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In politics, as in football, winning is not that simple

By Lindsay Tanner - posted Tuesday, 12 September 2006

All football clubs have mad one-eyed fans. Their energy and commitment helps keep their clubs going, but they often drive the people who run clubs crazy.

Undeterred by limited football experience and knowledge, they abuse their own players, demand the coach be sacked, and criticise team tactics. How many times have you heard frustrated fans scream “just kick it!” or attack their own team’s courage or commitment?

I should know, because I used to be one of them. I’m still pretty passionate, but time and experience have taught me a few lessons. I now realise that a handful of relatively undistinguished seasons in the Amateurs 25 years ago does not make me a football expert.


I used to be a pretty good sledger at the footy. I thought “give it to a footballer, Dunell” was a great line, until the bloke concerned became a good player in Essendon’s 1985 Premiership side. I’ve twice called for Kevin Sheedy to be sacked, in 1992 and 1999. Both times Essendon won the Premiership in the following year.

I now understand that players are human, and that the intensity and skill in modern football is simply incredible. I concede that some other teams are actually quite good, and that Essendon defeats are not entirely caused by the incompetence and cowardice of Essendon players. I accept that the umpires are not engaged in a giant global anti-Bomber conspiracy. I recognise that puzzling team selections and tactics may be decided by someone who knows more about the game than I do.

We have mad one-eyed fans in politics too. Some are party members, while others are active supporters. While they too help keep the show going, they also sometimes carry on like one-eyed footy fans.

Some Labor supporters find it impossible to understand why John Howard keeps winning elections. If only Labor would stand up for traditional Labor values and policies, Howard would be swept away by the tide of history. If we just anointed the media’s latest new messiah as our leader, government would fall into our laps.

Sadly, like football, it isn’t that simple. Winning government, like winning a premiership, requires more than the fanatical commitment of your own supporters. It also takes innovation, ruthlessness, luck, and an unsentimental attitude to the past.

One-eyed fans tend to take success for granted, and unless their wildest dreams are satisfied, still attack their team for not delivering.


The Victorian Government suffers a bit from this. Some Labor supporters regard the Bracks Government as a disappointment. Sure, it might have done a few good things, but it should have done a lot more.

While I’ve got a few criticisms of the Bracks Government, I think this mad one-eyed fan view of its performance is totally wrong. It might be a bit daggy, but it’s done a heap of good things that Labor supporters ought to be proud of.

Whichever way you count them, there’s a lot more teachers, nurses and police in Victoria now than at the height of the Kennett onslaught. Class sizes for children in early primary school are lower. Almost half the appointments to judicial offices are women. A democratically-elected Legislative Council, which no future government is every likely to control, has been introduced. A 10 per cent renewable energy requirement has been mandated. Enormous support has been provided for science and innovation, with initiatives like Bio21 and the new Australian Centre for Neuroscience and Mental Health Research.

Steve Bracks has done good things for Labor’s traditional low-income constituency too, like increasing the education maintenance allowance and helping families struggling to pay energy bills. Public tenants in the high-rise estates in my electorate get better security and building upgrades.

Sure, there are disappointments, but no government can deliver everything its one-eyed fans want. Unlike some Bomber supporters, I don’t criticise Kevin Sheedy for not winning three premierships in 1999-2001. And unlike some Labor supporters, I don’t criticise Steve Bracks for his quiet achiever approach. Good things still get done, but without the fanfare and turmoil that undermines public support and ultimately destroys governments.

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About the Author

Lindsay Tanner is Shadow Minister for Communications and Shadow Minister for Community Relationships and the Labor Member for Melbourne.

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