Victorian Taxpayers Foot Bill For ALP Election Campaign

IN AN OUTRAGEOUS DISPLAY of hubris, Victoria’s ALP opposition has been billing taxpayers for polling, political consultants, election brochures and other political material ahead of next month’s state election; it underscores the reality that Labor cares about power, not people, as it thumbs its nose at decent standards of behaviour. The fact it isn’t in government at all belies its excuse that the spending facilitated “community consultation.”

As my article on preferences yesterday probably signalled, quite a bit more time is likely to be taken up over the next few months by the discussion of state election issues in this column; even so, I’m a little surprised to be heading in this direction so quickly, although when it comes to the Labor Party and its willingness to quite literally say or do anything to get itself into office, there are always unforeseen surprises just waiting to be uncovered.

So it is this morning, with Melbourne’s Herald Sun running an exclusive based on the results of a productive Freedom of Information request, that show the Victorian ALP has been using what was allocated as a work-related expenses allowance from the Department of Premier and Cabinet to pay for phone polls, political advertising, banners and brochures, and — most damningly — a bill of more than $50,000 for a US-based political campaign firm to advise Labor on social media strategy and Facebook marketing.

Needless to say, this breathtaking contempt for public money reeks of Labor being just a bit too clever for its own good.

I think all readers understand that governments (and especially those nearing elections) engage in a fair amount of advertising that could, depending on your political perspective, be construed as politically motivated; the current series of advertisements in Melbourne by Moving Victoria — an example of which can be seen here — is just the kind of thing, booked in the name of “public information,” that every opposition rails furiously against but nevertheless never seems to get cancelled once that opposition party finds its way into government.

They are also grudgingly tolerated by a propaganda-weary public.

But for an opposition party to use public monies to do it represents a new low in Australian politics as far as I am concerned: for government agencies to advertise their activities is one thing, but for a party in opposition to bill the taxpayer for its election campaign activities is disgraceful.

“Victoria Deserves Better” is apparently the slogan (cooked up by some idiot in PR who was doubtless paid handsomely for the stunning originality of those three words) that runs through the ALP campaign material in question, and I would have to say Labor’s PR hacks have absolutely nailed it: Victoria does deserve better. It deserves better than the present Labor alternative that is being offered.

I’d like to know how a work-related expenses allowance can be legitimately manipulated, within parliamentary guidelines, to lawfully cover the kind of expenditure the ALP has incurred here.

If what Labor has spent the money on actually complies with those guidelines, then the first order of business for the relevant Coalition minister this morning should be to draft urgent amendments to those guidelines, and to ensure they take effect before the caretaker period prior to the election soon commences, by which time it will be too late to stop further similar abuses of the taxpayer purse by the ALP.

The financial details of some of what Labor has spent was not disclosed to the Herald Sun in its FOI grant to protect the commercial interests of the companies who acted as suppliers, which is fair enough; after all, those businesses — even if aligned to the ALP — have the right to certain commercially sensitive aspects of their dealings with a client respected for valid commercial reasons.

The ALP, however, has no right to try to pass this off as the legitimate use of public money.

And the revelation that $51,011 was spent with Washington political consultancy firm Chlopak Leonard Schechter and Associates on “digital strategy and management fees” is unforgivable.

The Hun quotes a spokesman for opposition leader Daniel Andrews as saying that the polling was part of MPs regularly surveying their constituents about issues that matter to them, which raises two key points.

One, that such “research” is the kind of things MPs should be doing by door knocking, standing on train stations meeting voters in peak hour, visiting local businesses and so forth — not by billing the taxpayer for a ticket to easy street.

And two, if the expenditure was all about “research,” then why are brochures trumpeting the assertion that “Victoria Deserves Better” and other campaign materials to market ALP policies and settle its “social media strategy” already being produced? These are things that come after, not during, the research.

Either way, “focus group sessions” are not the kind of thing MPs of any stripe undertake in the course of stump campaigning, and the fact the Herald Sun links them to telephone polling and to issues including jobs, health and TAFE — Labor’s issues of choice for the past four years — and in the context of the production of campaign-ready materials suggests there is no basic constituent research involved in this sham at all.

Of the 16 years since I came to Melbourne (which will be 17 in January) I have lived for 13 of them, in two stints, in the Liberal-held state seat of Brighton; in that time I have seen my local MP Louise Asher in shopping strips and at railway stations countless times, but I have never received commissioned research enquiries on behalf of the local division of the Liberal Party.

The remainder of those years (again in two stints) saw me resident in the adjacent Labor seat of Albert Park, and to be perfectly honest I never saw the local MP at all, although when he quit Parliament in the wake of an uproar over a taxpayer-funded jaunt to the ski fields, he turned up at a polling booth on the day of the resultant by-election with the latest union hack endorsed by the Victorian ALP for a parliamentary sinecure.

Yet in both seats, printed research material was distributed to households (on the “fill it in and return it” system) that I had little doubt had been produced at taxpayers’ expense; before the state election in 2006 I even took one of these pamphlets to the state’s Electoral Commissioner and made a complaint, which was dismissed: not because there was nothing wrong with it, but on the basis it had been distributed before the caretaker period before the election had commenced — a convenient loophole indeed when it comes to legitimising amoral Labor Party campaign methods.

Apparently, less probity is acceptable a bit further out from an election. It’s not hard to see where the regulations here need tightening.

But to come back to the money, that bill for more than $50,000 is just the start of it; the Hun reports that taxpayers also footed the bill for Andrews and two of his frontbenchers (and God knows who else) to take return flights to New York to meet the consultancy firm; add in the price of printing, producing banners, telephone polling and whatever else has been written off as “work-related expenses” and we’re probably talking about several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of taxpayer money being wilfully used to bankroll the costs of Victorian Labor’s state election campaign.

And whilst some might think I’m splitting hairs for making the distinction, this is a party in opposition; there isn’t even the “public information” defence open to Labor that might justify some publicity if it were a government agency such as Moving Victoria initiating it.

The obscenity of Labor fingers in the taxpayer till is compounded by the fact that unlike its opponents, the ALP receives a torrent of money from the union movement, and it receives the proceeds of those political levies and union donations irrespective of whether the individual union members in question actually sanction the support of the ALP or not.

Coming as this does in the wake of the scandal in July when the dictaphone of a Fairfax journalist, containing a sensitive off-the-record conversation with former Premier Ted Baillieu was obtained by the ALP and subsequently distributed to Liberal Party members — which may yet blow up in ALP faces — and the decision by Daniel Andrews to do a U-turn over the East West Link and rip up the contract to build it, a familiar pattern of ALP conduct becomes clear, and reinforced, by its blatant penchant for wasting public money on things that simply cannot be justified.

And that — as I often say in this column — is that Labor cares about power, not people; it will say and do literally anything to enable it to access the green leather of ministerial office and the perks, prestige and patronage that can be dispensed from it; and it doesn’t give a rat’s rectum whether using other people’s money is appropriate or not, so long as the intended objective is achieved by any means possible.

Readers enrolled to vote in the other eastern seaboard states should be vigilant: after all, if Victorian Labor gets away scot-free with this kind of thing here, the Labor oppositions in your own states will try exactly the same stunt — just because they think they can.

I think the Herald Sun has blown the whistle on a disgusting contempt for Victorian voters this morning; add it to the very long (and lengthening) list of valid reasons why Labor is not fit to govern in the state of Victoria, and wait for the next to become public.

As sure as night follows day, there will be a lot more of this kind of thing between now and 29 November. If nothing else, the least one can say about the Labor Party is that it is consistent.



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.

Expunging Gay Sex Convictions: Labor Wrong Again

NEWS TODAY that the Liberal government of Denis Napthine will expunge the criminal records of homosexuals convicted on charges relating to consensual gay sex is to be applauded; indeed, it is to be hoped that the other states follow suit, and fairly quickly. Even so, and once again, the Labor Party is hopelessly misguided in its response, and continues to show why it is far from ready to be trusted to resume government in the Garden State.

Irrespective of your sexual, political or even philosophical orientation, this was the wrong that should never have occurred: the prosecution of homosexual men for no better reason than the fact they engaged in relations together, away from public eyes.

The news today that the Napthine government in Victoria is to be the first in Australia to expunge the convictions of men prosecuted for having gay sex is to be welcomed and, hopefully a precedent that will be emulated by governments in the other states, irrespective of their political stripe.

Obviously, I am a conservative — a heterosexual conservative male at that — and have no interest in homosexual lifestyles; indeed, I find the entire concept repulsive. To put is as mildly as possible.

Even so, I think this is a tremendous development.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in Victoria in 1981 by the Dick Hamer-led Liberal government but the issue of spent criminal convictions has remained for those directly affected ever since, left unaddressed by successive state governments run by the Liberals and the ALP alike.

The consequent criminal records have barred those that hold them from certain professions, travel to some countries, and so on.

Fittingly — as the article I’ve linked today from the Fairfax press notes — convictions for “non-consensual sex or sex with a minor” will stand; after all, rape and paedophilia are just that, irrespective of the “preferences” of those who perpetrate them.

The Labor opposition in Victoria has already promised to expunge these convictions if it regains office in November, and their bipartisanship on the issue is welcome.

Nonetheless, the Labor response to Napthine’s announcement smacks of jingoism and petty politics, and once again shows why the political Left is probably the single greatest obstacle to the realisation of its own pet causes.

The claim by Labor spokesman Martin Foley that the proposed legal changes ”sit uncomfortably” with Dr Napthine’s ”long-held opposition” to gay rights is just a cop-out, and reflects that general stance of the Left that not only is the only legitimate position on any given issue the one they advocate, but that “dissent” on related issues indicates that agreement on anything from those who sometimes have differences with them is baseless, invalid, or a smokescreen for something else.

These are the politics of the imbecile.

Clearly — and whilst they both affect homosexual people — gay marriage and the expunging of spent criminal convictions for homosexual activity are very much separate issues.

It is not inconsistent for a person of conservative philosophical and political views to oppose the former, but support the latter: like Napthine, this formulation also represents my own stance on these matters.

I don’t propose to get into a debate about gay marriage here — we’ve discussed it in this column often enough as it is — but for those who missed those discussions, a search on “gay marriage” in the box provided at the top of the screen will bring up some of the more recent articles I have published on the subject.

The one sentiment from those articles that I will replicate here is that when it comes to gay marriage, the conservative in me opposes it (on historical, institutional and societal grounds, with a firm eye to its tradition as a religious custom) whilst of gay people generally, the liberal in me says they should be permitted to do whatever they like between themselves, provided it isn’t forced on anyone else and provided the persons involved are consenting adults.

Far from being a contradiction — given this formulation is virtually identical to that of the Premier — it means that whatever differences I may have with those who support gay marriage, I think everyone can at least agree that this is a great idea that should have happened a long time ago.

Only the truly bigoted or rednecked will find Napthine’s announcement so odious as to take the equally odious step of trying to oppose it, and Foley and his cohorts know it, which is why — in the end — his ill-tempered remarks, representative of the Labor Party in Victoria as they are, demonstrate the ALP has learned nothing from its stint in the wilderness.


Jeff Kennett’s Savage Attack On “Mr Bean”

NEARLY FIFTEEN YEARS after his departure as Premier of Victoria in 1999, most people still either love or hate Jeffrey Gibb Kennett; I’ve always been an enthusiastic supporter, and Kennett’s attack on “Mr Bean” today shows that when it comes to destroying an opposition case, he’s still got what it takes.

This post deals with Victorian politics, and specifically, the leader of the state ALP, Daniel Andrews; the beauty of my point tonight is that irrespective of where in the country readers live, Kennett brings the issues underpinning his attack to life in such a way that it’s not hard to equate them with something local.

For example, the Westgate Bridge could as easily be the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Story Bridge or the Tasman Bridge.

We have discussed the Victorian opposition leader a number of times in this column and his numerous shortfalls in particular; those not familiar with these discussions will get a basic overview of the situation here and here.

I’m writing on what at first glance might seem a parochial issue for a national readership base because in many respects Andrews — and his deeply flawed transport policy, that Kennett has ripped into — is representative of the type of cardboard cut-out figure that seems to symbolise Labor’s next generation of parliamentary leaders across Australia.

Indeed, based on what has been emanating from the federal ALP since the election in September and from its “leader” Bill Shorten in the past six weeks, you can almost hear Kennett’s words being extrapolated out to other Labor leaders and to the issues particular to their respective jurisdictions that they seek to extort votes from.

And always remember, when it comes to contemporary ALP policy, honesty of virtually any description is a very loose concept.

I’d ask readers to check out Kennett’s weekly piece for Melbourne’s Herald Sun here; the vitriol and colour of the onslaught are vintage Kennett, and in any case should provide a laugh if nothing else.

That’s the problem: if it weren’t so serious, it would be funny; Kennett caricatures Andrews as Mr Bean, that bumbling, doddling dolt who has provided so much mirth for so many, and he does so to deadly effect.

Where it becomes serious is in the fact he’s talking about the actual policies of a leader (and a party) that aspires to return to government in Victoria in a year’s time; the sheer idiocy of these is compounded by the fact some of what they seek to redress either had its genesis on the watch of the Bracks-Brumby government and/or was ignored by that regime.

Andrews has a further, additional problem come election campaign time that is not covered by the transport plans Kennett pillories: the fact that on his watch as Health minister under John Brumby, he not only acknowledged that public hospital waiting lists had been doctored for PR purposes, but went on record in vigorous defence of the practice.

There is a wider issue, and as I alluded at the outset, it’s the other reason for posting on this point. Look around.

Bill Shorten is leading an attack against the Abbott government based (among other things) on assertions that Tony Abbott “is putting debt up to $500 billion.”

He isn’t and he won’t, directly; the government seeks to raise the legislated cap on borrowings from $300 billion to $500 billion to accommodate the recurrent spending commitments the ALP locked in prior to its defeat — and which will necessitate further borrowings as a result.

As I said, honesty isn’t really a premium commodity at the ALP nowadays.

And if you look further around the country, there are Labor leaders — actual and/or would be if they could be — coming out of the woodwork who all espouse the same magic pudding, sleight-of-hand, baby having a tantrum in a high chair approach to policy, political leadership, and to politics itself in their respective jurisdictions.

It’s too trite to dismiss this as a simple manifestation of all politicians being as bad as each other; the trend now becoming too obvious to ignore, it’s clear that this phenomenon — the smooth-talking boofhead with an answer for everything — is the latest evolution of the Labor leadership template.

There are days I really miss Jeffrey; as a political observer of several decades’ standing it’s hard not to when genuine characters are increasingly rare in politics today as that vocation becomes more formulaic, more sterile, and less spontaneous.

Whether you share such a nostalgic view of Jeff or not, he’s got it about right about Andrews, and he’s got it about right on the Victorian ALP’s transport policy — giving it the only treatment it truly deserves, which is to tear it to shreds and to ridicule it.

Wrong again, Mr Bean.


Victoria: Little Succour For Labor In “Winning” Newspoll

ON THE SURFACE, Newspoll’s bi-monthly findings in Victoria — showing the ALP building its lead ahead of a possible election win next year — look highly encouraging for Labor. But the numbers continue some worrying trends for the ALP, and leave a big opportunity for the state Coalition on the table.

I believe — and not because I vote Liberal, or belong to the Liberal Party — that Denis Napthine’s government will be re-elected on 29 November next year.

Or at least it should be: there are ample monuments to the failure of the Labor Party in government in Victoria, and the Coalition has an excellent case to make for re-election.

But the latest polling from Victoria shows the ALP poised to reclaim office after a single term in the woods, and if this occurs, the Liberals and Nationals will have lost by allowing Labor to play — unfettered — the games it most prefers.

Newspoll, in today’s issue of The Australian, is showing the state ALP building on what should have been the oddment of a two point lead after preferences in its September figures, with Labor now ahead of the Coalition by a 53-47 margin.

And that’s the point at which Labor types can stop celebrating.

Newspoll finds primary vote support for the ALP unchanged, on 38%; this compares with the Coalition, down 2% to 39% (Liberals 36%, -1%; Nationals 3%, -1%), the Greens on 14% (+1%), and “Others” on 9% (+1%).

It finds approval of Premier Denis Napthine down 11 points, to 42%, with his disapproval number rising five points to 36%; by contrast, approval of opposition leader Daniel Andrews has also fallen, by three points to 35%, with the number disapproving of his performance dropping a point to 31%.

And on the “better Premier” measure, Napthine (41%, down 6%) continues to head Andrews (27%, up 2%).

Readers can access the Newspoll tables here.

Why do I think there is little cause for the ALP to celebrate these numbers?

For starters, it’s telling that most of the decline in Denis Napthine’s “preferred Premier” result has gone into the undecided column rather than across to Andrews.

No matter which way you choose to sift and evaluate three years of polling data, Andrews is not a popular figure; he consistently records low numbers both in terms of his personal approval and as a potential Premier, and if anything I think these understate his problem.

Most Victorian voters have little idea of who Andrews is, and the ones that do have very little time for him if the available anecdotal evidence — including polling — is correct.

It stands to reason that as the spotlight falls more harshly on Andrews in the runup to an election, this problem will be exacerbated, not resolved.

Napthine (unbelievably, given his disastrous first stint as Liberal leader ten years ago) looks and sounds every inch a perfect fit with the Premiership he fell into by accident. Andrews, on the other hand, looks and sounds like a carping student politician angling for control of his student campus.

I have written previously about the problem Andrews poses for the ALP in Victoria — here, for example, and here — and the more media exposure he receives now the federal election is out of the way, and a state election approaches, the more attuned to this type of behaviour the electors of Victoria will become.

That problem is compounded by the fact there appears nobody in Labor’s ranks to replace Andrews with who might make a more positive impact.

The obvious post-Bracks/Brumby leader — Tim Holding — has left the Parliament, and the ALP’s remaining MPs (the remnants of that government) give every appearance of sitting on their hands waiting to fall back into government, and there is nary a standout amongst them.

One key point I would make about the primary voting figures identified by Newspoll this time is that they are unlikely to be replicated in kind at an election irrespective of whether the Coalition wins or loses.

It is virtually impossible to get any kind of accurate mid-term read on the National Party vote, given the metropolitan skew most polls employ by necessity when sampling opinion, and so it’s likely the National vote would be higher at an election no matter the result.

How that alters the balance between the parties remains to be seen.

But as trends go — the implicit value in this type of research — whilst the movement after preferences continues to be away from the government, in terms of primary vote support precisely none of this movement is onto the ALP pile.

Labor continues to run hard on two issues in Victoria: former Liberal MP turned independent Geoff Shaw, who is facing criminal charges, and the controversial East-West Link, a road infrastructure project that will provide some sorely needed relief from road congestion to Melbourne motorists once built.

On the former, it is true that given the close numbers in Parliament, the Coalition can ill afford Shaw to leave Parliament prior to the state election, voluntary or otherwise.

Yet Napthine has gone to extraordinary lengths to distance the government from Shaw, even as far as publicly stating that Shaw would “never” be permitted to rejoin the Liberal Party (which, on occasion, he has hinted he is wont to do).

It is impossible for Napthine to go further to disown Shaw, not least on account of Victoria’s fixed four-year parliamentary terms — and the grimy, petty Andrews knows it.

On the latter, Labor — willingly aided and abetted in its enterprise by the Communist Party Greens — has been running an old-style, noisy, suffocating protest that it simply refuses to end.

This is where Labor politicians (and the Labor movement generally) get the better of the raw politics of an issue: they understand that those who yell the loudest, and longest, are the ones whose messages are heard and remembered.

It’s even gone as far as for a story to have been allowed to circulate that the construction phase of one of the road tunnels will pose an unacceptable health risk to workers because viruses and bacteria might seep through the soil to where the tunnel is to be built deep beneath the Melbourne General Cemetery.

Charming. But then again, it is Labor and the Greens we’re talking about.

There is nothing sophisticated in this approach and it’s breathtaking in its hypocrisy on East-West, given the project was on the planning books when the ALP was last in office.

But the resistance with which it is being met from the blue corner obviously isn’t working; more urbane and nuanced responses simply don’t work.

As I said at the outset, the Coalition has a great story to tell: it simply requires more cut through.

I think Napthine is right to continue to sell the benefits that will flow from the completed East-West link when both stages of the project are scheduled for completion at the end of the decade.

He also needs to focus more on other achievements the Coalition has racked up over the past three years: the “narrative,” for want of any better word.

But I also think the time has come for his government to confront Andrews head on, and (politically speaking) to tear him apart: his record as a minister under Brumby was very poor, and his presentation as a “leader” is no better.

Rather than allow Andrews the clear air to carry on as he pleases, the Coalition needs to pull him down and show him to be the unelectable red herring he really is; a solid focus on unseating him in his newly marginal electorate of Mulgrave wouldn’t go astray, either.

There is little more Napthine can do to disown Shaw, and that saga will simply have to run its course all the way to Court, or to the election — whichever comes first — at which a replacement Liberal candidate can front the electorate of Frankston in his stead.

In any case, some way must be found to achieve greater cut through of the very solid message the state Coalition has to sell: and to anchor voters’ grievances to the failures and excesses of 11 years of Labor under Steve Bracks and John Brumby, for that is where most of them find their genesis.

The alternative is to go about fixing Labor mistakes, only to let the ALP slide back into government by default by allowing the Coalition to wear the blame for them.

It’s time for the Coalition in Victoria to pick a few fights.


Victoria: Surprise Lead Over Napthine For Andrews And Labor

DAYS AFTER federal Labor suffered one of its heaviest electoral defeats — including a savage swing away from it in Victoria — the state ALP has found itself with a small lead over the Napthine government in the latest Newspoll. The result suggests federal Labor will no longer constrain its state divisions.

It is difficult to know what to make of the first Newspoll, after a federal election, in a state where the Coalition has seemed increasingly ascendant, and where a first-term Labor opposition has snatched an election-winning lead in that Newspoll.

But it has happened; and despite boasting one of the most lacklustre public figures ever presented as a party leader in Daniel Andrews, Victorian Labor has managed just that.

The latest bi-monthly Newspoll of state voting intentions — to be published in today’s issue of The Australian — finds the ALP’s primary vote climbing three points since June to sit at 38%; the Greens are up a point, to 13%, while the Coalition has slipped three points to 37% and support for “Others” falls two points, to 8%.

On two-party preferred figures, this equates to a 51-49 lead to Labor after preferences; it also represents a 2.6% swing back to the ALP based on the numbers it recorded at the state election in late 2010.

Nothing in these movements is beyond the margin of sampling error, and it could well be a case of statistical flutter.

However, given the Coalition required 51.6% of the vote after preferences in 2010 to secure the narrowest of wins under former Premier Ted Baillieu, these numbers are ominous for the state government.

Its Premier (and Baillieu’s replacement) Denis Napthine continues to rate extremely well, now seven months into the role; his approval number is steady at 53% and his disapproval rises five points in this poll, to 31%, which is probably just a sign that Victorians are moving out of the undecided column as they form their opinions of the new-ish leader.

By contrast, Labor leader Daniel Andrews remains one of the best assets the Liberals have to work with.

His approval rating does rise in this poll, to 38%, with those respondents disapproving falling by two points, to 32%; even so, after almost three years in the role, Andrews remains confronted by the fact that two-thirds of Victorian voters either have no firm opinion of him or disapprove of him outright.

And that’s hardly a surprise, given he’s a show pony whose three tricks are a) to talk about a circus analogy, b) to tell reporters he’s asking questions that Napthine has to answer, as if this is the God-given word on any subject he deigns to discourse upon; and c) to play the man — Napthine — instead of the ball.

The one exception of late has been the frenzied attacks he makes on Melbourne’s East-West Link, an $8 billion piece of road infrastructure Napthine is determined to build, and which will begin a slow process of alleviating road infrastructure bottlenecks in inner Melbourne that were allowed to accrue and stagnate under the last Labor government.

And his motives for the attacks on East-West Link aren’t difficult to ascertain: its path directly or indirectly affects four usually safe ALP electorates in inner Melbourne that are now at perennial electoral risk from the Greens, whilst construction of the Link would win the Coalition votes in seats further east, including at least two currently held by the ALP.

In any case, all of these factors probably feed into Newspoll’s “preferred Premier” measure, which sees Andrews (on 25%, down 1%) continue to trail Napthine (47%, down 2%) by a wide margin.

Labor will take little solace in its lead in this poll, when it is remembered that as poor a leader as Andrews is, there are few (if any) MPs in the party’s ranks who might be considered more electable.

Which is just as well for Andrews, because he may be about to get his big chance.

Former Liberal MP for Frankston turned Independent, the controversial Geoff Shaw, was yesterday charged with 23 counts of alleged misuse of his taxpayer-funded vehicle in the latest instalment of a scandal that has been running for more than two years.

Shaw’s fate is important because if he is forced to leave Parliament (or chooses to do so ahead of next year’s election) the resultant by-election would be difficult for the Liberal Party to win, given Frankston sits on a slender 2.1% margin.

And in turn, any Liberal loss at such a by-election would render the Parliament unworkable, with Labor presently holding 43 seats to the Coalition’s 44, and Independent (but generally Liberal-aligned) Shaw the difference.

Such an outcome would likely set in train an early state election, despite Victoria’s fixed four-year parliamentary terms — and if the numbers Newspoll has published are any guide to the true inclinations of the electorate, Napthine would be in trouble.

(Readers can access the Victorian Newspoll tables here).

It is safe to say that beyond East-West Link and the Shaw matter, the only other major issue that may influence the findings of this Newspoll is the obvious one — this month’s federal election, at which Labor suffered a heavy swing of some 4% in Victoria after preferences that has delivered at least three, and possibly four, seats to the Liberals.

And given the surveys were mostly conducted prior to Shaw being charged (or, at least, prior to the news of it becoming public), these numbers raise an interesting prospect.

With the Coalition now back in office federally, are we set to see a resumption of what has (more or less) been a trend since the early years of the Howard government of state governments swinging toward the party in opposition in Canberra?

Elections early next year in South Australia and Tasmania will be telling.

But as I said at the outset, it’s a little difficult to know what to read into a poll like this, timed as it is alongside the peculiar conjunction of circumstances in which it sits.

Yet the conventional wisdom, increasingly, has been that since taking over as Premier, Napthine has led the Liberals back to a position of dominance over Labor, with re-election next year increasingly looking an odds-on bet.

If something has thrown a spoke in Napthine’s wheels, I suspect it won’t take long for the responsible issue to be revealed — assuming, that is, that Shaw doesn’t get in first.


Victoria: Napthine Takes Poll Position In Latest Newspoll

NEWSPOLL has published findings from its latest bimonthly survey of state voting intentions in Victoria; conducted for The Australian, it finds the Liberal-National Coalition back in a winning position under new Premier Denis Napthine in a disastrous result for the state ALP.

For the first time in 12 months — since a 50-50 result last August, immediately prior to the poll ratings of ex-Premier Ted Baillieu heading into a tailspin — Newspoll is showing the Coalition under new leader Denis Napthine in an election-winning position, leading Labor 51-49 after preferences.

The result puts the conservative parties almost back to the support they recorded at the 2010 state election, at which they won 45 of Victoria’s 88 lower house seats (and an upper house majority) with 51.6% of the two-party preferred vote.

And with an electoral redistribution nearing finalisation — and new boundaries that would appear to favour the Coalition slightly, the creation of two new safe Labor seats notwithstanding — 51% may well be enough for Napthine to win if repeated at an election.

Newspoll shows the Coalition primary vote unchanged at 43% from its survey two months ago (Liberals 40%, +2%, Nationals 3%, -2%), Labor on 35% (-2%), Greens on 12% (unch), and “Others” on 10% (+2%).

Napthine’s approval rating moves up to 53% (+3%) and his disapproval to 26% (+7%); the trend continues Napthine’s solid start in the role under Newspoll, and reflects the fact more Victorians are forming an opinion of his performance: and his approval rating remains, solidly, better than double his disapproval number.

Opposition leader Daniel Andrews, by contrast, sees his approval rating drop seven points, to 35%; his disapproval number rises six points to 34%, whilst 31% of respondents remain undecided.

It suggests the spike in his numbers two months ago was a rogue result.

And on the “preferred Premier” count, Napthine (49%, +3%) heads Andrews (26%, +2%).

Readers can access the Newspoll tables here.

Taken overall, this poll offers tremendous encouragement to the Liberals; it vindicates the decision to replace Baillieu, and it validates the argument that Victorians — having tossed their long-term Labor government out three years ago — remain disinclined to restore the ALP to power if the governing party presents well enough for them to avoid doing so.

The issue of Liberal-cum-Independent member for Frankston,  Geoff Shaw, and the allegations of misconduct he faces remain an irritant to the government that does not appear to be hindering Napthine’s ascension to the Premiership.

Napthine has embarked on his role as Premier with great energy, and — whilst not exactly mirroring the whirlwind pace of the Kennett years — has recreated an atmosphere of excitement around Victoria, and a sense something constructive is happening.

The imminent commencement, for example, of the first stage of the East-West Link — connecting Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway to CityLink and the Western Ring Road — is the first major project commenced in Victoria for some years, and promises to be a boon to motorists in relieving the congestion that has steadily brought the city’s traffic to a standstill since Kennett’s removal from office.

And if the pace of Napthine’s Premiership — and the increasingly positive way in which it is received — continues at speed, then the Labor Party in Victoria faces a big problem.

I have written in this column previously –and repeatedly — that some of the utterances of Labor leader Andrews are juvenile, to the point of childishness.

He is a poor and vapid performer in front of the media, and after three years in the job could have been expected to polish his skills — and the suitability of some of his rhetoric — in this area.

He gives every indication of being completely out of his depth in a leadership capacity.

There is a time bomb lying in wait come next year’s state election campaign: Andrews’ own words as Health minister in the Brumby government, and a fracas at the time over doctored hospital waiting lists that is almost certain to come back to bite him.

Andrews exhibits no real evidence of a capacity to deal with these things.

But more worrying for Labor is the fact there is no clear alternative leader in its ranks.

When Baillieu was moved on, the Liberals had Napthine, deputy leader Louise Asher, Transport minister Terry Mulder, and Planning minister Matthew Guy (if a lower house seat could be found for him) who could all have seamlessly filled the role of Premier.

Labor has no such luxury, and no apparent leadership prospect — especially since former minister Tim Holding left state Parliament earlier this year.

And it must be said that any “bounce” for state Labor from Kevin Rudd’s return has, at the very least, been masked by the local ALP’s performance if these figures are anything to go by.

Given a state election is now a little over a year away in Victoria, these results will cause great consternation in ALP ranks, and especially because they simply resume a trend of bad numbers for Andrews and Labor that was interrupted by Baillieu’s demise.

If Andrews can’t lift his game there is nowhere else for him to go but downwards — barring an unlikely implosion on the Liberals’ part — and nowhere else for Labor to turn.