Now a fortnight in, and the Victorian election campaign was all but cancelled for lack of interest this week. The Labor Machiavellis who agreed to fixed-term elections as a condition for minority government in 1999, excelled themselves in making election day the last Saturday in November. That guaranteed no Victorians would engage with politics through Cup week, an inertia that invariably favours the front-runners.
Only two things stand out this tediously boring campaign week. Chairman Dan Andrews and his kowtowing to Xi Jinping by signing Victoria up to China’s imperialistic Belt and Road vision, a vision that’s as much about Chinese domination of the region, and pushing the Red Chinese leadership’s pretensions to global leadership, as the economic development of the Middle Kingdom. Signed without fanfare just before the caretaker period, Andrews’s refusal to make the details public, and his defiance of the national government in effectively making foreign policy for a mere province of a sovereign state. Wanting to play the statesman, he’s looking more like Peking’s Duck.
Andrews is disliked by many of his Labor caucus colleagues for his captain’s calls, and this one is a doozy. It’s manna from heaven for Matthew Guy and his ragtag Coalition team, which until now has failed to sustain its attacks on the seamy underbelly of the Andrews government. If – and that’s a big if on past performance – they can ride Chinese Dan’s pigtail (he must have one, as a pigtail was a symbol of subservience to the Chinese emperor) all the way to election day, they can really put Labor on the defensive.
The other stand-out of the week is Guy and Liberal president Michael Kroger deciding last-minute to field Liberal candidates in three of four inner-Melbourne Labor seats where Labor’s under intense pressure from the Greens, and keep Labor guessing about preferences. The fourth, Richmond, is held by Labor minister and MP under investigation in the Red Shirts funding scandal, Dick Wynne. Tricky Dicky will be left to his fate, and most likely a successful Green insurgency without Liberal preferences to sustain him.
Kroger told his membership this is about Liberals winning. ‘The Liberal Party is not a preference machine for the Labor Party’, he said. Maybe so, but if the party’s paving the way for potentially more Greens in Parliament, with attitudes and ideologies so antithetical to the Liberal way of thinking, is a curious way to go about winning. It’s like the Kaiser’s government in 1917 giving Lenin his sealed train to take him home to foment revolution against the provisional Russian government that was still fighting the war. ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’ may be slick short-term tactics, but in the long term could incubate a political cancer to devour not only Labor, but a slew of Liberal state and federal seats too.
And the convention of parties of government contesting all lower house seats seems to have gone AWOL. Mais c’est la guerre, non?
Some Liberals say it would be better to swallow hard and let Labor win those Dead Red seats with Liberal preferences, and if that helps Labor hold office this time around so be it. At least then the Coalition could have a parliamentary hold over a re-elected Labor, not to mention the moral high ground with the electorate. An already far-left Labor government being pulled even further leftwards by balance of power Greens is too dreadful for them to contemplate. And if the Coalition wins, Labor then would have no moral right to be the wreckers and spoilers they were to the 2010-14 Baillieu-Napthine government.
What goes round comes around, but what’s done is done.
The real winner this Cup week was not Guy or Andrews, but short-termism. That’s precisely what the Liberals are pursuing with their too clever by half seat nomination dance, and chairman Dan’s China gambit is also designed to get Labor over the line and no more. Just watch Andrews rush to ditch the deal if he’s re-elected, claiming the Feds – both Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten – insisted he drop it under threat of Victoria becoming a Chinese-occupied island in the South China Sea.
The most tantalising thing is, however, the invisible contest. Both Coalition and Labor sources say internal polling shows that in marginal seats, not least the Frankston line strip stretching through the southern Bayside suburbs that cost John Brumby dearly in 2010 and Denis Napthine in 2014, the ground contests are highly competitive and that much of Labor’s substantial lead in the public polls is locked up in safer seats. If that’s not deliberate disinformation, and needing a net gain of just eight seats, Guy is still in it in spite of everything against him. Let’s hope so: Andrews shouldn’t book his celebratory yum cha at the Chinese Consulate-General just yet.
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