IF FORM is any guide (and it usually is) most members of Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu’s team will today begin another working week with a blinkered determination to stay the course. Having examined their dismal polling and declined to field a candidate in the Niddrie by-election, a contest held on the very same day Queenslanders reflected the national mood and rid themselves of a Labor government, our local Liberals will take comfort in the fact that their own date with voters remains two years hence -- plenty of time, the optimists will say, to lock down Victorians’ respect and build on the government’s one-heart-attack majority in the lower house. Steady as she goes, they will add, assuring each other that the electorate appreciates what it sees as the dignity Team Ted has brought to government. Voters were disgusted by the Bracks/Brumby crews’ daily circuses, of government by press release and photo op, so there will be none of that tawdry and manipulative stuff under this government. That is, quite literally, the party line: ignore the static and it will go away.
There are a few smart Liberals in Victoria, and with any luck one or two might have noticed the Saturday Age’s breathless scoop aboutwind turbines and the purported network of Liberal influence that has seen the ridiculous and ugly towers banned from large swathes of the state. Why, they will wonder, is their government not making offence its best defence? Why does it allow itself to be smeared day after day by Labor-installed leakers in the bureaucracy and its enemies in the Fairfax press? Why does it never fire a shot in return?
The wind generator beat-up provides a wonderful opportunity to do just that – if only Team Ted had the wit to recognise it. Openly and loudly confront and denounce the Age for its dishonesty, that would be a good first step. A second would be to recognise that no Liberal government will get a fair shake, and certainly not by pleading cap in hand for a correction and retraction, which would not be noticed in any case.
Yet the government has its own tools – tools its aversion to playing a two-fisted game has rendered irrelevant.
How much government advertising does the Age carry? Quite a bit, so why not order an immediate review of cost and benefit? The government has its own web operations where jobs are advertised and applications filed, why not announce those will be used henceforth and exclusively? That should get someone’s attention at Fairfax World HQ, perhaps inspiring a sudden desire to install a new editor less inclined to indulge his youthful reporters’ green crusades and confected scandals.
And then Team Ted might attend to getting its own house in order. Ministers are impotent satellite’s of Baillieu’s office. Many lack their own in-office spinners, meaning that responses to critical stories must be processed through a centralised system. The result: Whenever the Age or ABC pushes the latest dubious scoop, the government’s response is very often “the minister was not available for comment”. One gathers Ted would rather be in undisputed control of a sinking ship than give his crew the freedom to defend themselves and their portfolios.
Someone needs to take the shackles off this government, roll up its sleeves and encourage it to throw a few punches. Dignity is all very well and good, but if best suits those yearning for a return to the Opposition side of the chamber.