Of Melbourne…One Word: Why?

I like John Elliott; from his days as a corporate high flyer in the 80s and 90s to his presidency of the Carlton Football Club — and from the highs to the lows — I have always had a lot of time for him. But his new ambition to be Deputy Lord Mayor of Melbourne isn’t just wrong, it’s ridiculous.

Today brought the news that Elliott will stand in next month’s local council elections in Melbourne, on a ticket headed by opinion pollster and serial mayoral candidate Gary Morgan, and my immediate reaction is to ask “why?”

The move makes no sense for a number of reasons; moreover, it is impossible to imagine Elliott being fulfilled as a result — even if he and Morgan were to win.

And that is a very, very remote possibility.

Like him or hate him, Gary Morgan polarises people; it goes with the turf whenever intellect, energy and ego intersects. I don’t mind Gary Morgan, either, but he’s stood as Lord Mayor in Melbourne previously, and lost.

Why should 2012 be any different?

Elliott’s entry, on Morgan’s ticket, is at first glimpse clever; it adds substance and a recognition factor to the ticket that would otherwise struggle to stand out in what is always a crowded field.

Yet the historical portents point to Elliott as deputy being a bad decision for all concerned.

John Elliott is used to being in charge; the man who once built a $100 million fortune on the back of a small jam making company he singlehandedly built into an Australian corporate giant is a man accustomed to the final say, and to getting his own way.

He ran that giant — Elders IXL, and later Foster’s Brewing Group — from the top, as he did during his 19-year tenure as President at the Carlton Football Club.

His tenure at both ended badly, but good or bad, Elliott was indisputably in charge at both until the end.

His record as a deputy (or more accurately, a player of second fiddle) can really only be judged on the period during the 1980s in which he was also the federal President of the Liberal Party; whilst nominally the head of the Liberal organisation, the role of President very much takes a back seat behind that of the parliamentary leader.

Early during his time as President, he was a constant thorn in the side of then-leader John Howard during the latter’s first unhappy stint in that role.

Later in his presidency of the Liberals, Elliott was instrumental in Howard’s removal and the reinstatement of “his man” Andrew Peacock, under whom he felt the Liberals would better reflect his own political and business-related objectives.

Elliott was also tipped as a future Prime Minister during this period; indeed, he was the first in a long line of figures (from both sides of Parliament) to attempt to be parachuted concurrently into Parliament and the Prime Ministership (or Premiership) at once.

The point is that Elliott, perhaps nobody’s fool, has never taken second prize as a triumph; not in business, not in sport, and not in politics. It has always been win outright or bust: and I suspect it will be the same in his candidature alongside Morgan.

Still, the ticket does have some things going for it — mostly emanating from the office of the incumbent.

Robert Doyle is an affable and likeable character; indeed, on one level, his apparently limitless energy is an ideal prerequisite for the high office of Lord Mayor of Melbourne.

Yet his four years in the job have seen little happen of substance in Melbourne, and what has changed on his watch has been misguided.

For example, Doyle was elected on a solemn pledge to reopen Swanston Street to vehicular traffic; whilst the idea of a second pedestrian mall in the Melbourne CBD is appealing, Swanston Street could have gone a long way toward relieving the traffic gridlock that is slowly strangling Melbourne.

Instead, once elected, Doyle adroitly reneged on the promise.

Similarly, the creeping infestation of so-called “super stops” on tram lines in and around the city centre has continued to spread; not only do these halve the available carriageway for vehicular traffic, but they encourage taxis, couriers, and anyone else dropping off or picking up in the CBD to double park along whole streets, rendering traffic visibility negligible and creating hazards in turn for both road traffic and pedestrians.

For a conservative Liberal of Robert Doyle’s vigour, it has been simultaneously a surprise and a disappointment to have watched him spend four years effectively implementing the Greens’ policies in the City of Melbourne.

And as someone who has lived in Melbourne for nearly 15 years and absolutely loves the place — believe me, Melbourne is in my DNA, I love it so much — it is difficult to think of a single resounding instance of Cr Doyle’s administration changing anything of great note for the better in Melbourne since 2008.

So this may help Morgan and Elliott; certainly, Elliott thinks Doyle has had his time, and must now move on. But if the Doyle record is of use to Morgan and Elliott, then it is of equal use to the several other tickets lining up to contest the election as well.

And this brings me back to Elliott and Morgan.

Were Elliott to head the ticket, with Gary Morgan as his deputy, I’d reckon the duo’s odds of winning would rocket. Elliott is a polarising figure too, of course — people literally love or hate him — but he has traded for years on his own brand of “controversial” as a larger-than-life figure in this town, and of the pair, I’d rate him as the ticket’s main electoral drawcard.

But on another level again, politics is still politics — and Elliott, a former bankrupt found guilty of allowing a company to trade insolvent, now standing on a ticket talking of running Melbourne “like a business,” provides some of his opponents who may choose to be less than ethical ample scope to get into the gutter if they wish to.

(And I’m not talking about Robert Doyle).

What do people think? Could Elliott play second-stringer as a huge fish in a tiny pool?