AS readers of this blog may have noticed, Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu has been more than somewhat of a disappointment. There has been his willingness to break bread with those who, for all their amiable chatter over the clink of crockery, are just waiting to nail him as another jackbooted fascist, which the Left imagines all who do not vote Labor or Green to be. It will not matter when the moment comes that Big Ted is the Caspar Milquetoast of Australian conservatism, a man so mild he has done almost nothing to de-fund the activist groups which serve as skirmishers and extra-parliamentary auxiliaries for those currently on the opposition benches.
Is it a patrician disdain for brawling and head-kicking that inhibits Big Ted’s willingness to fight, or is that he has no firm conception of principles worth fighting for? Could it be that he listens far too much to Petro Georgiou and other soft-as-suet sorts who, having been rejected by their own party, linger yet in the wings to sow mischief and confuse the easily distracted? Or did Big Ted as a careless youth simply mail his membership application to the wrong party?
Whatever the answer, one thing about Ted is sure as eggs: regardless of his policies’ merits, his team has demonstrated a culpable inability to sell them to the electorate. The Age, that unfiltered conduit for opposition spin, provides an excellent example with this morning’s coverage of the anti-corruption watchdog Team Ted promised to establish when voters rejected Bracks and his cronies. Yes, it is in the Age, and yes, it must have gladdened Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews to see it there, but for once the newspaper is on the money. The watchdog should have more teeth and it does need a longer chain, as the current legislation does not match that of other states in giving probers the free hand that a desire to promote probity amongst public officials might suggest.
But that is beside the point. For those who shudder at the thought of Labor returning to government – a prospect that is but one heart attack or 30 months away – the question is why Big Ted’s team has done nothing to sell its watchdog, such as it is. The legislation arrived almost a year after its promised delivery, all questions about its whereabouts having been met with bland assurances that getting it right was more important than getting it done quick. The public was provided with no preliminary briefings about the government’s thinking -- information that would have laid a defence for the inevitable attacks on the finished product. For example, Team Ted intends to leave investigations of what you might call petty corruption in the hands of the Ombudsman. Perhaps a case can be mounted for this approach, perhaps it cannot – but the fact remains no preliminary attempt was ever made to do so. Hatched behind closed doors the legislation was thrown into the public arena to be savaged, as today’s Age does with barely concealed relish.
Baillieu should know he will always get grief from Fairfax and the ABC because his is a Liberal administration. To have invested so little care and effort in preparing to fend off those assaults speaks at best of innocence or, more likely, political incompetence. And in the case of the watchdog legislation it testifies to an inability to recognise opportunity. Had the legislation been a bit broader, a bit more inclusive, many of the stinky deals cut by Bracks and Brumby would have been available for investigation and, most important of all, headlines Is Team Ted's innocence so pronounced that it does not see the advantage in keeping enemies on the back foot?
Baillieu recently acquired the services of John Howard’s former staffer Tony Nutt, who replaced the divisive and unmourned Michael Kapel. Nutt is a pro, no doubt about that, but he needs to start earning his money – and kick-starting this government’s efforts to present its best face, to counter opposition moves before they are made, is the first and only place to start.
If Nutt does not get a wriggle on, even at the cost of making enemies, we can look forward to making the acquaintance of Premier Daniel Andrews in almost no time at all.