Once more an unheralded leader takes party to a stunning result | The Age

Paul Austin

November 28, 2010


    Team Brumby Labor posters on Glengala Road, Sunshine.

    Team Brumby Labor posters on Glengala Road, Sunshine. Photo: Lucy Aulich

    TED BAILLIEU has done a Steve Bracks. The Coalition is on the verge of a famous victory. It’s the biggest surprise since Bracks’ stunning defeat of Baillieu’s mentor Jeff Kennett, 11 years ago.

    The similarities between the two great upsets of modern Victorian politics are extraordinary.

    Baillieu, like Bracks, has been underestimated his entire political career. He is seen as decent and inoffensive, just like Bracks was when he was up against the apparently impregnable Kennett.

    But, like Bracks, few people really expected Baillieu to become premier.

    He needed to pick up 13 seats to win government in his own right. Late last night it looked like he may have done it – just.

    Bracks needed to rob Kennett of 13 seats to prevent the Coalition being returned in 1999. He did it – just.

    The winners last night were Baillieu, Baillieu and Baillieu. But there was one another: Peter Ryan and his Nationals have defeated the independent, Craig Ingram, to reclaim East Gippsland. This boosts the Nationals’ numbers in the 88-member lower house from nine to 10 and cements Ryan’s position as a leader of substance of the rural and regional party.

    Regional-based Labor ministers Jacinta Allan (Bendigo East) and Joe Helper (Ripon) are also winners, having survived in the face of a state-wide swing that might have been expected to sweep them from Parliament. Allan can now expect to play a more prominent role in the Labor parliamentary leadership group.

    The losers were John Brumby, Brumby and Brumby. He appears certain to have lost his majority and he may well have lost government. There has been a very big swing and it raises big questions for Victorian Labor and in particular its leader.

    If, as seems likely, Labor has lost, Brumby must accept responsibility. The Labor campaign, rather courageously, was all about Brumby.

    His photo was on the plastic wraps strung up outside polling places yesterday. And it was on every ALP media release of the campaign. Labor’s main slogan was ”For the times ahead: John Brumby, Victorian Labor”. Labor’s ”positive” TV ads were fireside chats with John, talking about his wife, Rosemary McKenzie, his children, his life, his passions. Labor’s official campaign launch was the John Brumby show; even Prime Minister Julia Gillard played only a bit part.

    When Labor’s costings were released on the second last day of the campaign, it was Brumby who did it, with treasurer John Lenders merely helping out.

    The Labor campaign was run by Team Brumby. The campaign director, Nick Reece, was installed in the job, against the wishes and advice of many old hands in the party who feared he did not have either the street-smarts or the political mongrel to get the job done. The key backroom player in Brumby’s office through the campaign was his handpicked chief of staff, Dan O’Brien. Labor’s attack-dog-in-chief was Brumby’s closest mate in caucus, Rob Hulls, the man Brumby ensured became his Deputy Premier when others wanted the job after the abrupt departures of Steve Bracks and John Thwaites in mid-2007.

    The other losers were the Greens. They have failed to win any seat in the lower house after earlier daring to hope to pick up as many as four.

    The worse-than-expected result for the Greens will be taken by Baillieu as vindication of his contentious mid-campaign decision to preference the minor party last in all seats. But the new Victorian Parliament is set for an intriguing contest between the lower house, likely to be dominated by the conservative Liberal-Nationals coalition, and upper house in which the Greens are almost certain to have the balance of power.

    If Baillieu gets to the Premier’s office, his first term promises to be a difficult balancing act – just as Steve Bracks’ first term was all those years ago.

    Paul Austin is The Age’s state political editor.


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