A Coalition mess of its own making

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The Age Editorial: A Coalition mess of its own making. October 29, 2014

If Napthine’s Coalition government becomes the first in six decades to lose office in Victoria after one term, it only has itself to blame.

It will not be the fault of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his brutal first budget. Nor will it be the fault of the media or Frankston MP Geoff Shaw, preselected for the seat by the Liberal Party before the 2010 state election.

This is a government that has controlled both houses of Parliament for most of its four years in power, inherited a healthy budget and is in charge of a state that would be the envy of much of the world.

The political malaise for the government started long before Abbott and Shaw were generating negative headlines and points to a government that was ill-prepared for office.

Premier Ted Baillieu’s administration was the first state government in a decade to finish its first year in office in a weaker position than when it was elected.

Reviews were launched and inertia set in and, by March 2012, businesswoman Elizabeth Proust, who headed the premier’s department during the Kennett era, warned of boardroom discussions about the lack of government action to address Victoria’s economic problems – “People are saying that Victoria may well be losing its edge because of inaction in this state”.

The public mood changed from the pro-Baillieu rush of November 2010 to the extent that, by October 2012, Daniel Andrew’s Labor Party was in a thumping 55-45 two-party-preferred poll lead. Within another seven months, Baillieu was gone.

Coalition MPs may have thought they could cruise to a second-term landslide. This was a mistake for a party elected to “fix the problems, build the future”. There are no rules in contemporary Australian politics – first-term leaders and first-term governments can be dumped.

When the government did finally act, it chose a new toll road – the East West Link – as its centrepiece project, despite campaigning hard in 2010 on public transport.

Napthine has been a more active premier and charged ahead with that project, signing contracts before the state election, as he promised to do. He has also promised a new cardiology centre at Monash and schools in growth areas.

Unfortunately, his government has fallen for the trap of others in trouble – trying to advertise its way back into power. Despite the hypocrisy of the political advertising – something the Coalition railed against in opposition – it is unlikely to work. Voters are not mugs. Many would suspect that promotions of investment in hospitals, public transport and jobs are election advertising being paid for with their money – Labor thinks so, and has written to Auditor-General John Doyle, asking him to review the material urgently.

Worse, extravagant advertisements only remind voters of what has not been delivered.

The first Fairfax Ipsos Victorian state poll today shows the ALP with a strong lead, 56 per cent to 44 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis. History suggests the margin flatters the Labor Party and is unlikely to be repeated on November 29.

Things can change quickly, as Baillieu demonstrated in 2010: he only hit the front in opinion polls in the hours before voters went to the polling booths. Leader debates, policy costings and candidate faux pas – anything can happen in the campaign.

This state election will deliver tight contests in seats across the state, with new electoral boundaries adding to the uncertainty.

But should Denis Napthine find himself conceding defeat on election night, he should look no further than his own party for the reasons why.

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