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Baillieu close to victory

Ted Baillieu is close to claiming victory in the Victorian elections.

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The Victorian government may have been a bit long in the tooth but it was still doing a decent job. The belting it received on Saturday, therefore, augurs poorly for the indecently performing NSW and Queensland Labor governments which, surely, now need a miracle to avoid wipe-outs.

NSW goes to the polls in March. Queensland is due to vote a year later. By the time Julia Gillard's federal government next faces the electorate, there is a strong chance the entire east coast will be Liberal. Having the toxic Labor administrations out of the way should help Gillard, just as their presence hampered her in August.

Having the toxic Labor administrations out of the way should help Gillard, just as their presence hampered her in August. 

The other significant change between now and the next election that should benefit federal Labor will be the Senate.

Last week's Senate vote to structurally separate Telstra to facilitate the broadband network was one of the few occasions the present Senate passed a bill of significance when the Coalition decided to oppose it.

You really have to rack your brain to remember occasions when the disparate trio of Nick Xenophon, Steve Fielding and the Greens were on the same page. The $42 billion stimulus package was one occasion, the changes to the luxury car tax another.

Effectively, the Coalition continued to control the Senate after losing government and made life very difficult for Labor.

Governments ultimately are judged on what they deliver, or fail to deliver, and the Rudd government was judged harshly on the latter. It was most condemned for not delivering the emissions trading scheme, despite it being twice blocked by the Senate and deferred a third time.

Labor is still ribbed for failing to deliver Fuelwatch but it is rarely mentioned that the Senate killed that too.

Gillard has reverted to the approach of John Howard: intervene when an impasse is reached and negotiate a settlement, as she did last week on the Telstra bill.

Nonetheless, the onset of the new Greens-controlled Senate on July 1 next year provides a valuable opportunity for Gillard to haul Labor back into contention.

She is acutely aware her government needs to have ''landed'' policies by this time next year and has nominated the mining tax and climate change as priorities.

The miners are still trying to stop the mining tax mark II. The big three miners that torpedoed the tax before the election are digging in on the issue of compensation for royalty payments.

They should bear in mind that the Greens have no problem taxing miners and Gillard is not going to let the industry tear down the government as it almost did last time. If they do not bargain, she could crush them.

It is little wonder the government has backloaded the parliamentary sitting schedule for the second half of next year. The Coalition was crying foul over the 2011 calendar last week. They should look at the 2005 schedule, the year John Howard's government took control of the Senate.

In the six months before July 1, 2005, the Senate sat for six weeks. After July 1, when the Coalition took control, it sat for nine. Next year, the Senate will sit for seven weeks before July 1 and eight afterwards, with an extra week pencilled in if needed.

Labor has been behaving of late as if it was back in opposition, most notably by resorting to its habit of public navel-gazing.

Climare Change Minister Greg Combet spoke recently about re-embracing equity, social justice and compassion to take votes back from the left. Treasurer Wayne Swan said salvation lay not in pandering to the ''fringe issues of the far left'' but in delivering prosperity and opportunity.

On Friday night, Maxine McKew, defeated in Bennelong at the last election, said Labor was punished because it lacked courage and creativity, and ''there was too great a gap between promises and delivery''.

''We were a government obsessed with messages, with talking points and PowerPoints,'' she said.

Gillard used a speech in Adelaide to acknowledge the impatience with her government. Last week she gave caucus and the ministry a PowerPoint presentation to remind them what Labor stood for.

It may be Rudd's agenda Gillard has inherited but it presents more than enough of a challenge for the government to implement without adding to it further. Gillard's aim is to close the gap between promise and delivery, and the new Senate will be central to that.

Combined with a balanced budget by 2012-13, an ongoing negative opposition, and vanquished Labor premiers, federal Labor should be in good shape come the next election.

Well, that's the plan, anyway.