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Facts behind the Baillieu story

By Rick Brown - posted Thursday, 14 March 2013


Much of the analysis of Ted Baillieu's decision to resign as Premier last week can be summed up with one word: nonsense.

Comparisons with Julia Gillard's ambushing of Kevin Rudd and endeavours to find an organized coup disguise the failure of the media to understand and report the implications of what they knew or should have known.

That said, journalists are in good company. Most politicians could not see the woods for the trees either.

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Equally for journalists to focus solely on a rallying call by some backbenchers to replace Mr. Baillieu with Planning Minister Matthew Guy when considering alternatives to Mr. Baillieu reflects poorly on them.

When it comes to challenging the leadership, the Liberal backbench has been a disorganized rabble. There are plenty of people who, for a couple of years prior to the last election, were on the receiving end every other month of predictions that Mr. Baillieu's end was nigh. During this period he faced not a single challenge. The only thing that happened was the Liberal leadership in the Legislative Council which was not sympathetic to Mr. Baillieu stood aside to make way for people who were.

As the disquiet of business with the performance of the Government spread more broadly in 2012 and manifested itself in poor polls in the second half of last year, the name Dennis Napthine was to the fore in 'what if' chats over coffee among at least some Liberal Party watchers.

Mr. Baillieu's laudable decision, taken early in his life, to make his contribution to society by engaging in public service is well known as is his decision to choose politics as his form of public service. What has not been canvassed is whether, as a consequence of that motivation, Mr. Baillieu did not have a burning ambition to become Premier to do anything in particular. Unlike Jeff Kennett or John Howard there was no agenda or vision. Becoming Premier was an end in itself rather than being a means to an end.

That lack of vision or agenda was made all the more apparent by the limitations of the front bench taken as a whole. The truth is that there have been only a handful of noteworthy performers in the ministry.

This is part of the legacy of the failure of the Liberals following their defeat in 1999 to re-invigorate and rejuvenate themselves. The new talent introduced over the 11 years in opposition was minimal. One reason for this was sub-groupings within the Liberals putting their interests ahead of the interests Party as a whole. Thus the Government has reaped what some ministers assisted in sowing.

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That the job might become a grind for a Premier who did not have an agenda to pursue, and whose Cabinet did not engender inspiration or enthusiasm, was not canvassed by the media despite Mr. Baillieu's not disguising the fact that the sacrifices required by the job were wearing him down.

Then there is the matter of entitlements which has been exercising the minds of backbenchers, and especially Liberal backbenchers, since last year. The Victorian Parliament is feeling the pain of then premier Steve Bracks' following John Howard's lead. Howard capitulated to Mark Latham in 2004 by closing the politicians' very (many would say extraordinarily) generous, defined-benefit superannuation scheme. However unlike Mr. Howard, Mr. Bracks did not do anything to even partially compensate future politicians for their inability to access the scheme and to recognize the poor post-job prospects many politicians face.

The majority of politicians now in the Victorian parliament were elected after 2005. They are conscious of the disparity in entitlements between the two groups of politicians and are angry. They want the current review of pay and conditions to address this issue. However the leadership of both the Government and the Opposition, who happen to be pre 2006ers, has appeared insensitive to them. The Liberal leadership has talked simply about pay increases, which would not address their concerns and in fact exacerbate the problem.

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This article was first published in Letter from Melbourne.



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About the Author

Rick Brown is a director of CPI Strategic, which focuses on strategic advice and market analysis. He was an adviser to Howard government ministers Nick Minchin and Kevin Andrews, from 2004 to 2007.

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