As Crikey’s editorial pointed out, March 6th, 2013 was already a significant day in State politics across Australia.
Only three days out from election, what looked like a smooth victory for Western Australian incumbent Premier Colin Barnett, a relatively liberal Liberal, is facing rumours of ill-health, sparking concerns that once-disgraced Minister Troy Buswell may step into his role – this may be the fastest return from political purgatory since Pacific-solution creator Alexander Downer‘s recovery.
In the Northern Territory, Chief Minister Terry Mills (the Territorial equivalent of Premier) faces a leadership challenge only seven months into his term, following the resignation of deputy Robyn Lambley.
Things weren’t looking too healthy in the other states, either – with only 9% of the State’s seats, Queensland Labor has such a tiny hold they don’t legally qualify as an opposition Party; the deeply unpopular NSW LNP Premier, Barry O’Farrell, need do nothing to look good in comparison with ever-deepening conspiracy and corruption charges against members of the former ALP government, extending to former Premier Iemma; and progressive Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings is losing popularity almost as fast as her State’s economy‘s dropping.
But the biggest drama was reserved for Victoria. The day started sensationally enough, with Geelong State MP Geoff Shaw resigning from the Liberal Party and declaring he’ll act as an Independent in future. This was a particularly stunning move, as the Liberal-National Coalition had held Victoria by a one-seat majority.
Mr Shaw’s seat had been under scrutiny for some time, following revelations of financial impropriety, primarily charges regarding his ministerial vehicle being used to carry out private, paid work but including allegations of undeclared fund-raising and (that perennial favourite) comparisons of same-sex attraction with pedophilia.
As regular readers of this blog will know, the Baillieu government was already under pressure from a combination of rolling industrial unrest (beginning with the record-breakingly long nurses and midwives EBA negotiations, and currently in dispute with teachers, fire fighters, paramedics and 000 operators, among others), perceptions of governmental inactivity, and the wholesale dismantling of Victoria’s vocational education sector.
Adding fresh pressure is the still unfolding corruption crisis, involving Baillieu chief of staff Tony Nutt, former government adviser Tristan Weston, and the controversial split between Victoria’s highest police officers, Simon Overland and Sir Ken Jones – you can listen to the tapes on the Herald-Sun’s site.
Then, just before 7PM, Twitter exploded with news that Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu was poised to resign. Despite a breathtakingly disappointing performance by the ABC – News 24 ran a banner from mid-broadcast, but after opening story coverage Victorian news didn’t mention anything until 7:28 – the news was out shortly thereafter: an understandably emotional Ted Baillieu had stepped down, “in the best interests of the Party.”
Mr Baillieu has been succeeded by Denis Napthine, who was Liberal Opposition Leader until being overthrown in 2002. Former vet Dr Napthine has a significant tak ahead of him – pulling together a fragmented party while confronting not only the outstanding union disputes but also the expectations of a public looking for change. And, in the longest announced lead up to a Federal election in Australia’s history, I imagine Federal LNP attention is focused on minimising State-generated distractions.
The days, weeks and months ahead promise to be very interesting.