Tony Abbott keen to campaign in Victorian election; the state government less so

The Age: Tony Abbott keen to campaign in Victorian election; the state government less so. October 27, 2014 Josh Gordon State political editor for The Age.

Happier times: Victorian Premier Denis Napthine and Prime Minister Tony Abbott after a Council of Australian Governments meeting. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Tony Abbott has alarmed the state government by declaring that he is looking forward to campaigning in Victoria during the lead-up to the state election.

Coalition strategists remain hopeful that some of the raw anger in Victoria generated by the May federal budget has now dissipated, with the focus shifting towards terrorism and security.

But government insiders are worried that an “Abbott factor” may bleed votes away from the government as voters use the ballot box to vent their frustration over the federal government’s performance.

Denis Napthine on Monday hit out at the Abbott government, saying if he wanted to talk about reforming federal-state relations, he should first fix the system for sharing out the GST, which returns just 88 cents for every $1 collected in Victoria.

“What I say to Tony Abbott, very clearly, show us the money, show us your bona fides,” Dr Napthine told Fairfax radio.

Until now, Dr Napthine has been reluctant to directly criticise the Abbott government, which is contributing $3 billion of Commonwealth money for both sections of the East West Link.

The latest comments mark a turning point, with the state government desperate to differentiate between the two tiers of government.

Appearing to respond directly to Dr Napthine’s demand that he show Victoria the money, Mr Abbott told Parliament: “We have shown Victoria the money. I am looking forward very much to campaigning with Premier Denis Napthine in Victoria as part of the state election campaign.”

The prospect of campaign appearances by Mr Abbott is making Liberal strategists nervous, with recent opinion polls suggesting the federal government’s support has collapsed across the state.

The thinking is that unless Mr Abbott offers more money for Victoria, his presence will have a negative impact on the state government’s campaign.

Labor, on the other hand, is reminding voters about the impact of the federal budget, and that Dr Napthine and Mr Abbott belong to the same political party.

“Hell, yes,” one senior Labor strategist said when asked whether Mr Abbott would be positive for the opposition during the campaign.

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