VICTORIA: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Dear Ted Baillieu: an open letter to a friend
, August 20, 2011
You don’t know me, but we shook hands when I was on a booth during the February 2010 by-election in the Victorian state electorate of Altona.
Your Liberal Party received a big swing because the people of Altona knew that John Brumby’s Labor Government was incompetent and degenerate. They were Labor people who were prepared to give you a go, even though your name was Baillieu, which to any Victorian with a drop of Labor blood in their veins is like garlic to a vampire. You didn’t win the seat, but it gave you momentum.
Now, I will tell you something you don’t appear to know. I live in Essendon, which is known as “the Toorak of the western suburbs”, where in some areas you won’t get a house under $2 million; but it is still the Western suburbs.
As well as becoming Premier, you appointed yourself Minister for the Arts. If people around here could find the La Mama Theatre, which I doubt, they probably wouldn’t like the play. What people around here want are two things: jobs, and education for their children. You are not scoring well on either.
In case you haven’t noticed, outside of Western Australia and some parts of Queensland, Australia is in recession. Haven’t you seen the empty shops all over Melbourne? If the “Reverse Bank”, as some of my mates in business call the RBA, raises interest rates, it will be even worse.
As for education, most people have no choice but to use the government system. Around here, if you are Catholic, you are well served; but I am not Catholic. We see schools falling to bits, shoddy repairs and so on.
Ted, as I have said in these pages (News Weekly, August 6, 2011), I’d like to see the government schools monopoly obliterated. In the meantime, we have to use the state system and I feel sorry for the bright, happy young people who get on the bus because they are not getting a fair go.
I know that you, like your Labor predecessor John Brumby, went to Melbourne Grammar. I don’t hold that against you; I just wish all the kids around here got the same chance in life you both did.
Now, I want to get to a very sensitive topic. You are well known in Liberal circles as one of the chief Liberal supporters of abortion on demand. Realistically, the 2008 Victorian Abortion Law Reform Act, which is one of the worst of its kind in the world, will be difficult to overturn.
I don’t care what they say in the prosperous eastern suburbs of East Malvern or Camberwell; Melbourne’s western suburbs are heavily Catholic and people don’t like the state’s abortion laws.
The former Labor attorney-general Rob Hulls, member for Niddrie, north-west of Melbourne, for whatever reason, refused to vote for the laws. You didn’t.
My friend Peter Kavanagh, the only Democratic Labor Party (DLP) parliamentary member in Victoria for 30 years, who led the opposition to this bill in the Legislative Council, was often almost in despair over the atrocious things female MLCs were saying to him, and not picked up by Hansard. That takes real guts.
Ted, you have a real problem. You have a very slim majority. Despite ousting a very unpopular government, you won hardly any seats in the west and north of Melbourne.
In the west, you don’t have a single lower-house seat — that is, one million people and not a single Liberal member of the lower house, and two MLCs to carry the load. The north is not much better.
I don’t know if you’ve been to Williamstown lately, but it’s full of designer shops and $2 million houses. I know you got a very good swing, much to the amazement of the local Liberal branches; but if you are going to hold power, as well as win power, you must, absolutely must, win seats like Williamstown. I know they are the sons and daughters of wharfies, but so are most of us.
There are some things you need to know on manpower. I hope you don’t think this is offensive, but the Labor people aren’t really worried about you. Let’s face it, you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth and not on the street.
The person they fear is Matthew Guy MLC (Northern Metropolitan region). They know he has the street smarts to be a successful Minister for Planning, the most treacherous portfolio in the government. They say he is the best operator in the government and destined to be a future leader. They want to neutralise him at all costs.
Attorney-General Robert Clark is very good; National Party leader and Deputy Premier Peter Ryan is a typical boots-and-all rural leader; and Minister for Tourism, Innovation and Small Business, Louise Asher, is good if she can stay awake. But, after that, talent is pretty thin on the ground. You need new blood.
You can win power without winning seats in the west and north, but you won’t stay in power. You need to appeal to people like my family who are newly affluent (or “effluent”, as Kath and Kim would say.) You need to win Essendon and Williamstown; you must win Ivanhoe. This will take organisation and money.
You can’t hold power if you think half the city is “too hard”. It’ll be a hard, tough, expensive slog; but you can do it.