THE AMERICAN comedian Joe E. Ross is remembered these days, if he is remembered at all, for playing Patrolman Gunther Toody in Car 54 Where Are You?, but his greater claim to fame should be the manner in which he departed this vale of tears. Onstage in 1982 and performing one of his routines, the show was going badly when he exclaimed “I’m dying”, clutched at his chest and dropped to the floor. The audience tittered, thinking it was all part of the show, until a minute or so had passed and someone wondered aloud if Ross might not be playing it for laughs. Discussion ensued and, eventually, someone with medical expertise climbed onto the stage, checked his vital signs and reported that the night’s star attraction was at that moment finishing his act for St Peter.
Down here in Victoria, where we have a state government that is conservative by label but certainly not by action or inclination, those who voted two years ago for Ted Baillieu’s Liberals are experiencing our very own Joe E. Ross moment. The polls say that our gentlemanly premier would be doomed to defeat if forced to face the voters, and there is no reason to dispute those damning numbers. This is the question for all Victorians who fear the return to Labor’s cronyism, its spendthrift incompetence and government by spin, not to mention a judiciary stacked with ambulance chasers and union hacks’ restored access to the public purse: Who will be the first to approach Baillieu’s political corpse, pronounce it beyond revival and clear the stage for the next, and hopefully more adept, leader of the Coalition?
Now it is true that there is a dearth of likely contenders, as long years in opposition winnowed the ranks of those with the gift, and perhaps the principles, to lead. Consider, for example, that Baillieu’s predecessor was current Melbourne Mayor Robert Doyle, who is doing all in his power to make every motorists’ journey into the CBD a nightmare of bike lanes, humungous tram stops, nonsensical malls and bylaws officers writing tickets for looking sideways while driving. With such talent formerly at the top is it any wonder the spear-carriers of the parliamentary Liberal Party are, to put it mildly, a collection of pension-accumulators and case studies in narcolepsy. Present them with a cudgel and opportunity to pulverise Labor and what do they do? Shift their weight to an alternate buttock, yawn loudly and drift peacefully back to sleep.
If you think that an unfair appraisal, consider as one example the mess Team Ted has made of its promise to introduce an independent aniti-corruption watchdog. It is now a year overdue and the opportunity for the Liberals to do well by doing good has passed. How so? Well, if the body had been brought into being with greater dispatch it might have turned its immediate attention to many of the deals and favours Bracks and Brumby bestowed on their mates. Land re-zonings, sweetheart contracts, chronic back-scratching, union goldbricking – when Baillieu took office, every Victorian Liberal knew those examples of corruption were out there and just waiting to be dragged into the light of day. Instead, two years of dithering have insulated those erstwhile targets from investigation. If Ted were to move now – take an inquisitor’s interest, for example, in the huge wages paid to workers at the desalination plant, which is itself another matter screaming to be investigated – such an inquiry would appear no better than the use of a taxpayer-funded agency for the most venal political ends. This government has blown so many opportunities to lock in a second term one can only marvel that its recent conclave in Ballarat did not consider a motion to rename the coalition as the Passive Party.
That said, and politics being the magnet it is for the ambitious, there must someone in the party who believes the Great Bunyip has placed a field-marshall’s baton in his or her knapsack, an ambitious sort who can recognise opportunity and is prepared to take it. If so, that person should be working the phones this very minute.
The return of Labor to government is a prospect to be dreaded only a little more than the survival of the present
reincumbent in the
For God’s sake, whoever you are, make a bloody move before Premier Andrews consigns you once again to those pokey little offices in Spring Street’s basement reserved for the opposition.