Nice guys of Victorian politics finish last


Geoff Shaw headshotGeoff Shaw is currently the most powerful man in Victorian politics. When he triggered Victoria's political crisis last week by resigning from the Liberal party because he 'no longer had confidence in Ted Baillieu', the Coalition Government lost its majority — if Labor wins its Lyndhurst by-election next month, each will have 43 seats. Shaw will hold the balance of power.

And who is this man? A maverick who gave his Premier two days to 'explain himself', after Baillieu referred his chief of staff's apparent role in a plot to oust the then police commissioner for investigation by Victoria's peculiarly stunted, brand-new, already compromised and quasi-anti-corruption body, the IBAC.

Shaw himself is under investigation for misuse of his parliamentary Ford Territory for deliveries from Albury to South Australia for his private business. The first inquiry by the Ombudsman found that he had done so, and recommended a parliamentary inquiry. There is now both an OPI investigation and a Parliamentary Privileges Committee investigating the matter.

Shaw is one of those big men in a small town who flourish at community cocktail events with a 'what you see is what you get' manner; a man who joined the Liberal Party only in 2009 and, after 22 years as a local accountant, charmed his way into pre-selection for Frankston (a working-class, low-cost housing former coastal resort to the South-East of the CBD) and whose win helped the Baillieu Government, unreadily, into power.

He is the new MP who deliberately tipped a bucket over the expectation that he would give the now-traditional 'welcome to country', prefacing his maiden speech by 'acknowledging the original owner of the land on which we stand', as 'the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Bible'.

He is also a man who put up a billboard on the main road begging his estranged wife to forgive him (for what?) in the terms of Psalm 42 ('As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you'); who publicly equated homosexuals with dangerous drivers and other 'murderers': and who, when invited into the Premier's sanctum for a quiet talk about his propensity for causing instability, apparently lectured his leader about the morality of his voting in favour of the 2008 Brumby government's reform of Victoria's abortion laws.

These laws, and his discontent with the reduced superannuation entitlements of relatively new MPs in the Victorian government, are issues he has publicly laid about as critical to his support, in the newly installed realm of government under Denis Napthine. Napthine, incidentally, voted thrice against abortion law reform.

Ted Baillieu was a modern Liberal whose close friendship with former premier Jeff Kennett sat uneasily with his presentation as a Hamer-style Liberal of the 1970s: a patrician, sensitive, humane and rather likeable personality with all the media skills of a teddy bear.

Under his leadership, in just two years, Victoria saw an enormous chasm between his pre-election promises ('the best paid teachers in Australia'; 'open and accountable government') and reality.

His regime destroyed the hopes of Victorian students for options for training other than academic studies by slashing billions from TAFE funding; removed the autonomy of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission; and saw to the removal of the ALP-installed police commissioner in a murky series of manoeuvres that came back to haunt him on 7 March (not quite the Ides) as the assassins' knives went in.

Baillieu has been criticised for leading a 'do-nothing' government, but with a record such as this, it clearly wasn't so. It is true that 'senior business leaders' said they were confounded by his failure to work closely with them, but that was a matter of perception — as is the torrent of claims that he 'couldn't deal with the media'; as if persuading a journalist was his business.

Perhaps the avalanches of opinion rather than exploratory reporting of reliable, tested facts were a factor in his downfall. The people didn't know him. The ones who did, liked him. The ones he led, didn't follow him.

Baillieu presents as a renaissance man, interested in all things and resistant to spin, even if it damaged his political fortunes: a man with a touch of 'born to rule' about him, with some reluctance to be seen to enjoy what power he has. It was this vulnerability that brought Denis Napthine down, himself, as a former leader of the opposition. Nice men, in politics, don't last.

All parties have factions. Baillieu didn't control his nor did they control him. The ALP's factions have a life of their own, but began to skewer themselves as well as their leaders, since Rudd was bowled out and Gillard in. Unless that nice Dr Napthine has, after being tapped on the shoulder by equally nice Mr Baillieu, got a mind and a bat of his own, he will be run out in his turn, in the months to come.

I'm not sure that fixed term elections are a good thing, in the circumstances, for democracy. There will be crises, and rumours of crises, ahead. The times are a-changing. I wonder what Victorian children will think of them. 

Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer. 

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, Victoria Government, Liberal Party, Ted Ballieu, Dennis Napthine, Geoff Shaw



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Existing comments

The expression ‘nice guys finish last’ is odious and unwelcome in a journal like Eureka Street. The impression from last week’s events in Melbourne is that nice guys finish second, which is a fair distance from last. ‘Nice guys finish last’ reinforces for young people the idea that being a courteous and civil person is not worth the effort and you have to be an ugly opportunist with no morals in order to succeed in this world. It is not surprising that they therefore avoid getting involved in the public sphere, have no developed sense of community commitment, and will choose to live selfish and isolated lives, because that seems to be the norm in our society. The perception that all politics is corrupt, that no good can come from it, is wearing away our sense of national purpose. Of course, the Gospel teaches that it is the last are actually the ones who get it. The Gospel is deeply countercultural in that way, ask anyone who has to deal with real evil.

Thanks for this. Those of us outside Victoria find it difficult to follow Vic politics. It seemed to me that Simon Overland was a good man; who or whatever was responsible for his troubles deserves to be condemned. To an outsider, there seems to be a similarity between Shaw and Obeid. One last point. Moira raises a crucial issue when she says that instead of reporting on politics in Victoria, the media are writing opinion: precisely what is happening to Julia Gillard.
Frank | 13 March 2013

Ah, but Geoff is a Christian, with a good solid Catholic education, albeit now a 'happy-clappy' type. He was pre-selected by the Liberal Party and will no doubt be taken back into the fold to shore up the coalition's shaky majority. It remains to be seen what price he is able to extract from the government for his on-going support and whether, by the next election, all will be forgiven and he will again be endorsed.
Ginger Meggs | 13 March 2013

There is no doubt Ted Baillieu is an extremely nice guy. Sadly, some of his political initiatives, such as cutting educational funding, were not nice. Technical (as against TAFE) education needs to be boosted as a genuine alternative to university. Perhaps that will involve reducing some (sometimes loosely accountable) university funds. I say this as a Melbourne University Arts graduate, I am no anti-intellectual, but I think many current offerings in the humanities/social sciences today are both frivolous and watered down. We don't necessarily want to go down the road of the USA where just about anyone can get a college degree. It is enormously expensive and wasteful. Perhaps, in the next election, Geoff Shaw might do the decent thing and lose his seat. Hopefully Dennis Napthine will direct GS in the appropriate direction. I think politics without "big" personalities is a delightful change. We need more of it. After Gillard and Rudd who we don't need any more bps.
Edward F | 13 March 2013

Ted's unravelling was due, in the main, to his unwillingness to kowtow to the Murdoch media which has traditionally claimed the right to set the political agenda in this State (if not the counrty). Witness the full page article in the HUN last year by Andrew Bolt in which he decried the fact that Ted never communicated with him (Andrew) on exactly how Ted should govern the State. If ever a media proprietor sent out a message to an elected leader that he was not happy, it was in Bolt's diatribe. The American Citizen's mouthpiece wanted someone who promoted their views on running Victoria. Someone like Bolte or Kennett who sat down weekly with them to determine the issues of the week and worked hand-in-glove to bring them to fruition. Ted had to go!!!!
Kenneth Penaluna | 13 March 2013

The "nice guy" took $100,000 from the local community services in my area!
folkie | 14 March 2013


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