7 June 2011
Make no mistake, the government is in strife. It no longer controls the direction of the biggest scandal in Victoria. But how the government deals with the situation engulfing Victoria Police will give Victorians a clear understanding of whether this is a good government, or whether those disaffected Liberals out there were right all along - is Baillieu the accidental Premier? Much has been written about the Overland/Jones side of the story, it's a massive issue that until we find out exactly what happened, I don't want to potentially embarrass myself by "guessing" what is going on. I know what you know.
But Victorians are still getting used to Premier Baillieu. For now, the Baillieu bicycle remains on training wheels. Tony Blair faced his first crisis just days after taking office in 1997. The September 11 attacks early in the Presidency of George W Bush changed the direction of his government and his legacy forever.
Premier Baillieu is a decent man, and while he presides over a government that has some serious flaws and factions (more so than usual), he nevertheless decided to stick with Simon Overland. But Sunday changed everything. As soon as we learnt about a secret meeting between Sir Ken Jones and the Premier's right hand man, Chief of Staff Michael Kapel, the story suddenly shifted away from Overland and on to the government.
The Premier's office was caught on the back foot. Spin doctors generally try to stay out of the news. You might occasionally see them standing sternly behind their leaders at media conferences. They always stand out from the crowd of journalists. Well this week, Michael Kapel finds himself standing out from the pack, and the Premier has to decide how to handle him. There is no law against the Chief of Staff meeting with Sir Ken Jones, however snubbed the Police Minister must now feel. But Kapel has been hounded this week, and no matter which news editor I chat to, or Liberal source I receive emails from, there's no denying that Kapel is very well known - let me put it that way. But that doesn't mean he can't do his job.
If it isn't the Premier's Chief of Staff who meets with a potential candidate to take over as Chief Commissioner, then who should? The obvious choice is the Police Minister, and the fact that he didn't perhaps reflects what has become a division within the Coalition. Peter Ryan is a man of his word, and if he's going to be remembered as the minister who sacked the CCP, he wants to make sure he has good reason. But behind the scenes, someone needs to do the dirty work. That's usually the COS. The fact that Peter Ryan's most senior advisor, Tristan Weston, is a close ally of Sir Ken may be important in respect to the OPI's investigation, but not in terms of Peter Ryan's support for Sir Ken.
As Mr Ryan said to Neil Mitchell on Monday when asked if Sir Ken could ever return to work for the government, the response: "He wouldn't want to work as the secretary in my office". It was candid, and it was probably true.
Governments have always reminded me of newsrooms. While the politicians try to appeal to as many people as say, tv news readers, it's the people behind the scenes who get things done.
But the Premier is the front person and the buck stops with him. And Ted Baillieu has some big decision to make. Does he give in to the factions and cut Michael Kapel loose? And what should he do now with Simon Overland, especially since the Rush review into Police command has been delayed until November. That's a huge shadow cast upon the state's Police Commissioner at a time when local police are flashing their lights at speed camera sites.
Overland may have a reprieve for now, but he's not going to work as the secretary for the Police Minister either. Simon Overland possibly over-reacted by asking the OPI to investigate Sir Ken allegedly leaking information about Carl Williams' murder to The Age, and the leak of the dodgy crime stats to 3AW. But like it or not, the office of Chief Commissioner is a political one, especially in a time when law and order is a big issue. It was under Kerner, it was under Kennett, Bracks and then Brumby. Governments like to be surrounded by friends.
Simon Overland and Michael Kapel have a lot in common. The Premier employs both. Ted Baillieu, it's time to act.
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