Baillieu to Kennett: Jeff, let go
Ted Baillieu defends his record as Premier, amid cliams by Liberal ally Jeff Kennett that his ability to sell his government's message is 'far from good enough'.PT4M0S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2egvs 620 349 February 15, 2013
Jeff Kennett isn't necessarily suggesting Ted Baillieu should do what he did and throw sand at journalists.
But the fact that Mr Kennett, theoretically one of Mr Baillieu's closest political allies, is now warning that the Premier's ability to sell his government's message has been ''far from good enough'' is highly significant. So significant it is likely to have lasting repercussions for Mr Baillieu's leadership.
Jeff Kennett. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
Mr Kennett told The Age Mr Baillieu clearly does not enjoy the cut and thrust of politics in the same way he did. This is no crime, but it is a problem. As Mr Kennett put it: ''It is nice to know there [are] people who are not spin merchants out there every day . . . like Jeff Kennett throwing sand in cameramen's lenses. But it does not take away from the fact that as leader of the gang, whenever he goes out there, he has got to be able to reinforce what we are doing. He's got to convince the public of the value of our work.''
Mr Kennett's chief concern is not that the Baillieu government isn't doing enough. On the contrary, he points out the government is, in fact, spending billions of dollars on infrastructure, while doing a good job managing the budget.
It is an inability to get on the front foot and promote the government's achievements. The problem relates both to Mr Baillieu personally and the performance of his senior advisers, who Mr Kennett says are reactive rather than proactive, fail to strategically plan and fail to provide sufficient time when announcing media events.
''The solution is to review your communication policy and practice,'' he said. ''That's something that the chief of staff [and] others will have to do. It's not a royal commission, it's just very simple. We are here to let the public know what we are doing and to inform them of how we are spending their money.''
The significance of such comments cannot be understated. Mr Kennett is widely respected within Liberal ranks. As such, his comments will be taken extremely seriously. That he is seen as a close ally (it was he who convinced Mr Baillieu to run for his seat of Hawthorn) who has staunchly defended his record in the past, adds all the more weight to his concerns.
Because of this, the candid public assessment will cause further angst within government ranks, following opinion polls showing Mr Baillieu trailing 45 per cent to 55 per cent in two party preferred terms.
Third - and perhaps most importantly - Mr Kennett's assessment is more or less correct. Self-evidently, there are systemic problems that Mr Baillieu seems unwilling or unable to address. Mr Baillieu, and the government he leads, is failing to connect with Victorians.
This was on display on Thursday. Asked to respond to Mr Kennett's comments, Mr Baillieu, who was in Kilmore, said his only message was that bushfires were dangerous, highlighting the death this week of two Department of Sustainability and Environment firefighters.
''I've only got that message for today,'' he said. ''That is the message for today.''