In 2013, NSW Labor’s stench will eclipse Baillieu’s sloth
Voters are a smart lot and can readily distinguish between state and federal issues come polling time. But there are significant issues at play in Australia’s two most populous states, NSW and Victoria, which go to the perception of the major parties and their fitness to govern.
As things currently stand the 2013 election result could come down to this question – can the ALP’s widely anticipated drubbing in NSW, where the ALP brand has been trashed, be offset by gains in Victoria, where the Baillieu Government is seen as a massive disappointment and where voters are already indicating a willingness to trust Labor again?
The easiest job in advertising right now would be to devise the negative campaign against Labor in NSW. This most degenerate of branches has itself provided such a rich vein of material.
The recent ICAC hearing into Labor Right Faction powerbroker Eddie Obeid and his cohorts, with allegations of multi-million dollar insider deals on mining projects, would make a beautiful backdrop to an advertisement smashing Labor as the party which put power ahead of principle.
As one NSW Labor figure told me, all you would need to do is run a reel of slow-motion footage of all the MPs who have been mired in scandal, set to the tune of Barbara Streisand’s Memories, to remind the voters how poorly served they were by this most woeful branch of the party. They need only the gentlest reminder.
This is the place where Labor couldn’t muster enough volunteers to man its polling booths at last year’s state election because even the most rusted-on members of the party faithful were understandably too embarrassed to associate themselves with such a shamefully discredited outfit.
NSW was of course the training ground for the factionally-mandated leadership merry-go-round which saw the state have no less than three premiers in just over a year. Those same tactics were employed to knock off Kevin Rudd for Julia Gillard, blithely ignorant of the fact that voters regard this type of conduct as a conceit, and an offence to democracy.
There is a raft of Labor MPs in western Sydney who are almost afraid to admit to the voters that they have any involvement at all with the party which is seen as toxic in their home state. Add to this the equation the marginal NSW Central Coast seat of Dobell, technically a Labor seat but currently held by the now-independent MP Craig Thomson, and Labor’s woes will leave town and extend into regional NSW.
Head down the Hume and the situation is very different in Victoria, where Labor believes it will not only hold its current swag of federal seats but even pick up a few from marginal Liberal MPs. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the Labor brand was never damaged the way it was in NSW by the state party.
Steve Bracks was always well-regarded. His exit from politics was viewed as a valid personal decision, whereas in NSW the earlier departure of Bob Carr has been seen with increasing scepticism by voters who think Carr snuck out of politics before the whole joint came crashing down around his ears.
Bracks’s successor John Brumby was never hated by the voters in Victoria. Overall the Victorian branch did not go in for the same level of factional aggro that NSW did, where the premiership was treated like the personal plaything of the faceless men, and there were also none of the often squalid ministerial scandals which marred the NSW Government.
While the Labor brand was never in really bad shape in Victoria, as evidenced by Brumby’s narrow defeat, the Liberal brand in Victoria is arguably in worse nick after the victory of Ted Baillieu than it was before. Baillieu is in quite an odd position as a conservative in that the people who seem angriest over his very sluggish performance as premier are often conservatives themselves.
The recent run of Newspolls pointing to a major drift in the Liberal vote in Victoria has been seized on by traditional conservative voters and business types as proof that if you do nothing in politics the voters will tear you down. There are plenty of conservatives who believe the best hope for the Victorian Libs is to knock off this do-nothing premier and replace him with someone who has got a bit of spark. There is a completely understandable sense that Baillieu’s definition of governing is to sit there doing nothing in the belief that doing something might get you into trouble.
The extent of the voter antipathy towards the Baillieu Government was underscored by last week’s exclusive Herald Sun poll finding that just 35 per cent of voters think Victoria is heading in the right direction, while 48 per cent think it is heading in the wrong direction.
More damning was the finding that just 23 per cent of voters rate the Government’s performance as good, while 36 per cent say it is poor and 39 per cent think it is average. Even Mr Baillieu’s political ally, former Liberal premier Jeff Kennett, could only muster a B+ in his report card on the current Government, in a column which set a new standard in damning someone with faint praise.
It was long assumed that it would be Queensland which would slay federal Labor but the signs are increasingly pointing to a status quo result up north. One of the things which has helped Labor get off the mat in Kevin Rudd’s homestate is the wobbly start by Campbell Newman, who lost three MPs to defections last month, and whose budget cuts and somewhat abrasive political style have quickly put him off side with many swinging voters.
If Queensland does play a less influential role in the overall result, the fate of the next election will come down to the question outlined above. It’s a question which will still favour the conservatives, as having spent most of the past decade and half living in Sydney, I would strongly argue that the wholly valid ill-feeling towards the ALP in NSW far outweighs any sense of renewed affection which Victorian voters have for the Labor brand.
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