Despite a raging temperature and hacking cough, there should have been enough operational grey matter between my jet-lagged ears to make a mark against the Liberal candidates hoping to end Daniel Andrews’ reign. Alas, that proved more than difficult. There were questions, starting with the biggest: Vote for what, exactly? Damned if I could say. Spinelessness? Stupidity? Cowardice? Tactical ineptitude? Organisational impotence? A party of lemmings led by a human weather vane pointing always towards the nearest cliff? Here, in Matthew Guy, was a man of such negligible principle that he cut and ran from candidates at the slightest criticism, even when levelled by the likes of ABC and Age editorialists — the sort of people, in other words, who will never vote for a conservative, not even a faux conservative, not in a pink fit.
So there I stood at democracy’s cardboard booth, pencil poised above the name of the Liberal candidate for the seat of Williamstown, where the most recent redistribution has re-assigned me, but yet unable to press the pencil and inscribe the how-to-vote’s requested ‘1’.
Six hours earlier, I’d landed at Tullamarine after a 36-hour hell flight via Manila from New York’s sub-zero chill, a journey that began with a bit of a headache and drippy nose and ended in Melbourne with 100-plus degree fever. Common sense prescribed Theraflu, lemon tea with honey and the comfort of clean sheets, but the chance to vote in Victoria comes only once every four years and by 2026 what might be left of this state to save? Other than wheezy self-pity, that thought had been foremost all the way across the Pacific. Andrews & Co had to go, and weak reed that he was and always has been, Opposition Leader Guy seemed, however dubious, the only potential and available remedy.
On the plane it had been a drawn-out grapple with my conscience. Months earlier, when Guy booted upper house right-winger Bernie Finn from the party for his anti-abortion views, I’d vowed he would never get my vote. It wasn’t that abortion is a make-or-break issue with me, but the lack of political nous that underwrote the expulsion certainly was and remains an issue, a very big issue indeed. Over the past 20 years, the polls have been consistent in reporting some 30 per cent oppose abortion across the board, with only single-digit support from both men and women for terminating pregnancies up to the moment of birth, as is permitted in Victoria. Voters with such reservations would once have found a home in the Liberal fold, but no longer. Just who did Matthew Guy see in his mind’s eye as the voters who would install him in the Premier’s Office? Not those being told in effect that they were embarrassments, low sorts whose votes it would be beneath the Victorian Liberals dignity to accept, let alone solicit. Could an opposition leader responsible for such a tactical blunder really have the stuff to set the state right in regard to so many other pressing matters?
There is a heck of a lot that needs fixing in the Garden State, a multitude of abuses at the hands of Labor, whose eight years in office have seen an escalating sequence of outrages that reached their sorry peak (at least for now) in the Andrews government’s response to COVID. Rubber bullets, a praetorian police force encouraged to indulge its inner thug and belt the daylights out of the Premier’s critics. On Altona Beach, at the end of my street, I had watched a posse of cops brutalise a heavily pregnant woman whose ‘crime’ was to have roamed further on a sunny day than the permitted five kilometres from her front gate. It was a sickening spectacle etched stark in memory by the cry of a fellow onlooker. “Look, blood on the sand!” he said as the cops tugged, bundled and dragged the wailing mum-to-be towards a divvie van.
WE ENDURED all that and worse through the world’s longest sequence of lockdowns, and for what gain? Businesses ruined, lives stuffed, traditional liberties curtailed in what common sense should have recognised from the start as a doomed bid to achieve the fabled ‘COVID zero’ the Premier assured us was doable if, and only if, we did exactly as bid. The virus, that spiked lump of DNA and protein, proved smarter than Andrews’ stable of favoured ‘experts’ and celebrity epidemiologists who claimed the ability to lock it out. As we know, the Wuhan bat virus bided its time on the front step and waited for the door’s inevitable reopening.
Before that, well, there was the pursuit and framing of George Pell, the Red Shirts rorting, the billions of squandered dollars on unbuilt freeways and the behind-schedule West-East tunnel. Rail links head nowhere but into pools of deepening red ink as the Premier’s union mates dance jigs of delight while the state’s debt soars to match the total of that accumulated by Queensland, NSW, Tasmania and South Australia combined.
All this and worse, you might think, would present an opposition leader with what a military man might describe as a target-rich environment. Yet, once again, Matthew Guy and his party were the problem.
How could he address the lockdowns’ madness after pointedly instructing his parliamentary underlings not to speak at or even attend any of the Freedom rallies? How could he speak for those losing their jobs for refusing to get the jab when he led his party in voting with Labor to ban from the parliament any and all elected members who declined to disclose their vaccination status? How could he call for the badly needed and long overdue mucking out of VicPol’s reeking stable when he uttered not a word of rebuke for the bashings, the rubber-bullet barrages, the arrests and incarcerations? How could he demand better appointments to the bench when the stream of Labor hacks installed from magistrate courts to the Supreme Court went uncriticised, including the duo who rejected George Pell’s appeal on grounds the High Court would unanimously dismiss as gross judicial errors.
From Matthew Guy, not a peep about any and all of the above. And when he did seize the initiative, more train wrecks. Take renewable energy, for example, which the Liberals have pledged to see account for a full 50 per cent of the state’s energy budget — a target even higher than Labor’s.
In the end I couldn’t bring myself to do it, give that first preference to the Liberal upper- and lower-house tickets. They did nothing during the COVID panicdemic except make things worse They didn’t deserve my vote and, on current form, never will again. I stuffed my ballots in their boxes, went home to bed and slept through the TV coverage of a preordained result.
FORMER Premier Ted Baillieu, who knows a thing or two about political failure, is being quoted in post-election wraps as saying it will be at least eight years, and possibly twelve, before his Liberals can harbour any realistic hope of regaining power.
Well, yes, his species of Liberals. But what if, instead of the usual go-along types, the Liberals found themselves a leader pledged to repudiate the party’s wan commitment to core principles? A week is a long time in politics, as they say, and four years an eternity. Who can predict what might emerge if, you know, the party actually stood for something?