Flat White

The Victorian Liberals wake-up call

9 March 2018

6:55 AM

9 March 2018

6:55 AM

Yesterday’s Newspoll, showing the Victoria’s Labor government of left-winger Daniel Andrews has an election-winning lead of 52-48 two-party preferred, was reported by The Australian as a great shock.  A union-dominated, faction-ridden, big-spending, ideology-obsessed Labor government should be on the ropes, according to the Oz.  Given the latest national accounts figures highlight Victoria being the state with the lowest economic growth rate, a measly 0.30 per cent, they have a point.

The Liberal-National opposition led by Matthew Guy is trailing decisively when it should be in front.

According to the Oz, pollster David Briggs said the poll demonstrated the Coalition was not fully leveraging Labor’s failures, and that Coalition leader Matthew Guy was not making ‘any sort’ of an impression.

Everything’s relative though.  In February 2010, as far out from that election as it is now, the Victorian Coalition was trailing even more badly in Newspoll, 54-46 two-party preferred against the much more centrist, competent and better-run government of John Brumby.  Yet come November, the Ted Baillieu’s team pulled off a miraculous win, including taking both houses of the state parliament.

The concerns I wrote about for the Spectator in December have not been addressed.  Ignored is the better word.

The Victorian Liberal leadership is pressing ahead suing the fundraising Cormack Foundation to release ‘its’ money unconditionally, brushing aside the Cormack board’s concerns about the party organisation’s governance.  Tactically smart but strategically-questionable politics games are still being played with giving preferences to the Greens, which may keep Labor guessing but sends a message to voters that the Liberals are more about pragmatism than values and principle.

The disappointing decision not to stand a candidate in Saturday week’s Batman by-election reinforces that impression and allows the Green cancer on Victorian politics to grow to threaten Liberal seats later as well as Labor seats now.

Then there’s internal bickering and factional party games.  Some party figures, including MPs, seem more concerned about having the numbers by recruiting like-minded people than working together to get Guy and his team over the line, let alone preserving federal seats whenever Malcolm Turnbull calls the next federal election.

Eight months out from the election, too, it’s still not clear what the Coalition stands for, and what its policy framework is.  Unlike John Howard in 1995, there has been little in the way of ‘headland’ speeches or even indications about how Guy and the Coalition will deal with bread and butter issues that voters most care about: schools, health, energy, roads and public transport.  Inroads are being made on law and order, particular holding Labor to account for gang violence in Melbourne’s suburbs, but that alone isn’t enough to ensure a win.

Don’t assume it’s all bad and panic stations just yet.  2010 could yet repeat itself for the Liberals.  The Andrews government is not loved and has its own factional and internal problems: just look at the shabby treatment of former emergency services minister Jane Garrett, she who stood up to the thuggish leadership of the United Firefighters Union while her Premier and fellow left-winger caved.

At 52-48 the Coalition can pull an election win off from where they are now, but Newspoll shows the signs are worrying.

An Opposition that on all indications should be in front isn’t. As John Howard was fond of saying, you can’t fatten a pig on market day.  The Liberal leadership needs to get its house in order pronto, show Victorians it is not just an Opposition but a genuine alternative government, and demonstrate a political strategy that is not just about highlighting Andrews Labor’s many, many failings.

It’s still not too late, but the clock is ticking.

In responding to Newspoll in today’s Australian, the Victorian Liberals blamed their federal colleagues, pointing out the Turnbull government’s poor standing isn’t exactly helpful, and its actions in bread-and-butter issues like energy cuts across their own initiatives.  Yet just a week ago, Tasmania’s Liberal government was re-elected with over 50 per cent of the primary vote and all five federal seats in Labor hands, and in spite of federal woes and with the Barnaby Joyce and Michaelia Cash car crashes playing through the campaign period.

Tasmanians can separate federal and state issues: so can Victorians. Yes, federal shenanigans don’t help, but The Liberals’ blaming the feds for their not cutting through is denial.  They have problems to fix: they should fix them.

Winning government is not just proving the current mob deserves chucking out.  It is ensuring voters have a credible and viable alternative to jump to when they decide to do the chucking.  This Newspoll is a wake-up call to those Liberals who may have forgotten their real opponents are not each other or the Cormack Foundation, but Labor.

Coalition energy wasted on anything else keeps its Daniel Andrews and his hard-left dominated Labor government in power whether they deserve to be or not.

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