Victoria: Baillieu Resignation No Pretext For Kennett’s Return

THE ANNOUNCEMENT by former Premier Ted Baillieu yesterday that he will not recontest his seat of Hawthorn at the imminent election in Victoria has ignited a frenzy over who will be anointed in this bluest of blue-ribbon Liberal electorates in Melbourne’s east; one name that has been bandied about is that of another former Liberal Premier, Jeff Kennett, with a return to office also on the storyboard. The idea is a headache Victoria’s Liberals do not need.

It’s a pity that Ted Baillieu, who shouldered a disproportionate burden of arguably the worst aspects of the Liberal Party’s 11-year stint in opposition — and who, depending on who you listen to, had neither the appetite nor the stomach for the job of Premier in the first place — has announced he is leaving state Parliament for good; despite being a far more moderate Liberal than I am he could potentially have been one of the great Liberal Premiers of Victoria.

I was a little disappointed to hear yesterday that Baillieu has decided to vacate his ultra-safe seat of Hawthorn (reversing a commitment made some months ago to recontest it, and serve another full four-year term); he leaves with the very best wishes of this column for his next adventure in life, whatever that may be.

But I am also pleased because — without putting too fine a point on it — Baillieu has been, since his replacement as Premier by Denis Napthine 18 months ago, Yesterday’s Man, and the occupants of safe seats held by margins of close to 17% should either be serving in Cabinet or boast the high probability of doing so within the medium term.

Clearly Baillieu no longer fits these criteria. His departure is thus helpful for the Liberal Party to renew its ranks in the Victorian lower house.

Plenty of names are being bandied around less than 24 hours after his announcement; most are unsurprising, with some talk the resignation was an attempt by Baillieu to shoehorn Health minister Mary Wooldridge — trounced at preselection early this year in the neighbouring safe seat of Kew after her own electorate was abolished in a redistribution — into Hawthorn.

But Wooldridge has been preselected to an upper house seat to keep her in Parliament; that berth — vacated to enable her to run, and over which the Liberal Party attracted more political odium from the ALP than the exercise justified — should now be contested by Wooldridge, lest any move to shift her to Hawthorn reignites either the factional brawl that saw her shafted in Kew, the throwing of sticky muck by the ALP, or both.

It is, after all, 13 weeks from polling day: the Liberals can scarcely afford the indulgence of another vicious preselection fiasco.

I do not intend to offer any commentary on who should be preselected in Hawthorn, save to say that it shouldn’t be Wooldridge given she will remain in Spring Street anyway as a member of the Legislative Council.

The Hawthorn preselection is a matter for local branches in the area and the party’s administrative committee, and as I am based in a different part of Melbourne on the former count and have nothing to do with the latter, I am disinclined to endorse any of the putative candidates: some of whom I know personally, and others I don’t.

But I am certain that Jeff Kennett should not be a candidate, either for preselection, at the polls on 29 November, or as a prospective Premier after that election.

An article by Terry McCrann appeared late last night on the website of Melbourne’s Herald Sun advocating that Kennett not only be endorsed by the Liberals in Hawthorn, but that he lead the Coalition into the election campaign from outside Parliament — a la Campbell Newman in Queensland in 2012 — to resume his place as Premier of Victoria after a 15-year hiatus.

First things first: I was an unabashed advocate of Jeff Kennett, both during the lean years in opposition and after he won office; as a teenager growing up in Brisbane and watching from afar, I found the brash, blunt Kennett very likeable, very credible, and a bit of a character.

Nobody can credibly suggest the train wreck that had to be cleaned up at the time of the 1992 state election — engineered by perhaps the most inept Labor administration to hold office anywhere in Australia during the 20th century — could ever have been fixed without a change of government.

I first started coming to Melbourne as a tourist in 1990, visiting with reasonable frequency until finally moving here for good eight years later; I saw the decay and the desolation and the failure of Cain and Kirner and the misery and gloom this majestic city had been plunged into, and I saw — after 1992 — Melbourne progressively roar back to life under the stewardship of the Kennett government to stake its (rightful) claim to be the best city in the world.

I knew Kennett was in deep strife in mid-1999, when he inadvisedly described Melbourne as Victoria’s “beating heart” and its regional centres as its “toenails;” even so, the anticipated loss of seats went well beyond what any observer either expected or at the time believed. The rest is history.

Having fallen from office, Kennett swiftly resigned both the Liberal leadership and his seat of Burwood, which was won in a by-election by Labor.

And of course, Kennett had a flirtation with returning (and leading from outside Parliament) in 2006 that was countenanced and swiftly abandoned in favour of Baillieu’s ascension to the Liberal leadership in his stead.

Now, let’s be blunt about a few things.

At 66 years of age (and 67 next March) Kennett is no longer the youthful, bounding mass of energy he was as Premier in the 1990s; whilst he would hardly require any time to come to grips with the job of Premier — after all, he held it for seven years — there is no reason to believe incumbent Denis Napthine would make way for him.

Like Kennett, Napthine aspired to the role for years, and after just 18 months (and remaining popular with voters) would seem loath to forego the opportunity to govern in majority — and without the albatross of the insidious Frankston MP Geoff Shaw around his neck or the consequent razor-thin numbers in Parliament to have to contend with.

It is inconceivable Kennett would stand in Hawthorn to serve as a mere cabinet minister, let alone as a backbencher. Enough said.

Even if he were to stand, win, and resume the Premiership, how long would it last? Kennett will be over 70 by the time of the 2018 election. Bob Menzies quit the Prime Ministership at 71. John Howard was beaten at 68. Kennett’s hero, Sir Henry Bolte, quit as Premier of Victoria in 1972 at 64. Joh Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland, 77 when forced from office in 1987, was widely regarded as senile by that time.

And if he stood at the election as Premier-in-waiting and the Coalition lost, what then? The idea Kennett wouldn’t quit Parliament again — forcing a by-election again — beggars belief.

One of the big “unknowns” here is how voters would respond; I think it’s fair to say Melbourne would respond very favourably to a Kennett return. After all, the city stuck to him like glue in 1999, with only a couple of metropolitan electorates falling to the ALP.

But the regions, so affronted by the words and deeds of Kennett and his government to swing to Labor in 1999, for the first time ever in some areas, is a different equation altogether.

Perhaps the conciliatory words Kennett has uttered in their direction ever since would cut the ice; or speaking of ice, perhaps (as one Independent MP said at the time) it would remain the case that hell would have to freeze first before some of those towns and communities ever cast a vote for Jeff Kennett again.

There’s one other aspect of all of this that I find deeply troubling, and it’s this: for Kennett — who first became Liberal leader in 1982 — to resume the role now and fly the flag as the party’s leader would be tantamount to an admission that for more than 30 years, the Victorian Liberals have been unable to produce any other viable leader than Jeffrey Gibb Kennett.

It’s true that there are two outstanding candidates, as McCrann notes — Planning minister Matthew Guy and Treasurer Michael O’Brien — either or both of whom will probably end up in Kennett’s old office in Treasury Place in the fullness of time.

But for Kennett to come back now (and especially if he were to be restored to the Premiership by voters), one or both of those glittering, embryonic careers might very well be cut short or left unfulfilled.

As much as I love Jeffrey — and I do — I think it would send a dreadful signal to the electorate, to the rank and file of the Liberal Party, and not least to the ALP, that the best the Liberal Party can do is return to the leader it had 32 years ago when it lost an election after almost three decades in government.

Frankly, McCrann is right: Victoria is in sore need of a dose of Kennett-style government.

But the best thing Victorian voters can do, as they enter polling booths on 29 November, is to vote for their local Liberal and National Party candidates to secure four more years of Coalition government under Denis Napthine.

Freed of the ridiculous constraints of tight numbers and virtual minority status, and freed of the contemptible presence of Shaw, I believe Napthine will deliver precisely the brand of energetic, get-Victoria-moving government that McCrann, and other Kennett-era nostalgics, clearly yearn for. The hunger to succeed is writ large on his face. The only thing holding him back from getting on with it is the impossibly compromised state of the numbers in Parliament.

McCrann is right about one thing though: the alternative is a union-infested, CFMEU-controlled Labor government led by the immature, puerile, imbecilic dickhead Daniel Andrews, and any government led by him could confidently be expected to make the hopeless Bracks-Brumby years and the ruinous Cain-Kirner years look like a veritable golden age by comparison.

I really want to know what readers* think today; it’s my head refusing to endorse a Kennett return — in my heart, I’d love to watch him tear Andrews to bits and reclaim the job I never thought he should have lost.


*Any rank and file Liberal members reading can post here using a pseudonym. Email addresses will remain confidential.

It Leaked Stolen Baillieu Tape: Labor Unfit To Govern Victoria

APPARENT REVELATIONS in the Fairfax and Murdoch press today confirm what most observers and pundits had already guessed: that despite its denials, the Labor Party was responsible for the theft and distribution of the dictaphone of a journalist from The Age, and damaging material featuring former Premier Ted Baillieu stored on it. Others are yet to be called to answer, but the development proves the ALP is unfit for government in Victoria.

In framing my remarks this morning on a tasteless, reprehensible and grubby little stunt that provided ample fuel for the animosity many voters feel toward politics and politicians, I direct readers firstly to my article of 28 June, in which I made my only comment on this episode to date; and secondly to the reports carried by The Age and the Herald Sun this morning, which collectively amount to an admirable effort of investigative journalism that ought to see Victorian Labor dangling and twisting in the wind.

(An excellent analysis piece was also published by The Age this morning, and that can be accessed here).

It is the Fairfax report I am going to rely on today; partly because the stolen dictaphone at the root of this scandal belonged to its journalist, Farrah Tomazin; partly because it provides the most detail; and partly because this welcome (if self-interested) burst of impartiality from The Age dishes up hard questions the Labor Party has not only refused to answer, but has seemingly continued to deny responsibility over for the actions that make them necessary to contemplate in the first place.

I would like to begin by pointing out that none of these articles offer any answers as to a) how and by whom sensitive internal Liberal Party distribution lists were accessed, and b) who it was that used those lists to send hundreds of Liberal Party members (including me) and state MPs an audio link to the potentially damaging material contained on the tape from the stolen dictaphone under the name of non-existent party member Elizabeth McRobert.

My belief remains that this could only have been done by a person or people with access to Liberal Party headquarters and its databases, although investigations into their identity (or identities) continue. I have already communicated my view that these people should be rounded up, humiliated publicly, expelled from the Liberal Party and prosecuted to the Party’s State Director. I stand by that sentiment.

But for an illicit distribution to occur, there must first be suitably explosive material to distribute; and were it not for the theft of Ms Tomazin’s dictaphone and the consequent access to the politically sensitive recording on it, no such material would be available for such an enterprise to be undertaken.

In other words, the finger points at the ALP: the perpetrator/s of the original theft are, at its genesis, responsible for this whole scandal. The investigative report in The Age lays the blame squarely at Labor’s feet.

Today’s revelations prove the Labor Party is unfit to govern Victoria.

At various times since the private conversation between Tomazin and former Premier Ted Baillieu was first made public on 24 June, senior Labor figures — including its leader, Daniel Andrews, his deputy, James Merlino, and the ALP’s state secretary, Noah Carroll — have all stated, on the record, that the ALP rejected any suggestion of its involvement in either the theft of Tomazin’s recorder or the subsequent dissemination of the material on it.

Yet just as the finger points to Labor for “acquiring” the dictaphone from a lost property bin at its state conference, no amount of blame shifting or butt-covering can absolve the ALP from answering for the actions of whomever in its ranks took it, or from taking responsibility for the repercussions; the buck has to stop somewhere, and — as the public face of Labor in Victoria — that “somewhere” is its leader, Daniel Andrews.

The Age‘s report that “senior staff from…Daniel Andrews’ office and Labor Party chiefs” — whom it has declined, for now, to name —  strongly suggests that despite their denials, Andrews and his colleagues are uniquely placed to know exactly who the culprits are.

It is clear, given the detailed analysis undertaken by The Age, that great consideration of the tape was given by Victorian Labor at an organisational level; it can hardly be said that collectively, they did not understand the import of the material they had procured nor the potential for such explosive material to seriously damage the government of Premier Denis Napthine if handled adroitly, and without any traces of their involvement that could cause the issue to rebound on the ALP in the runup to the state election on 29 November.

Indeed, The Age reports that one of them went so far as to seek legal opinion on the tape. To the credit of whoever it was, he argued against its circulation. But — in the kind of filthy political storyline so common of Labor across the country these days — the offending material was nonetheless passed on. To someone, somewhere. Australia has witnessed the fracas that erupted as a result.

The list of questions published in The Age this morning — which it asked of several senior ALP figures, but most notably of Mr Andrews — is entirely in the public interest.

Yet Andrews has not proven unable to answer them; he has simply refused to do so, and this fits a disturbing pattern of behaviour that most thinking Victorians should consider before casting their votes in November.

Piecemeal as it may be so far, evidence is beginning to emerge at the Heydon Royal Commission of an unhealthy relationship between Mr Andrews and the militant, anti-democratic CFMEU: a relationship Andrews also seeks to deflect by refusing to comment on the apparently less savoury alleged aspects of it.

As Health minister in the Brumby government, he sought to defend waiting lists in state-operated hospitals that were doctored prior to publication to show the former ALP regime in a more positive light than was the case.

As opposition leader, he refused to condemn the “ring in” of union officials to pose as sick patients lying on hospital trolleys in those same hospitals, in a despicable piece of political propaganda aimed at aiding unions in their pay dispute with the (then Baillieu) government.

His party has sought to use rogue MP Geoff Shaw to create maximum havoc for Napthine, lambasting the Premier for the simple crime that the government is hostage to tight numbers in Parliament and has depended on Shaw to govern. Yet this moralising outrage is tempered by the fact his party has proven more than willing to collude with Shaw or to harness his antics to its own advantage at almost every available opportunity.

And that brings us — quite neatly — full circle, and back to the tape from the stolen dictaphone, which Andrews seeks to defend Labor from by again deflecting pertinent questions about its involvement.

At some point, the ALP has to be held to account; it is not good enough for Labor to simply operate as a law unto itself, and to expect what it believes to be a gullible electorate to accept its pronouncements at face value.

There is ample evidence that across Australia, the Labor Party continues to grow increasingly cavalier with the truth: it cares little if the utterances of its representatives are grounded in fact.

And its refusal to take any responsibility whatsoever for its own shortcomings in government are, in this case, a mere precursor to its refusal to now offer an explanation for the Tomazin dictaphone theft that is acceptable or plausible in any way, shape, or form.

In fact, Labor offers no explanation at all.

It is quite possible that criminal charges and prosecutions will flow from these events; indeed, The Age reports that the unauthorised distribution of material such as the private conversation contained on that tape carries a two-year maximum penalty under applicable state government law. Yet that doesn’t seem to faze Labor — or Andrews — in the slightest.

Matters of probity and accountability sit at the forefront of any government’s responsibility to the people it is elected to serve, and as a party that aspires to reclaim government at the imminent state election, that responsibility equally applies to the Victorian ALP.

For this reason — and in view of its clear attempts to sweep these matters under the carpet — Labor has proven itself unfit to serve as a government in our great state of Victoria.

It becomes incumbent on electors to register their disgust at what can only be interpreted as a conspiracy to rig an election, and to vote accordingly.



Did Baillieu Tape Leak Over Abortion? Sackings Should Follow

THE NOTION this week’s sensationally leaked conversation between a journalist and a former Premier may have been motivated by abortion as an issue is, as things stand, as plausible an explanation as any; should it prove to be so, the culprits must immediately be rounded up, dismissed from their jobs and sinecures, and expelled from the Liberal Party. Abortion is an explosive social issue. It is not suitable ammunition for public factional brawling.

I acknowledge I have remained silent for a few days this week (busy, busy) but readers will know that as ever, I have been keeping an eye on events; I received the now-infamous email on Tuesday morning from a non-existent member of the Liberal Party seeking to distribute the conversation between former Premier Ted Baillieu and The Age‘s reporter Farrah Tomazin — and I do not intend to oxygenate the recording, its transcript or the email within which they were disseminated by republishing them here.

In fact, it had been my intention not to comment on the issue at all; whilst I am personally outraged at what appears to have been a stunning act of bastardry committed against the Victorian Liberal Party ahead of a difficult state election, I was initially disinclined to draw any further attention to it by discussing it, and I indicated as much to the party’s State Director, Damien Mantach, when he contacted me earlier in the week as part of an audit to establish which party members had received the offending email and which hadn’t.

But in light of a conspiracy theory that emerges in the Editorial of today’s edition of the Herald Sun in Melbourne, I wanted to make some remarks in reply.

Broadly, it has been speculated in the mainstream press this week that the potential culprit (or culprits) at the top of the “suspect list” were senior advisers working out of a federal Liberal MP’s electorate office in Melbourne; whether that eventually proves to be so or not, the Herald Sun has today made the case that the entire episode may have been driven by anti-abortionist elements within the party rather than a more orthodox factional ambush aimed at crippling the obvious target, Premier Denis Napthine.

Whether Ms Tomazin’s tape recorder was stolen, as it has been claimed, or that a more sinister explanation lies behind an incendiary background conversation between herself and Baillieu becoming public, there are two facts that seem set in stone: one, that an attempt to derail the Coalition’s campaign for re-election in what was already a tough political environment has been made; and two, that the private contact details of grassroots Liberal Party members have been accessed and obtained for the purposes of making that attempt.

It is my view that once the person (or persons) responsible have been identified, the Party can and should humiliate them publicly, dismiss them from any paid employment they hold at the discretion of either the party or an elected representative, expel them from the Liberal Party, and — if it can be established that offences may have been committed — to take any and all available steps to have them prosecuted.

I conveyed this view, in similar terms, to Mr Mantach in my email to him on Wednesday night.

The abortion angle raised by the Herald Sun simply adds another piece to the puzzle; it, too, may be a correct assessment or it may prove to be a red herring. Either way, with that explosive issue now squarely on the table in the context of the investigation, there are a few points that have to be made.

I think readers know that my personal position on abortion is a reasonably conservative one; with the exception of cases of rape or incest, or where carrying a foetus to term would either endanger the life of the mother or result in a severely disabled (or still) birth, I am not in favour of abortion and would never utter a syllable to advocate abortion on demand.

Having said that, my opinion is exactly that: my opinion. Others will make their own judgements according to their values, and their own decisions; and I phrase it thus because those who wish to procure an abortion will do so irrespective of whether it is safe or not, legal or not, and regardless of the proliferation or otherwise of facilities at which to do so. I’m not having a bob each way in making that observation; it is a recognition of the reality that whether you like it or not, the continued occurrence of abortion is a hard, cold fact.

If a situation is to exist in any mainstream political party whereby hatchet jobs, factional ambushes and the attempted termination (sorry for using the word) of the political careers of opponents are pursued on the basis of such an inflammatory issue, then as a society we’ve got a very, very big problem.

The Herald Sun is right; if advisers to federal MPs (or to cabinet ministers) are pursuing an internal agenda with engineering a savage lurch to the Right over abortion as its objective, they must be dismissed from their positions; if an actual federal MP is directly involved, then disciplinary action including disendorsement and expulsion from the Liberal Party must also be pursued.

Aside from anything else, there is a clear delineation of jurisdictional responsibilities in relation to abortion: it is the preserve of the states, and as much as people involved in federal politics might protest that they remain members of a state-based division of the party, the fact is that from the perspective of operational executive government a line would have been crossed if their involvement were to be confirmed.

And it goes without saying that any other members, employees or associates of the Party found to have engaged in this stunt should be thrown overboard without delay or compunction — irrespective of whoever they are.

Much has been made in recent months of the intention of disgraced renegade MP Geoff Shaw’s intentions to introduce a Private Member’s Bill into state Parliament, seeking to alter Victoria’s abortion laws and tighten them to reflect his deeply held, fundamentalist Christian views — a charade, if and when it eventuates, that the Napthine government will need like the proverbial hole in the head.

Stirring up the passions and hatreds that invariably accompany debate of this issue is irresponsible and counter-productive at the best of times; making it an explicitly targeted political football aimed at sabotaging a government led by moderate Liberals is reprehensible.

And the Coalition government in Victoria faces a fight to be re-elected: invigorated by the ascension of Napthine to the Premiership last year, blessed with what barely passes for “an opposition” and a ridiculous, puerile incompetent as opposition leader — and armed with the best budget position of any state — Napthine should be an unbackable favourite to win.

Despite the problem of Geoff Shaw and the political trickle-down effects of the Abbott government’s budget, I believed until recently that Napthine was a certainty. Now, I’m not so sure — and if the Coalition loses office, this episode over the leaked conversation with Baillieu will probably be seen as the final nail in its coffin.

To be fair, there are a couple of the items on Shaw’s list of demands that could be readily agreed and implemented to try to shut the matter down without causing an almighty detonation in the immediate runup to the state election in November; for example, the requirement that a doctor opposed to abortion be legally compelled to refer a patient requesting it to another doctor who will provide access to one can and should be rescinded.

Doing so would remove a moral and ethical imposition on the doctor opposed to abortion, whilst making no practical difference whatsoever: the reality is that doctors prepared to provide access to abortion services are publicly known, and will continue to be so.

But for the most part, abortion is a matter last dealt with extensively in Victoria just a few years ago. Little meaningful purpose is to be served by reopening the can of worms now.

Aside from what I have said in this article I will make no further comment on the Baillieu tapes scandal until the investigations to identify those responsible have been concluded.

But if the Herald Sun is right — and the whole thing was orchestrated as part of a push for hardline abortion reform by elements inside the Liberal Party with too much of an idea of their own importance — then that’s pretty sick, the outrage of the injury the matter seems certain to inflict on the Napthine government notwithstanding.


Parliamentary Quagmire: Napthine’s Only Way Forward In Victoria

LIBERAL-CUM-INDEPENDENT MP Geoff Shaw — in willing cahoots with the state ALP and its puerile leader Daniel Andrews — has transformed the Victorian state Parliament into an unmanageable and ungovernable quagmire; the Coalition government of Denis Napthine has an excellent record to sell, but its message is lost in the explosive parliamentary spectacle that is an embarrassment to the state. Napthine does, however, have a potent card to play.

It is a measure of just how irresponsible Geoff Shaw is prepared to be to flex his “muscles” — and how irresponsible Labor is prepared to be in its raw lust for power — that having achieved the outcome they sought in relation to the Speaker of the Parliament, both Shaw and Labor continue to wreck parliamentary proceedings in an attempt to destroy the Coalition government, but to avoid an election (for now) at all costs.

For readers unfamiliar with the state of play in Victoria, here is a potted report.

At the state election of November 2010, the Coalition — led by Ted Baillieu — achieved a 6.1% swing against the ALP government of John Brumby, winning 45 of the state’s 88 lower house seats and with them, returned to government for the first time since the Kennett administration was forced from office in 1999.

Baillieu also secured a majority in Victoria’s upper house: that, a lower house majority and a share of the two-party vote in the lower house of almost 52% all add up to a mandate to govern — if ever there was one.

Faced with crashing opinion poll numbers and widespread unrest within his parliamentary party, Baillieu was replaced as Premier by Denis Napthine about a year ago, and — to put it bluntly — chaos has ensued virtually ever since.

The member for Frankston, Geoff Shaw (against whom a multitude of criminal charges relating to improper use of parliamentary entitlements were withdrawn) has behaved as a “gang of one;” now sitting on the cross bench, the self-appointed role of God he seems to have arrogated to himself clearly sits well with him, and the consequence has been that state Parliament has descended into farce on account of the finely balanced state of the numbers.

It is ironic that Labor leader Daniel Andrews — an odious specimen who gives every impression he would sit more comfortably in the thick of battle for control of a university student union than at the head of the Labor Party — repeatedly attempts to cultivate a “circus” analogy to describe the state of the Victorian Parliament, when arguably the biggest clown in Spring Street, Geoff Shaw aside, is himself.

Far from presenting as the embodiment of sober responsibility, Andrews is doing his level best to render Victoria ungovernable, and in this enterprise has a willing accomplice in Shaw.

Three-quarters of the way through a four-year term that is only fixed because of so-called “reforms” legislated by the previous government, the cavalier game of roulette Andrews seems determined to play with the governance of Victoria is a dangerous one indeed.

Having secured both the resignation of the Speaker of the Parliament, Ken Smith, and the appointment of their preferred replacement in deputy Speaker (and Liberal MP) Christine Fyffe, one could be forgiven for thinking that Andrews and Shaw might have had the decency to wait at least beyond the very first parliamentary session to comprehensively trash the very outcome their destabilisation was designed to achieve.

Playing the wrecker, however, is a stronger imperative to these people  than any half-arsed form of words about responsibility and stability they may utter for the news cameras, with the ALP and Shaw combining to vote down the government’s legislative agenda for the week less than an hour after Fyffe had taken her place in the Speaker’s chair.

The ruthlessness and determination with which Labor pursues its destructive political objectives should never be underestimated — just look at the state of that party in Queensland, NSW, and federally, to see the end results — and whilst Andrews and Shaw obviously think their gamesmanship on the floor of state Parliament is a ticket to Easy Street, it is more likely to prove a recipe for self-destruction.

It will certainly be so if Napthine plays his cards right.

Now there is talk of Shaw combining with Labor to block the May budget and force an election; Labor’s intent to do so should be taken as certain. So — given his refusal to rule such action out — should that of Shaw. “I will need to have further discussions with Denis Napthine before that happens,” he said yesterday.

The absolute last thing in the world that Daniel Andrews needs, at this point in time, is a state election.

Conversely, if I was Napthine, I wouldn’t be able to get to the polls fast enough right now: with a couple of qualifications, as readers will see.

Whilst Labor has held a consistent lead in reputable opinion polling for about nine months — the last Newspoll saw the Victorian ALP ahead of the government 53-47 — Andrews’ own ratings are soft, continuing to trail Napthine on the “preferred Premier” question and recording personal approval numbers that are mediocre at best.

And I still think (to make a call on it) that despite polling numbers reflecting a lot of churn and unrest in the electorate about the finely balanced parliamentary numbers, come election time the Coalition will remain far more attractive to voters than any return to Labor after a single term.

Labor has inadvertently shown a chink in its political armour with is mindless, senseless opposition to Napthine’s determination to build the so-called East-West Link, a road connecting the Eastern Freeway to the Tullamarine Freeway and ultimately the Western Ring Road; so concerned about the prospect of losing four inner-city seats to the Communist Party Greens (Richmond, Melbourne, Brunswick, Northcote) is the ALP that Andrews is prepared to sabotage the building of a critical piece of road infrastructure that will benefit Greater Melbourne and Victoria as a whole simply to optimise ALP prospects in those seats.

It’s a tantalising clue to the real message Labor is deriving from its own private polling.

Andrews himself will enter any election campaign as leader with questions over his suitability for office that the Coalition will ruthlessly exploit; aside from contributing very little of substance in three years as opposition leader, Andrews faces the additional electoral impediment of a fiasco over hospital waiting lists that were doctored by bureaucrats on his watch as Health minister to provide a rosier-than-real picture of the true state of Melbourne’s public hospitals under Labor.

There is also the small matter of the litany of Labor disasters Victorians remain locked into footing the bill for: Labor couldn’t complete major projects in a timely fashion or within budget, but it certainly knew how to execute watertight contracts with private sector partners that bent the state of Victoria over a barrel.

The “memories” campaign over Myki, the Wonthaggi desalination plant, the so-called North-South Pipeline and other monuments to Labor incompetence should be mandatory.

But before it gets to fighting that campaign, Napthine must first till the ground.

On the assumption the government is on an election footing — because it is — Napthine and his ministers need to start releasing their election policies now: there won’t be an election in November, and if Napthine wants to control the timing and terms of whatever the date ends up being, he needs to get his skates on.

So, too, does the Liberal Party organisation, which at the time of writing is yet to finalise its preselections; any more Liberal MPs contemplating departure from politics must be prevailed upon to make and announce their decisions over the next few weeks, and replacements found and endorsed as quickly as the party’s constitution permits.

The messy Kew preselection must be shut down quickly and quietly, perhaps by guaranteeing young turk Tim Smith the next available safe seat in return for calling off his damaging challenge to Health minister Mary Wooldridge, who is seeking to transfer to the seat after her own safe Liberal electorate of Doncaster was abolished.

And while Napthine and his team do their level best to generate an election atmosphere around Spring Street, the message to voters must be unambiguous: Labor and Geoff Shaw have prevented the Coalition from doing the job Victorians elected it to do, and that soon they will have a choice: to re-elect the government to deliver on its pledges, or return to Labor — with all the incompetence and waste, and higher taxes and charges for Victorian families to be hit with, as a result.

Shaw, for his part, is a red herring who shouldn’t matter a can of beans after the coming election; there is one scenario that might save him, however, and one only — formal defection to the ALP and endorsement as its candidate for Frankston. Stranger things have happened, no matter where the ALP is at with its candidate roster. Napthine needs to head that off, too, however unlikely it might seem now.

And Treasurer Michael O’Brien should take a leaf out of the British Conservative Party’s template of 1992; faced with a supposedly unwinnable election in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax debacle, new Prime Minister John Major had his Chancellor, Norman Lamont, deliver an early pre-election budget in February followed by a sprint to the polls in April.

Major — a reasonably popular mid-term replacement for Thatcher, a description that could equally be applied to Napthine — faced a walking political abomination in Labour leader Neil Kinnock: a parallel that could be easily drawn with Andrews.

This “compressed” approach to a difficult election year paid dividends, with the Conservatives narrowly re-elected for a further five-year term instead of being booted from office in a landslide, as had seemed likely for most of the time since Thatcher’s departure as Prime minister in late 1990.

In short, condense all the planned goodies for the year into the next three months, whilst getting the message across that Shaw and Labor are wreckers, not credible pretenders to effective governance.

And as for the “fixed” four-year term?

Very simply, with all cards and the early budget on the table, Napthine should engineer a confidence vote in his government — if the ALP can’t be taunted into moving the no-confidence equivalent in a timely enough fashion to facilitate a May election — and have one of his MPs miss the vote.

Whether he or she falls asleep, or misses a flight from interstate, or has a sudden medical crisis involving an itchy toe or something, Labor and Shaw will vote down the government in any such division, irrespective of who moves the motion.

Napthine and the Coalition should proceed on that basis: the forces ranged against them are playing for keeps, and will cut the Coalition no slack.

Prepare the ground, set the scene, and then engineer the big bang at the end. Lose the vote in Parliament, and an election option becomes a reality.

The alternative is for the torrid state Parliament to drag on for the next eight months, and whilst Napthine has a good chance of short-circuiting what is obviously a co-ordinated strategy against him now, if it goes on for months, that window will be much more difficult to keep open.

A cool head and quick, resolute action could well win Napthine a second term as Premier, and an election victory in his own right.

If he plays this correctly, the only “clown” in the tent will be Andrews: and there won’t be anything to laugh about at Victorian Labor once the final act is finished.


Questions: Geoff Shaw, Tim Mathieson, Craig Thomson

WITH CERTAIN MATTERS now before the Courts, it’s inadvisable to comment on specific details of individual cases; even so, two sets of facts concerning two different gentlemen bear a striking similarity, and beg a rather obvious question. And then, of course, there is Craig Thomson.

Geoff Shaw was a knockabout kind of fellow, with no obvious driving ideological inclination toward politics or a career in public life; prior to his election in November 2010 to the state seat of Frankston, on Melbourne’s southern outskirts, he was a small businessman operating a hardware store.

Tim Mathieson was a knockabout kind of fellow, and was never an MP; he began dating opposition frontbencher Julia Gillard in early 2006, becoming the country’s so-called “First Bloke” when the latter became Prime Minister in 2010: and throughout, whether practising or not, Mathieson was a hairdresser.

Soon after his election as the MP for Frankston it emerged publicly (and with thanks to the state ALP in Victoria) that Shaw and his staff had been using his taxpayer-funded car to run deliveries — some interstate — and other activities for his hardware business.

Unbeknown to the general public in any way, at some point prior to March 2007, Tim Mathieson had been using Gillard’s taxpayer-funded car for his activities as a sales representative for a company called PPS Hairwear, clocking up more than 6,000km in the car before the Department of Finance was alerted to it.

Ostracised in State Parliament following his decision to resign from the Liberal Party over what he claimed was a lack of leadership by then-Premier Ted Baillieu — precipitating Baillieu’s demise as Premier — Shaw has been the subject of multiple investigations into his conduct, and recently repaid $1,250 to the Victorian taxpayer over the use of the vehicle.

Hidden from public view, a staffer in Gillard’s office contacted the Department of Finance in March 2007 in relation to Mathieson’s use of her car; a personal cheque from Gillard, in the sum of $4,243.58, was tendered in a quiet endeavour to see the Commonwealth right.

Since the allegations surrounding Shaw became public in 2011, the Victorian ALP has tried to raise merry hell over the issue; its leader, Daniel Andrews, has repeatedly and consistently sought to tar the state Liberals (and Premier Denis Napthine specifically) by pointing to a supposed link to allegedly corrupt and potentially criminal misconduct.

Meanwhile, the Mathieson matter and details of the quiet repayment of monies to remedy a potential breach were hidden from public scrutiny; The Australian reported on all of these matters yesterday after fighting a 10-month battle to win access to documents relating to the Mathieson issue under Freedom of Information laws.

That fight to access those documents occurred because the former Prime Minister and her office sought to block the Department of Finance from complying with the decision of the Information Commissioner that the material should be released.

Something else happened yesterday, too: Shaw was hit with 24 criminal charges over the alleged misuse of his taxpayer-funded vehicle.

Today, the child leader of the Victorian ALP, Andrews, continued with his filthy little smear, demanding that Napthine explain “why Victorians (should) be confident in a Premier and a government propped up by a bloke facing 24 serious criminal charges.”

It is tawdry, grubby politics from an immature specimen of the most contemptible variety, and undertaken without a scintilla of evidence on which to base the smear against Napthine or, indeed, any other Victorian MP apart from Shaw.

It goes without saying, of course, that not one Labor voice across the length and breadth of Australia was today raised in questioning the revelations about Mathieson.

Would somebody like to explain, in simple English and without histrionics, exactly what the difference between the Shaw allegations and the Mathieson matter is?

AND ANOTHER THING: Former member for Dobell, HSU boss and all-round grub Craig Thomson seems to be inching closer to his day in Court to answer dozens of fraud charges.

Apparently the last hurdle before the case is heard is a spat between prosecutors and counsel for Thomson over whether Thomson is required to be party to a list of “undisputed facts” or whether he is to simply admit to using his notorious union credit card to pay for prostitutes, unauthorised airfares, adult movie rentals in hotels, and cigarettes.

The general public is fed up with Thomson and his antics, and we question whether the semantic games presently being played out in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court are simply a further waste of taxpayer money and Crown resources.

There are even said to be over 100 prostitutes willing and ready to testify as witnesses, which probably says much about the diligence of the investigation conducted by Victoria Police, if anything else.

If Thomson is contemplating owning up after the event — especially given his political career has now ended — perhaps he could simply hurry up and do so, face the music, and get on with being the discredited footnote to Australian politics he is destined to become.


Detailed Breakdown Of The Victorian State Redistribution

AS PER NSW recently, this is for readers into in all things psephological; the latest redistribution is in Victoria, and I’m again sharing information from ABC election supremo Antony Green, who has analysed the draft boundaries published by the Victorian Electoral Commission for the 2014 election.

You can access a link to Antony’s page here. (I suggest you refresh this page over the weekend, as it’s clear Antony is still updating some sections of it).

A few observations on key points, as I see them:

The number of lower house seats is unchanged at 88, although 12 seats on the old boundaries have been abolished and replaced, or substantially modified and renamed.

Two seats have been abolished altogether: the uber-safe National Party seat of Rodney, in the state’s north, and the safe Liberal seat of Doncaster (held by Health minister Mary Wooldridge) in Melbourne’s outer north-east.

Labor notionally picks up an additional seat in its western suburbs heartland (Werribee, at the centre of Julia Gillard’s federal electorate of Lalor), whilst a new, notionally safe Liberal seat appears in Eildon, just south of Seymour.

Seymour — speaking of central Victoria — switches on paper from a Liberal Party seat to a National Party seat, and becomes much safer for the Coalition overall.

Opposition leader Daniel Andrews’ traditionally safe Labor electorate of Mulgrave becomes quite marginal as a result of this redivision, and now sits on a notional margin of 2.5% (as opposed to 8.5% at the 2010 state election).

The effect of these draft boundary changes is to notionally alter the state of the parties, thus: Liberal Party 37 seats (+2); National Party 9 (-1); ALP 42 (-1).

The result of this redraw of the boundaries is that the Coalition now controls, on paper, a notional 46 of the 88 lower house seats, and I have to say that this tally seems more in line with the 51.6% result recorded at the 2010 election, when former Premier Ted Baillieu led the Coalition back to office on a swing of some 6.1%.

I have long suspected the state boundaries in Victoria contain an inherent bias towards the ALP, largely on account of the swathe of electorates it holds (and almost always holds) in Melbourne’s north and west, where most of the highest population growth in Victoria also happens to occur.

And to prove it — and I’m not talking about anything sinister — based on these revised boundaries, a 3.2% swing to the ALP in 2014 (which would produce the same 51.6% result for the winner as occurred in 2010) would see Labor win seven seats on paper from the Liberals for a total of 49: three more than these draft electorates currently show for the Coalition.

So whilst this redistribution (and it isn’t final as yet) does redress that bias to an extent, adding one paper seat to the tally the Coalition recorded in 2010, it doesn’t eliminate it either.

Anyhow, for those who like to crunch the numbers and pore over the minutiae — enjoy!

The Commission will gazette finalised boundaries toward the end of 2013.

The Game Is Afoot: Napthine Breathes Life Into Liberals In Victoria

THE POLITICAL landscape in Victoria has been redrawn in the past eight weeks; the replacement of Ted Baillieu with Denis Napthine as leader of the Liberal Party — and as Premier — has reinvigorated the troubled Coalition government, which now stands every chance of being re-elected in 2014.

I was waiting to post on this subject until a bi-monthly Newspoll survey of state voting  intentions had been conducted for The Australian; this was finally published on Sunday, but with the ongoing shenanigans in Canberra, it has had to wait a day or two longer.

Eight weeks ago, it appeared Victoria’s Coalition government was on a downhill run toward defeat; led by a low-profile — but very decent — figure in Ted Baillieu, it was beset by crises (many of its own making), hobbled by the presence of controversial Frankston MP Geoff Shaw, and haemorrhaging popular support in published opinion polls.

This column went so far as to defend Baillieu, advocating a cleanout of his government’s advisers rather than a leadership change: after all, the mess in which the Coalition found itself was by no means confined to the remit of any individual minister, let alone Baillieu, and it stood to reason that fresh heads might logically be the better first step before any leadership change was undertaken.

I won’t say we were wrong to advocate this; I am aware some changes were indeed made but not of the full extent of those changes. But nobody can deny that the leadership switch has been a panacea, and its effects have been stunning.

Denis Napthine has seemingly done the impossible, reinvigorating the flagging government to the point that what increasingly looked like a one-term administration may well instead record the thumping re-election many thought would follow its narrow win in November 2010 as a matter of course.

The way he has gone about this is an object lesson in old-fashioned, accepted political techniques that mightn’t be flashy or trendy, but they work.

And in doing so, he has exhibited a leadership style more in the mould of former Premier Jeff Kennett than anyone imagined — not least if his initial stint as Liberal leader between 1999 and early 2002 is any guide.

As Premier, Napthine has been active and visible: unlike Baillieu, he seems to have a real affinity for media relations, and the exposure this has brought to the state government has been helpful — to say the least.

He has been quick to respond to issues that matter to Victorian voters; when he took on the Premiership, the pending potential eligibility for parole of Hoddle Street mass murderer Julian Knight was one of many vexed matters requiring leadership, and Napthine provided it: Knight, he declared, would never be freed whilst he was Premier.

And that was that.

Napthine has also moved to neutralise some of the biggest issues the government had faced; its dispute over pay with the powerful Victorian Teachers’ Federation has already been resolved, for example, after dragging on for more than two years under Baillieu.

And he seems, at the minimum, to have found a way to mollify Shaw — now sitting on the crossbench — insofar as the wild rhetoric Shaw directed against Baillieu during his final days in office has now ceased, and been replaced by effusive praise for Napthine.

Suddenly, there’s a sense that things are happening in Melbourne and across Victoria that — let’s be honest — wasn’t there; I have opined previously that Baillieu’s government was a good one in light of the climate it operated in, but the message is always dependent on the method and the messenger, and it seems the ascension of Napthine has resolved that too.

There are certainly challenges: exactly what Napthine does about myki in the long term — a sore that continues to fester, and a legacy of the 11-year ALP government Baillieu displaced — remains to be seen. But myki continues to be a headline machine, and the story it peddles is one Victoria could well do without.

The same goes for the desalination plant at Wonthaggi, which — courtesy of a contract signed by the Bracks-Brumby government — is shortly set to add hundreds of dollars per year to Melburnians’ water bills for decades to come, despite no water having ever been ordered from the completed plant and none likely to be required for the foreseeable future.

How Napthine manages the politics of that will be of enormous interest.

But to date, Napthine presents as a man on a mission; bent on taking his state with him and, in turn, this is showing up in the public polling done since he took over as Premier.

Already, Newspoll (published, as I said, on Sunday) shows the Coalition in a 50-50 dead heat with the ALP after preferences — a 3% swing to the government in about six weeks.

Significantly, primary support for the major parties is almost at the levels it was at the 2010 election, with the Liberal Party polling 38% (unch), Nationals 5% (-1.8%), Labor on 37% (+0.8%) and the Greens on 12% (+0.8%).

What should help Napthine is that the seats the Liberals need to win next year to secure a solid majority are mostly outside Melbourne, and the Portland-based Premier — a country vet before entering Parliament — will provide an additional selling point to regional voters.

And it seems the favour of Victoria’s voters is Napthine’s to lose; 50% approved of the job he is doing as Premier in his first Newspoll, with just 19% disapproving.

(Readers can view the Victorian Newspoll tables here).

All of this comes as leaked federal ALP polling — corroborated both by similar research undertaken by the Liberals and by published polls — shows a collapse in its vote in Victoria, especially in southeastern Melbourne, with as many as six federal seats in Victoria likely to fall to the Liberals in what, since 1998, has been Labor’s best-performed state.

And a by-election in an ultra-safe Labor state seat in southeast Melbourne at the weekend, whilst held by the ALP by a similar margin after preferences as it was in 2010, nonetheless featured a 15% decrease in the party’s primary vote in the absence of a Liberal candidate.

It’s obvious Napthine still has some ground to make up — and 18 months to navigate — before a second term can be considered a certainty.

Even so, the conservatives’ prospects look pretty rosy, potential hurdles notwithstanding.

The same, however, can hardly be said for the Victorian ALP.

For most of the time since the 2010 election, Labor has behaved like a government in exile, and given every indication that it regarded the 2010 result as an aberration that would be corrected four years hence.

Its leader — the affable but largely ineffectual Daniel Andrews — has probably spent much of that time believing, not unreasonably, that patience was his only real impediment to being elected Premier.

And much of his presentation tends to echo the manner of student politicians: adolescent and puerile. Andrews is fond of attempting to characterise the government as “a circus,” and often his attempts border on simply being childish.

It’s quite common for a party losing government by a single seat or so after a long period in office to act in such a fashion; in recent times it’s generally been the conservative parties facing the predicament, and invariably the following election has been an unmitigated disaster.

(NSW in 1976 and 1995, Brisbane City Council in 1991, Victoria in 1999, and South Australia in 2002 all spring to mind).

The exception was Labor’s loss to a minority Liberal administration in Western Australia in 2008, and the thumping re-election of Colin Barnett’s Liberal government in March is a sign voters are quite capable of doling out the same treatment in the other direction.

Yet whilst Labor has given the look of a party seemingly content to coast back into government, it is hamstrung, paradoxically, by a lazy frontbench and a fair amount of lead in its saddlebags.

Aside from Andrews, the only member of the shadow cabinet who gets sustained, effective media coverage is Planning spokesman Brian Tee; even this has to be put into perspective, given his opposite number — Planning minister Matthew Guy — is one of the government’s most capable and effective performers.

Andrews himself carries baggage from his time as Health minister under Bracks that Liberal Party strategists will not have forgotten when the next election campaign rolls around; indeed, he will have a lot of uncomfortable questions to answer on the issue of doctored hospital waiting lists that became public on his watch.

And there is no indication that Labor has any fresh ideas with which to govern Victoria: after nearly three years in Opposition, there is not a single signature policy it can point to as evidence of a new vision to offer voters for the resumption of ALP government.

Napthine has changed the game in Victoria, and a lazy Labor Party, bereft of frontbench talent, is suddenly faced with climbing a very steep mountain indeed.

If further evidence were required of just how unsuitable the ALP is at present to govern Victoria, and how far away from that objective it is, it materialised ten days ago at the party’s State Conference in Melbourne.

Never mind that he was revving up the party faithful; Andrews’ deputy — James Merlino — took to the conference stage to introduce his leader, calling Premier Napthine a “callous, knuckle-dragging conservative.”

It smacked of the same bovverish, student-union puerility that has marked some of Andrews’ own utterances.

And if that’s the best the Labor Party can offer Victorian voters, and based on the lightning start he has made, it’s a fair bet Napthine will remain Premier for several years to come.