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Cautious Baillieu misses a golden chance for a landslide victory

Labor’s deeply flawed government was ripe for a ballot box trashing

by Des Moore


December 1, 2010

The Coalition has achieved in the Victorian election a substantial swing of more than 6 per cent against Labor that has translated into a slight majority of seats. Striking features of the election were the failure of the Greens to secure a seat and the strong majorities achieved by the National Party in the 10 (one new) out of the 88 seats it won. Ted Baillieu benefited from the increasingly poor example set by Victorian Laborís counterparts in NSW and Queensland, whose reign shows that a longer period in office does not produce results. The increasing problems with federal Labor policies, such as on asylum seekers, also would have helped.

Baillieu, naturally, has welcomed the swing as supporting his thesis that, after11 years of Labor, it was time for a change. Labor is now using this as the main reason it lost.

But the Coalition failed to make the differentiation that could have ensured a potentially major victory and further exposed the problems under Labor.

To a considerable extent the rhetoric of the election campaign debate was confined to minor differences in the detail promulgated by the other side, or claims of errors therein. Some such claims by the Coalition were well justified and contributed to the swing.

For example, as opposition spokesman for police and emergency Services, Nationalís leader Peter Ryan responded to widespread calls for tougher policing and sentencing policies in circumstances where measured crime has not increased but violent behaviour has. But the Coalition missed identifying errors in the governmentís claims that its economic policies had allowed Victoria to successfully avoid the global financial crisis. In fact, real GDP per head in Victoria fell in each of the last two years and has increased only 2 per cent since 2005-06.

Most importantly, the Coalition failed to present itself as having the main aim of lifting the relative role of the private sector in the state, and demanding the public sector to subject itself to increased competitive forces. Under Baillieuís leadership there was a consistent and puzzling refusal to make use of the enormous advantages that the Kennett government reforms gave Victoria. The Baillieu fear of being caste as a Kennett-ite was exploited by Labor by continued attempts to associate him with (inter alia) the sale of schools under Kennett. He should correct his major error in failing to applaud the reforms under Kennett and shuffle his Cabinet to include more younger members prepared to take risks.

Equally, there would be an opportunity to widen the basis of education and health policies in various ways. These could include not only establishing a more competitive framework within the public sector but encouraging the growth of private schools and hospitals that already play an increasing role in the provision of these vital services and reduce the demands on taxpayers.

Baillieu has also shown a risk-averseness in regard to climate change policies. Laborís absurd water policies of refusing to build more dams, of constructing the north-south pipeline and of building a desalination plant - based on false advice by CSIRO that there is a long term downward trend in rainfall and opposition to dams by greenies - were open to more serious questioning. Brumbyís policies of shutting part of Hazelwood (but not explaining from where the lost electricity would come), and of claiming credit for a policy to obtain 20 per cent of energy from renewables that would undermine Victoriaís competitiveness , were also open to much greater criticism.

Any Baillieu government should be immediately announce the construction of a major new dam, an inquiry into climate change strategy in current circumstances of polling overseas showing majority belief that warming reflects natural causes, and a full scale inquiry into the arrangements accepted by the Brumby government for the construction of the desalination plant. The latter involves compulsory unionism, and wages and conditions for employees that are well out of line with market rates, at the expense of the taxpayers.

This election it signals the opportunity for state liberal and national party coalitions to advocate and implement policies directed at improving the efficiency of government services and challenging the basis on which Labor pursues a number of those policies.

Des Moore is director of the Institute for Private Enterprise. As a former deputy secretary of Treasury his responsibilities included federal-state relations.

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