Short answerYes! Very much. Some of my best friends, etc. I will be Christmassing there. God bless you all.
Yesterday saw one of the few election results where my prediction was the same as what ended up happening, so I'm quite pleased about that.
No, I meant politically. You know, the big picture. Napthine's loss as a harbinger for AbbottOh no, of course not. Well, not necessarily.
Menzies said that the Liberal Party was for all Australians, beholden to none. Under Abbott, this is less true than it has ever been. It is getting every bit as rancid as the UAP during World War II (but more on that later). The fact is that the Liberal Party can't handle government across all jurisdictions. Local councils drain cash from and are embarrassingly petty for state governments (territory governments can be counted as 'local government' for the purposes of the preceding statement). State governments set up alternate power bases for the feds.
John Howard hated Liberal state governments. He did nothing to ensure their re-election and actively helped euthanase a few of them. Abbott has learned the lesson but can't execute it.
Correlation is not causation. Napthine's gone and Abbott is stuffed, but as this blog has pointed out for years Abbott would always have been stuffed if Dennis Napthine - or Geoff Shaw - had never been born.
But surely, for committed Liberals like John Howard and Tony Abbott, you can't have too much Liberal government.You weren't around in the late 1990s, were you?
In January 1995 Howard returned to the federal Liberal leadership. The Coalition had held together a minority government in NSW for four years until March that year, when Bob Carr cobbled together a majority with independents (see my previous blogpost - you'd think the Coalition would be awake to how to do this. Then again, you'd think Labor would, too).
When Howard became Prime Minister, he immediately came over all beleaguered. Carr worked quietly and constructively to shore up funding. This was a sharp contrast to the way his Liberal predecessor, John Fahey, had been wrong-footed by Keating in the COAG doh-si-doh. This made Carr look like a man who could Get Things Done.
By contrast, the Premier of Victoria was Jeff Kennett, a Liberal only in the broadest of broad-church terms. Kennett was not quiet. The extent to which he was constructive can still get you a smack in the mouth in certain Melbourne pubs. He was a man of firm ideas about how Victoria, and the country, should be governed, which pissed Howard off. Victorians with money preferred Kennett over Howard, and donated money to the state Libs rather than the feds, which pissed Howard off even more.
Howard was never a broad-church man, tolerating dissenting views through gritted teeth at the best of times. Once he got a taste of the view from the pulpit it was all over:
- In South Australia, Nick Minchin nobbled one of the state's most popular Premiers, the Liberals' Dean Brown, and replaced him with a piece of furniture from a second-hand shop in Norwood. This is why the SA Libs will probably never govern their state until Minchin dies.
- The Western Australian government proved to be self-nobbling; the current Premier was then its deputy and is applying his self-nobbling skills as we speak.
- Something similar happened in Queensland: Labor seemed to like the health-and-education state government thing, and the Coalition weren't doing much with it, so they handed it over with a shrug that Beattie confused with convulsions of joy.
- In Tasmania, Tony Rundle ran a moderate government in Coalition with the Greens. Eric Abetz helped ensure Rundle was starved of the funding to Get Things Done and was replaced by Labor.
- Abetz also mentored the ACT Liberals, edging out winners like Kate Carnell and Gary Humphries and replacing them with knuckleheads who spray themselves daily with voter repellent.
- The CLP lost the Northern Territory after a generation, replaced by a former ABC journalist who spoke in complete sentences and had probably never even opened a beer bottle with her eye socket.
With Labor in power at the state level, Howard learned that he could continue to play silly-buggers with the states over its functions and with tax, all care no responsibility because we're Liberals and they're Labor, politicians gotta politic.
High-minded rhetoric about reforming federation was framed as mealy-mouthed nonsense. This continued while Labor held all governments bigger than Brisbane City Council in 2007-08. It continues to this day, because ideas shared by both sides are the epitome of good government and political sophistication, while ideas opposed by both are freaky and flaky and otherwise undesirable. This will continue until the Labor-Coalition duopoly is broken.
But back to Victoria. When Steve Bracks, when Steve Bracks, beat Kennett in '99, beat Kennett in '99, Howard wasn't exactly distraught, wasn't exactly distraught. Bracks was quiet and constructive, quiet and constructive, and repeated his phrases when talking to commercial radio listeners. By contrast, Liberal Opposition Leader Dennis Napthine looked clumsy and shrill when he went after Bracks, and Howard gave him no assistance to speak of. Baillieu only won in 2010 when there was no risk of impeding the feds.
Abbott is in trouble, isn't he.Yes, for reasons that have nothing to do with Napthine.
Rather than expect Abbott to use some sort of super-powers to save Napthine, then act all surprised when they prove non-existent, journos would be better off asking whether it is reasonable to expect Abbott to do anything. What is the nature of these superpowers that could save Napthine and the Victorian Coalition from itself? Why would Abbott be able to save Napthine's government but not his own? What made you think he'd be any better than Rudd or Gillard?
What is the political benefit for Abbott to save the Napthine government? What does he lose when Napthine loses?
Abbott needs all the help he can get. A re-elected Napthine government would have drained attention and resources away from his outfit.
The best people in the Napthine government (and they weren't all turkeys) are now either unemployed or staring into the foggy gloom of long-term opposition. Those who worked to get Abbott elected took staffer jobs and are looking to get some sweet lobbying roles in before the current government goes terminal. Abbott has the pick of the Napthine government's best brains, which is a nice arrangement for Abbott. And that, as far as he is concerned, is the main thing.
But, but ... Victoria is terribly important!Oh, please.
From 1949 to 1969, the Victorian representation in the federal government was bigger than that of any state, and provided the leadership. Lightweights like Harold Holt and Peter Howson made it further than they should have through being Collins Street flaneurs, while non-Victorians like Paul Hasluck and Percy Spender were underutilised.
Never mind that during this period, the nation's centre of economic and cultural gravity shifted to Sydney. NSW had a state Labor government and a massive Labor redoubt, and the other states regarded voting Labor with communism.
After the 1969 election the representation from Victoria and NSW were roughly equal. Leadership tension between Gorton and McMahon can be seen in light of that. So too can the tension between Howard and Andrew Peacock.
Malcolm Fraser was Victorian to his bootstraps but he took pains to cultivate the party in NSW, particularly men of substance like Sir John Carrick and
Today, Victorians aren't the largest delegation to the federal government, nor the second - they are third, slightly ahead of WA. The current federal government, if you hadn't realised already, views things through its own prisms. We had a Prime Minister from Victoria until last year who was underappreciated by the rest of the country. Victorians have never taken to the current Prime Minister (see below). But, cheer up! The alternative Prime Minister is a Victorian - oh, don't be like that.
Look, everyone knows the Liberal Party regards Victoria as the Jewel in the Crown.It's true that the Coalition held state government in Victoria for a long time, but two things need to be said about that.
First, people like Dick Hamer don't grow on trees (and anyway, with the fate of Leadbeater's possum in the balance, we've seen how Victorians care about trees). The Victorian Liberals of old would have quietly strangled Geoff Shaw rather than have him undermine a Baillieu. And the likes of Peter Reith, I mean I ask you. Costello might have burnished that jewel had he not been such a piker.
Second, the Labor Party in the period 1955-82 deliberately enfeebled itself, much the same as it did federally until last year and as it has in NSW for the past decade or so.
Victoria has 12 Senators. Four of them are Liberals, all numpties. There are local councils with more impressive representations (and more Liberals) than the Victorian Senate team. There is a National Senator too but, for this government, she's the wrong gender (read some of Margaret Fitzherbert's work on formidable Liberal women and wonder what might have been. Wonder what happened to Fitzherbert herself).
There are 37 Members of the House of Representatives from Victoria. Given that the state is such a Liberal jewel, and the Coalition hold federal government, and the party's federal director comes from there, you'd expect more than half - much more than half - would be held by the Coalition.
16 of Victoria's 37 HoR seats (i.e., a minority) are held by members of the Coalition. With the government on the nose, you'd expect the JitC to step up: who will bet me that Victoria's Coalition representation will increase in 2016?
The Liberal Party gives its Victorian branch all the respect and deference due to whiny laggards resting on faded laurels.
You know what the problem is? Tony Abbott needs strong Victorian representation on his front bench.Andrew Bolt (no I won't link to his article) told his audience of mouth-breathing Victorians that the lack of a strong Victorian in his Cabinet is one of Abbott's major shortcomings.
Four members of Abbott's 20-member Cabinet are Victorians, roughly commensurate with the proportion of Victorians to Australians as a whole. It isn't clear what more Bolt could want.
Even if you accept Bolt's comment (don't worry, dear reader, I won't tell anyone about that time you agreed with Andrew Bolt), the question is: whom? Which Victorian Liberal would you have Abbott slot into his Cabinet to set things right? Napthine? Mary Wooldridge? Bolt himself? What about Sophie Mirabella, a director of the Australian Canoe Corporation? You see the problem here.
Victoria has the country's best infrastructure!Quite why Kennett, Brumby, and now Napthine had chosen to impale themselves on the altar of the East-West tunnel is unclear.
What do you think of the way the Victorian media covers Victorian politics?When it is forced to cover actual stuff that state government does, it is quite good. Sophisticated political and policy analysis with a light but not clichéd touch: this is what journalism on how we are governed should be. Only South Australia's InDaily comes close.
When it comes to the coverage of elections, it is as cliché-ridden as any electoral coverage. Before the election, Josh Gordon from The Age insisted that he was "on the fence" about who would win the election, when his coverage was showing clearly that Labor was preparing for office while the Coalition was in a defensive crouch, protecting its vitals.
This phenomenon was identified by US journalist Michael Kinsley in the 1990s. Before the election, journalists insist the race will be tight (against evidence that it often won't be), and that even the lamest campaign cliché is imbued with great significance. After the election, journalists portray the result as the inevitable result of seismic historical factors against which all campaigning was pitifully feeble. Political operatives of similar kidney during the campaign are divided into wise seers and hopeless jokes on the basis of a result the journalist deemed "too close to call". Those considered 'hopeless jokes' can redeem themselves to journalists by dumping on their loser-party colleagues.
This deliberate misinformation is not done to inform the public, but to maintain the journalist's pose of 'balance' above all other considerations. Not one extra newspaper, not one second of airtime, is sold because of this pose. A journalist sitting on a fence is good for nothing but target practice. The position of The Age under a Labor government will be interesting:
- Apparently The Age hacked into a Labor database. According to the journosphere, this was fair play and part of the perils of using job-killing computers.
- Apparently the ALP found a recording device belonging to a journalist from The Age; they listened to it, found and disseminated Ted Baillieu bagging his Liberal colleagues. According to the journosphere, this was
fair playan outrage against our very democracy.
Hunting for clichés at staged events and finding them is political journalism's equivalent of coprophilia, the sort of misjudgment that is killing their profession from the frontline journalist to the most senior executives. Bloggers who think they have to be fair to the Murdoch press cite Karvelas as proof that not everyone in that organisation is a clown. After her coverage of this state election I'm not so sure.
What will Dennis Napthine do now?Napthine, a country vet, was for some reason often photographed with, and drawn by cartoonists riding, horses. This could well see the end of the 'man on horseback' metaphor of strong leadership.
His affection for horses is probably genuine and the horseracing industry probably represents his best chance to avoid Stockdale Syndrome, the situation where people are bundled out of politics too early in their working lives and struggle to find something constructive to do.
Napthine has been quoted as saying that Labor's proposed royal commission into domestic violence is a waste of money, but nowhere is he quoted directly: if true, this will go down in history like all those arguments a century ago against women's suffrage, and people will defend Napthine against criticism that he excused the inexcusable.
In the regular quiz at your local pub a little while into the future, one of the questions will be: "Who was Premier of Victoria from 2012 to 2014?". You will rack your brains and groan because you'll know the answer but won't be able to articulate it. When the quizmaster reads out the answer you will growl "Oh, that's right!", and nobody will be impressed because anyone can do that and get zero points for it.
What will happen to the Liberal Party in Victoria?It will be taken over by conservatives, a process that started already (see the preselection for Kew, and the dithering over Shaw). Churchy obsessives mostly, with one or two IPA types; the sorts of people Malcolm Fraser left the party to get away from, the sorts of people trying it on in NSW. They will shriek for their pet projects, but anything else will be nanny-state bloat. Old-guard figures who are not enjoying retirement as much as they thought will pop back up and tell everyone to keep quiet, to stay away from the Facetweet and what have you, to no avail.
They will preselect voter-repellent candidates for the federal election in 2016 and repeat the dose state-wise after that, selecting people who make Geoff Shaw look like Cicero. The media will describe these people as "feisty" and "controversial" and imply that Andrews has a fight on his hands.
Maybe there will be good and sensible people who turn the party around, but this won't happen anytime soon. The long period of reinvention that I thought was necessary before the Coalition came back to government federally is actually starting now.
The Prime Minister of Australia cares deeply about Victoria. He described Melbourne as a second home.Yeah, he's said a lot of things. Most of them bullshit.
You seem to be implying that Tony Abbott doesn't care whether the Coalition governs Victoria.I state it without any risk that it can be refuted. Rebutted perhaps, even dismissed; but not refuted. Do not underestimate the sheer extent to which that man gives no damn.
But if the Prime Minister of Australia doesn't care about Victoria, it must mean we're insignificant.Oh no. See the first paragraph above. As Australian states go, Victoria is right up there. We've just got the wrong Prime Minister. Easy problem to fix, and you can do your part Victoria.
Just leave those fence-sitting journalists where they are and stop buying their output. Fence-sitting can get boring, and the best press gallery operators know there's more to state politics than some sort of longeur between elections (which they suck at covering anyway). What Daniel Andrews said before the election might not be true afterwards, so keep on looking into what the government is up to.
You'll have to do your own journalism because of the addiction to clichés by those contingently employed to do so; they can't get over it.