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Brumby's sleepless nights

Date

State political editor of The Age

View more articles from Paul Austin

Illustration: Spooner

Illustration: Spooner

Attacked from left and right, being frontrunner is no bed of roses for the Premier.

So, how goes the state election campaign? Well, it hasn't even officially begun yet (the starter's gun is fired with the issuing of the writs on, believe it or not, Melbourne Cup Day), but there are a few worrying signs for the frontrunner.

For a start, John Brumby and some of his most senior ministers are making the sorts of misjudgments that might not matter most of the time but get magnified when an election is looming.

''I know, but you don't need to know,'' Brumby said at a press conference two weeks ago when pressed by reporters on how many taxpayer dollars the government was using to buy rather than rent Melbourne's small fleet of ''bumblebee'' trams. This from a premier who has long battled to overcome a perception that he is an arrogant leader of a government that has not lived up to its promises to be open, transparent and accountable.

''You live here - if it's so bad, why don't you, you know, rack off,'' Education Minister Bronwyn Pike said on Monday, apparently repeating what she had told some Greens who don't like high-density living in inner Melbourne. She didn't mean it to be a public comment, but it was said in the presence of TV cameras and microphones. Pike is experienced enough that she should have known better.

That Justin Madden has transformed from an asset into a liability for Labor has been underscored by his inelegant efforts to dodge a pre-election debate with his Liberal shadow, Matthew Guy, on the hot-button issue of planning. Madden, like Brumby and Pike an 11-year cabinet veteran, has now agreed to a debate (on radio, not on TV), but his early reluctance to front was telling.

There are other straws in the wind.

The issue of extended clearway times on major roads through suburban shopping strips has become a perhaps unlikely catalyst for an anti-Brumby movement that threatens to spiral out of control for Labor. The anti-clearway brigade - some but by no means all of them card-carrying members of the Liberal Party - are gathering up other grass-roots groups with a gripe against the government and organising what they hope will be a mass rally on the steps of Parliament just two weeks before the November 27 poll.

''Make Brumby History'' they are calling it, and their website's call to arms is a reminder of the number of issues on which Labor may be vulnerable. ''Don't like myki, desal, the Windsor Hotel planning sham, native forest logging, puppy farms, clearways, high-rise towers, the north-south pipeline, street violence, duck shooters, Hazelwood, public transport that doesn't work, government spying on individuals, taking water from the country, government advertising and spin, Victorian College of the Arts funding cuts?'' it asks, before urging readers to ''join the cause''. Exactly how many people this grab-bag of disaffected groups attracts to Spring Street on November 14 will be telling.

The election remains Labor's to lose. The government has a thumping majority - 55 of the lower house's 88 seats, compared to the Coalition's 32 - and the opposition would need to attract a landslide swing of about 6.5 per cent to snatch victory in its own right.

Yet Labor is worried. Brumby is not kidding when he says he expects the election to be close. In fact, Labor strategists are concerned that too many people think the government is a shoo-in, creating a climate in which ''soft'' ALP supporters might think it's safe to lodge a protest vote.

Calculations by Labor number-crunchers suggest that if as few as 8913 people across the ALP's 11 most marginal seats who voted Labor at the last state election change their mind this time, the Brumby government's majority could indeed be history. To put that figure into context, Labor calculates that 9961 former ALP voters changed their minds within the seat of Melbourne in the August federal election.

The extent of state Labor's concerns about the rise of the Greens in inner Melbourne is betrayed by Brumby's very public campaign to try to get the Liberals to direct their preferences to the ALP ahead of the minor party. It's an audacious call: Labor wants the Liberals to fix its problem with the Greens.

And Brumby has another problem: his political ally Julia Gillard is sending very different signals about how voters should regard the Greens. The Prime Minister famously signed an accord with the Greens after the federal election, and now meets regularly with the leader, Bob Brown, and member for Melbourne Adam Bandt to discuss the federal government's policy agenda.

Yet Brumby and state Labor are arguing that the Greens have some ''wacky'' policies (to use Deputy Premier Rob Hulls's description) and pose such a threat to good governance and policy in Victoria that the Liberals should in effect strike a preferences deal with Labor to lock the Greens out of the state's lower house.

Trouble is, Labor is not prepared to do what it is demanding the Liberals do, and rule out preferencing the Greens. Nor will Brumby rule out striking a Gillard-style alliance with the Greens after the election in the event of a hung state parliament.

The Liberals may end up preferencing the Greens last, or they may do what they normally do and put Labor last. They are unlikely to make any such decision until the final days of the campaign. In the meantime, they will enjoy watching the Premier try to fend off the Greens on his left flank and the Coalition on his right.

Sometimes, being the frontrunner is uncomfortable.

Paul Austin is Age state political editor.

41 comments

  • Fantastic stuff...as i hand out leaflets every Saturday i know the stuff Paul is speaking about. Shop keepers are putting election signs in their windows. This is unheard of. This is like the miners of Eureka rebelling against a short sighted impositions imposed by the state contrary to fairness. The traders are battling to save their livelihoods threatened by the State.

    see www.clearbrumbyaway.com

    Commenter
    herschel Landes
    Date and time
    October 28, 2010, 5:58AM
    • The "make brumby histroy" rally details can be found at

      www.makebrumbyhistory.org

      Commenter
      herschel Landes
      Date and time
      October 28, 2010, 6:03AM
      • unsupportable clowns with delusions of competence.

        Commenter
        thomas vesely
        Location
        oz
        Date and time
        October 28, 2010, 6:18AM
        • What can an ordinary person do when confronted by arrogance and the 'born to rule' mentality - which Labor seems to have learned well from the Libs? It is intensely demoralising. The one peaceful protest is to vote for a minor party or independent.

          Commenter
          barfiller
          Date and time
          October 28, 2010, 6:30AM
          • Journalism like this -- right-wing negativism -- simply does not belong in my favourite paper. The message seems to have got through to your other reporters that a Liberal regime would be a disaster for Victoria. Do you really want to see Hazelwood remain open, well vote Liberal? Do you really want to subsidise the bourgeois vandalism of our forests to produce more consumer goods, well vote Liberal? Do you really want to see a Law'n'order assault on ethnic minorities, well vote Liberal?

            Is the Age having a bet each way by featuring stories like this, which encourage voters to fixate on small and selfish issues (OK, how many people actually take late night trains? How many of those live in fear of violence? Very, very few).

            Brumby isn't perfect, true. But with the Greens to help shape policy Victoria would be a much better place.

            The Liberals? Yuck. Entire forests will be razed and Hazelwood will continue to poison us. Just read Melissa Fyfe on any Sunday to get the good oil on these topics.

            (edited by moderator)

            Jon Faine may not be enough to fend off the Liberal assault. The Age needs to get back in the trenches.

            Commenter
            Age Reader
            Location
            Alphington
            Date and time
            October 28, 2010, 6:59AM
            • ''Make Brumby History'' lists ''Don't like myki, desal, the Windsor Hotel planning sham, native forest logging, puppy farms, clearways, high-rise towers, the north-south pipeline, street violence, duck shooters, Hazelwood, public transport that doesn't work, government spying on individuals, taking water from the country, government advertising and spin, Victorian College of the Arts funding cuts.''

              Missing from this list of Labor failures are the major linked issues of Labor inaction on man-made climate change, Labor's plans for environment-violating freeways near Frankston and through the irreplaceable Banyule wetlands, and Labor's outright falsehood in arguing for a coal-to-gas transition and claiming it will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution.

              Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber (Founding Director, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany, and Professor, Potsdam and Oxford Universities) states that the world must reduce CO2 polution to zero by 2050 in order to have a 67% probability of avoiding a catastrophic 2 degree C temperature increase (EU policy and a conservative proposition: would you board a plane if it had a 33% chance of crashing?) Schellnhuber's analysis and the assumption that "all men are created equal" means that high GHG pollution countries like Australia must reduce CO2 pollution to zero by 2020 (see "Terra quasi-icognita: beyond the 2oC line").

              Yet the Labor Climate White Paper reveals that the Victorian State Labor Government is proposing a disastrous doubling of Victorian population each 20 years and that Victoria's Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution will actually INCREASE by 2020 to 41% more than that in 2008.

              A Green Government would hopefully hold Royal Commissions into Labor's hugely expensive and carbon polluting PPP infrastructure deals.

              Commenter
              Dr Gideon Polya
              Location
              Macleod
              Date and time
              October 28, 2010, 7:19AM
              • Ahh Victoria, the backwater lefty hicksville of Australia. Lets keep Brumby in government folks, only to retain this reputation as the bottom-feeding idiots of this country.

                Commenter
                TC
                Location
                Melbourne
                Date and time
                October 28, 2010, 7:40AM
                • I think it is time for change.
                  Add to the list of Brumby's Bumbles the sorry state of international students in Melbourne, while bogus educational institutes were given the license to flourish.

                  So many sham educational institutes sprung up in Melbourne , luring innocent international students and then ripping them off big time. And Brumby Government did nothing - as long as billions of dollars are entering the economy, who cares about quality or integrity?

                  Public transport is shocking. It is not a safe city anymore.

                  It's time to go Mr Brumby and Co.

                  Commenter
                  Change for the better
                  Date and time
                  October 28, 2010, 7:47AM
                  • Yes 'Barfiller' but...

                    The one mionority party is radical and not very green at all... Look at Bob Brown's priorites since the Federal Poll.. ETS and Climate don't rate a mention.

                    And as for independents, well, we all got a VERY good look at how they operate..? Oakeshott grandstanding, Windsor being so partisan it was sick-making, and Katter-the-loony appearing as the sane member of the trio..!

                    Labor or Liberal... Choose. The alternatives are an even bigger nightmare.

                    Commenter
                    Hanging Judge Jeffries
                    Location
                    Central VIC
                    Date and time
                    October 28, 2010, 8:01AM
                    • Brumby's running scared. He is "sledging" Ted over a potential preference deal with the Greens, when Labour themselves are desperate and reliant on Greens support for power...once again John Brumby is trying to "spin" the message for his own personal gain...stop the spin Brumby!!!

                      Commenter
                      Brumby_Bull
                      Location
                      Melbourne
                      Date and time
                      October 28, 2010, 8:15AM

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