Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Victoria: January to June 2008

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Victoria: January to June 2008

Article excerpt

Victoria's Labor Premier John Brumby, still relatively new to the position following the retirement of his predecessor Steve Bracks at the end of 2007, grappled with an extensive policy debate in the first half of 2008 that threatened at times to get away from him. The new Brumby government's policy agenda was indeed extensive, with a major initiative on water resources, undertaken partly as a result of agreements with the Commonwealth under the auspices of the Council of Australian Government (COAG), a new transport infrastructure blueprint authored by Sir Rod Eddington, a battle with the state's gaining industry over electronic gambling machines and gaining licences, and the delivery of the annual budget, all occurring in the first six months of the year. With so many projects and so many plans on the drawing board there did not seem to be much time and space for political instability, yet the Liberal party was to dominate the headlines during the early months of the year with a new take on leadership instability that was to involve the ubiquitous internet. Labor was not without its moments either, as the retirement from parliament of former minister and factional numbers man Andre Haermeyer necessitated a by-election for the ultra-safe Labor division of Kororoit right at the end of June.

Opposition Instability

While John Brumby was settling in to the role of premier, Liberal opposition leader Ted Baillieu took the opportunity given by changes to the Labor leadership to seek to shore up his own position within his apparently quite factionalised party. As outlined in previous Chronicles, the dynamics of the Victorian division's factional tendencies have been identified by the press as revolving around the alignment of Liberals to either the former premier Jeff Kennett or the former party president Michael Kroger. Originally thought of as being independent of these tendencies, Ted Baillieu has latterly been identified with the so-called "Kennett group" and, in late January, the opposition leader suddenly moved to shore up his position by moving on the parliamentary leadership in the Legislative Council. Those pushed aside included the then leader in the upper house Phil Davis and deputy leader Andrea Coote, both of whom had been identified as "Kroger faction" members.

The leadership spill had been triggered by Davis' resignation following his declaration of a lack of confidence in Baillieu's leadership ability, and there was talk that newly elected MLC Matthew Guy--also identified as a member of the Kroger group--would nominate at least for the deputy leadership position. Within days, however, Guy announced that he had full confidence in Baillieu and that he would not be nominating for any position. The party room duly met and elected David Davis (no relation to Phil Davis, and a very active factional player on behalf of the so-called "Kennett" group) as leader of the opposition in the Legislative Council and another Baillieu supporter, Wendy Lovell, as deputy leader (Age, 29 January 2008).

The next important change in the Victorian Liberal party was to involve the party's state director, Julian Sheezel, with whom Baillieu had had a very public disagreement about running candidates at by-elections in safe Labor seats some months previously. In February Sheezel announced his intention to retire. Press speculation at the time was that Sheezel's resignation was the precursor to his seeking pre-selection for the federal electorate of Higgins thought to be vacated imminently by the sitting member Peter Costello upon his allegedly imminent retirement. In the meantime, new state party president David Kemp, already undertaking a review of the party's operation in Victoria, also announced that Tony Nutt, formerly with the private staff of former prime minister John Howard, would be replacing Sheezel as director (Australian, 27 February 2008).

Later in February Baillieu sought to further entrench his leadership based on making the Opposition appear more settled and focussed on challenging Labor when he finalised a new coalition agreement with the National party's leader, Peter Ryan (Herald Sun, 21 February 2008). …

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