Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Victoria: July to December 2007

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Victoria: July to December 2007

Article excerpt

A car accident involving twenty-year-old Nicholas Bracks, the son of the then Victorian Premier Steve Bracks, was to be the catalyst for a major change in Victorian politics. Young Nick Bracks had come back to the family home in Williamstown after a night out with university friends when, in the early hours of 13 July, he and a friend ventured out in the family Saab. The car, which Nick Bracks had been driving, crashed into a tree at 4:00 a.m. and the passenger in the car was injured. Police attending the scene took the obligatory test for alcohol consumption where it was revealed that young Bracks had a blood alcohol reading of 1.2 per cent--well over the 0.05 per cent permissible under Victorian law (news.com.au, 13 July 2007). Steve Bracks and his wife Terri were holidaying at Wye River on the Victorian west coast at the time of the accident and learned about the incident later that morning. The incident precipitated a short period of intense media scrutiny of the case, driven by reference to the extensive anti-drink-diving campaign undertaken by successive Victorian governments, with a secondary debate about the extent to which the political father was culpable for the sins of the son. Then, two weeks later, Steve Bracks shocked the state by announcing his resignation as Labor leader and premier and also declared his intention to leave politics altogether.

Bracks was not the only Labor leader to have been under pressure over the intersection of his family life with the demands of politics. Deputy leader John Thwaites had also been the subject of criticism and attack over allegations that, as tourism minister, he and his family had enjoyed free accommodation at a ski resort in the Mt Buller National Park as well as some free holiday time at the Tidal River resort at the Wilson's Promontory National Park (Herald Sun, 6 July 2007). The deputy premier refuted these allegations of misuse of public resources, arguing that he had been at these places to attend management meetings in his capacity as the responsible minister. This matter was one of the few to have been seized upon by the Liberal opposition and its leader, Ted Baillieu, and used against a government that had otherwise appeared to be in the political ascendancy and enjoying high levels of public support as measured by newspaper opinion polls. Thwaites was clearly upset by the attack on his family, however, and the resignation of his premier provided the deputy leader with the opportunity to announce his retirement from politics as well (The Age, 27 July 2007). These announcements meant that the Labor party would have to elect a new leader and premier as well as undertaking a major re-shuffle of the ministry, and that by-elections would be needed to fill the casual vacancies that now occurred in the former premier's seat of Williamstown, and the former deputy's seat of Albert Park.

From Bracks to Brumby

The election of a new parliamentary Labor leader was the first priority. Here the former treasurer and one-time leader during the lean years of opposition between 1992 and 1999, John Brumby, was elected unopposed (Age, 30 July 2008). Brumby's ascendancy to the premiership was more or less assured by the lack of any obvious alternative leadership candidate and by the fact that, like Bracks, Brumby was from the dominant right Labor Unity faction. Indeed, Brumby had been thought of as being the second most important person in the Bracks government after the premier himself, and was considered to have been the driving force behind the government's approach to economic policy. He seemed to be the natural choice as Bracks' replacement.

The positions of deputy leader and treasurer were more keenly contested, however. The press reported that Attorney-General and Racing Minister Rob Hulls was the most likely to be elected by Caucus to the deputy leadership, but that Health Minister Bronwyn Pike and Transport Minister Lynne Kosky were also said to be canvassing support (Age, 30 July 2007) The candidature of Pike and Kosky may also have been driven by comments made by Brumby that he wished to see a larger proportion of cabinet positions held by women. …

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