ALL who know him generally agree that Victoria’s Premier Ted Baillieu is a lovely fellow, a thorough and courteous gentleman. It may not seem that way during Question Time in the Legislative Assembly, but blame parliamentary convention for confrontation’s trumping of civil conversation. Off the floor, even Liberal Party critics most often preface their remarks about Victoria’s leader with observations about decency and the pleasure of his company. At least they do at the Billabong when the port is flowing, gnawed bones have been cleared away and the post-dessert fare is running to gossip and, it must be said, quite a bit of grumbling about this man who is liked so very much.
Some of the harsher words – and they are so far only relatively harsh – dwell on the premier’s disconcerting lassitude. His government replaced a crew whose incompetence was exceeded only by its genius for making the odious appear admirable. There was no catastrophe, no failure to execute or breach of the public trust the party of Bracks and Brumby could not run through the mill of its PR operatives and have transformed into a triumph. It was an approach that bore fruit time and again – aided, it must be said, by a tame media’s willingness to be conned. Perfect example: The near-unanimous prediction that Brumby’s rum lot would be returned at last year’s election. That was Labor’s party line, and reporters gobbled it along with hook and sinker. The key battlegrounds, they parroted, would be places like Bendigo, where Labor’s intense efforts to prop up incumbent Jacinta Allan left Baillieu’s candidate with little chance of success. Meanwhile, in electorates along the Frankston train line, an entirely unnoticed revolt was brewing. Bendigo stayed in Labor’s hands, but the Frankston line’s concerns about crime, traffic congestion and transit snafus put Baillieu over the top. True, his was only a one-seat majority, but it was enough to form a government.
Since then, not much in the way of reform or repeal, despite Victoria being such a target-rich environment. Yes, some fixes are tough and difficult and cannot be implemented as soon as one might wish. Deep-sixing the anti-vilification laws, for instance, needs to be done, and perhaps one day we will actually see it happen. You can be entirely supportive of jolly ethnic types and their odd little ways and still rate free speech, even ugly and distressing speech, as being at least as valid as some misogynist cleric’s right to praise purdah. The to-do list is long, and after a dozen years of spin and cronyism, there is not a stall in Spring Street’s stable that would not benefit from a good mucking out.
Optimism says we will see the big fixes happen, eventually. But what of the smaller targets, the poisoned and low-hanging fruit that might be easily and quickly plucked? Why did it take so long to see off Christine Overland (or is it Simon Nixon?) as police commissioner? Why has there been no purge of the green loons who have infiltrated the Department of Sustainability and Environment? Why are Labor hacks promoted to the bench (or appointed to usurp the courts at VCAT) being allowed to preside untroubled by a quiet word that their conduct and decisions will be subjected to a very critical scrutiny? Where is the fresh draft of conservative judges and magistrates to redress a decade’s imbalance?
If those matters are too prickly to tackle with dispatch, surely the same cannot be said of the sitting ducks, like Film Victoria? For God’s sake, why is Baillieu continuing to allow those in charge to underwrite with public funds anti-Catholic bigotry, gratuitous obscenity and, via an alliance with SBS, the vile assertion that Imperial Japan’s aggression was prompted by Australia’s white racism?
Not so long ago Film Victoria threw a lavish party for its departing chief. There was much adverse comment, even from artsy sorts, who no doubt believe the cash might have been better spent on their own, worthy little projects. A man with just a slightly thicker streak of nastiness might have seized the moment and acted -- especially if that man had also taken it upon himself to handle the Arts portfoilio.
Baillieu did nothing and let the opportunity slip. He needs to change that, not least because so many other branches of his public service remain infested with Labor-appointed white ants. If he persists in doing little or nothing, the cracks in his party’s unity of purpose will become fissures, especially with the press forever ready to hail Labor’s re-birth as a credible replacement. Public servants will leak to those same reporters, and members of a divided cabinet will blame each other for the bad publicity. According to some whispers this is already happening.
Big Ted, a lovely man, was elected to govern. He should do so before it is too late.