2 December 2010
Wow that was close. Last week I was receiving phone calls from senior Liberals and we were discussing potential replacements for the Liberal leadership. A week later, and we're talking the same about the ALP. Even last Friday morning, the day before the election, the Liberals thought they were close, but with preferencing and the fact that the ALP in Victoria hadn't done "that bad a job", they were considering whether they would hang on for another four years.
And then the public spoke. On Friday night we were set up at Parliament House doing live crosses into our National News bulletins, when a huge storm front moved over Melbourne. It was humid, and we were receiving reports that cars were floating down the street in the western suburbs. The winds of change had finally arrived for the Coalition. Through a fluke, we managed to secure the final interviews of both Ted Baillieu and John Brumby. Mr Brumby said he thought it would be close, but wouldn't say exactly how close. But Labor was doomed. I could tell after our interview that he was feeling nervous. His face said it all really - a look of determination mixed with pessimism. A few blocks away at 1 Treasury, the shredding had begun.
The rest is history. But how will history remember the 11 years of the ALP? It started off well, after we all got over the initial shock of Jeff Kennett's defeat. Labor had its problems in its early years. Steve Bracks was described as a do nothing Premier, even if he was a really good guy. But Victoria had tired of Jeff.com. We were tired of his predictions, like the front page of the Herald Sun in 1997 saying "I'll be here beyond 2000". No you won't mate. But Jeff set Victoria off on a course of rapid growth. He was the right man for the right time, as was Steve Bracks.
The trouble is, Victoria grew so quickly that our services couldn't keep up. The trains became strained, and there was no money for the massive capital works projects that needed to take place. Unfortunately for Victorian Labor, they were still hurting from the last time they were in power, and their obsession with a guaranteed $300 million surplus each year meant they were afraid to go into the red to pay for projects that needed to be done. Tainted by the Cain, Kurner years, Bracks and his treasurer Brumby were more concerned by the numbers, than the word on the street. And eventually the word on the street grew louder.
The public didn't accidentally vote out Jeff Kennett. And similarly, they didn't accidentally vote out John Brumby. People were just tired. A change is as good as a holiday.
So Labor now regroups and rebuilds. Some senior faces will disappear over the next few years, battle weary and wondering why they should go on. But they don't need "renewal" the way the Liberals did after 1999. They have a lot of new talent. Daniel Andrews will be interesting and perhaps underestimated. But Jacinta Allen would make a good opposition leader. She has the right mixture of politics and humanity.
But nothing is forever, and while the soul searching has begun in West Melbourne, the ALP must be careful not to over-compensate in the careful balancing act of life after government. Being forced to lose their spin doctors will be helpful. Being forced to react to a problem without making a television commercial will be very helpful. But they won't want to go too far.
As U2 reminded us all at Etihad Stadium: it's just a moment, this time will pass.
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