VICTORIA: by John BallantyneNews Weekly
Can stalling Baillieu government survive beyond one term?
, June 9, 2012
Labor has been virtually wiped out in New South Wales and Queensland. It is weak in Western Australia. Nationally, thanks to the Gillard Government’s spectacular failures of recent months, it faces heavy defeat at the next federal election.
However, many people are unaware that in Victoria Ted Baillieu’s Liberal-National government is unwittingly providing Labor with a platform with which to make a comeback.
The Baillieu government, which was elected to power in November 2010 with a one-seat majority, has recently suffered a substantial fall in popularity.
Liberal and National parliamentarians are now openly speculating how long Baillieu can last as premier.
Premier Baillieu — grandson of the famous industrialist and politician W.L. “Big Bill” Baillieu — is a small “l” liberal rather than a conservative. He is well to the left on social issues such as multiculturalism, and human rights and equal opportunity legislation.
In 2008 he supported Victoria’s controversial laws for liberalising abortion (Melbourne Age, September 8, 2008).
Under the new provisions a woman can demand an abortion for any reason right through nine months of pregnancy (News Weekly, October 11, 2008). Furthermore, Clause 8 of the act requires all medical practitioners to refer women for abortion, thereby violating the consciences of doctors who value the sanctity of human life (News Weekly, September 13, 2008).
One of Baillieu's closest political allies, Health Minister David Davis, recently generated party-room dissent after failing to consult his parliamentary colleagues about establishing a ministerial advisory committee on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI) health and wellbeing.
His Department of Health has been funding generously a range of GLBTI organisations, some of which have made public submissions to various inquiries calling for the removal of exemptions for churches and religious bodies under anti-discrimination laws.
On economic matters, Baillieu has offered little leadership in a state which has recently suffered major losses of manufacturing jobs.
In May, Qantas confirmed that it would be axing more than 500 engineering jobs at its Tullamarine and Avalon heavy maintenance sites.
Baillieu to date has expressed little sympathy for the laid-off workers and offered no plans or vision for Victoria’s future economic development.
On a host of other issues the Baillieu government has done little to differentiate itself from Labor.
It has left in place the previous Labor government’s controversial time-of-use pricing regime for household electricity use, which has seen the installation in households across the state of the so-called “smart energy” meter, designed to record a household’s energy use every 30 minutes.
The new technology was defended by former Labor energy minister Peter Batchelor as a means to help Victorians tackle climate change. Charity groups, however, have estimated that the new technology could increase a household’s power bill by more than $250 a year.
Even more controversial has been the Baillieu government’s decision to continue building the previous Labor government’s water desalination plant, which could cost a maximum of $23.9 billion in the decades to come.
Not many years ago a far cheaper alternative was mooted. Gippsland’s Mitchell River has a huge catchment area, and a dam on the Mitchell would have cost a mere $1.35 billion. However, the former Labor government closed off that option for good by turning the Mitchell River dam reservation into a national park.
The Baillieu Coalition government’s ineffectiveness has seen its popularity go into decline, and it looks as though it could be only a one-term government — the first since John Cain senior’s third Labor government whose fall in 1955 coincided with the Great Labor Split.
Even shortly before the election of the Baillieu government, the Liberal Party of Victoria performed poorly compared to its interstate counterparts. In the August 2010 federal election, the Coalition parties gained seats in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia, but went backwards in Victoria.
Had the Coalition parties performed more strongly in Victoria, Australia would have seen a Tony Abbott-led Coalition government elected federally.
Since Baillieu came to power in November 2010, little has changed in the way Victoria is governed. No departmental heads have been replaced.
The government’s Treasury and Finance head Grant Hehir is a former adviser to a left-wing minister in the Hawke Labor government, Stewart West; and the deputy secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Dr Pradeep Philip, is a former chief economic adviser to Kevin Rudd when he was prime minister.
This is not to say that former Labor staffers cannot give loyal and capable service to a Coalition government.
However, many capable policy advisers have been mysteriously barred from appointments in the Baillieu government, despite the fact that many of them are long-standing Liberal loyalists.
Baillieu’s office has run a tightly centralised administration, even having gone so far as to veto at least four of his ministers’ first choices of chiefs of staff.