Victorian bells toll for Federal Liberals

On this morning’s Insiders, Federal Trade Minister Andrew Robb explained why Victorian Liberal colleagues loss in yesterday’s state election had nothing to do with the Federal Government. Victoria’s problem was not a new one, he said, the Liberals were down in the polls by the same “flatline difference” for at least three years. Robb was correct in his assessment but left himself open for an obvious retort, which Barrie Cassidy pounced on. Wasn’t this what was happening in Canberra now, Cassidy asked. A flummoxed Robb asked what did he mean. Cassidy repeated Robb’s point the Abbott Government were also flatlining in the polls. Robb said that was different, they still had two years to improve their position.

Robb was granting his government the gift of the future, not granted to the Victorian Government. The Abbott Government is hopeless adrift and compromised by the raft of promises and resolutions it made in opposition it could not possibly fill in government, especially as its right-wing credentials started to be felt when it took office.

There are warnings for Abbott in Denis Napthine’s defeat overnight not least that Australians will dismiss a first time government. It was the first time it happened in Victoria for 60 years but federally the electorate is volatile. Newly elected governments held on in their first elections in 1984, 1998 and 2010 but all were extremely tight and in all cases the incumbents had the preferred Prime Minister. This time round the Government is in freefall with an increasingly unpopular and hapless Prime Minister. Their management of the Senate independents is execrable and their few policy victories had to be shared with Clive Palmer. Tony Abbott’s area of strength was a strong leader in the wake of MH17 but he squandered that goodwill with his idiotic Putin shirtfront comment and then looked like a bumbling, irrelevant provincial fool at the G20 meeting.

The silly games he played to keep climate change off the agenda rebounded badly and he is unlikely to garner much credit even if they succeed in 2.1% world growth. The slogan “it’s the economy, stupid” is itself stupid and does not take into account confidence levels and perceptions of a shambolic leadership. Victoria’s economy was in good shape before this election as was Australia’s economy before the 2013 federal election. But Victoria was undone by the wrangling over Geoff Shaw and federal Labor was fatally debilitated by the Rudd/Gillard wars.

Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten has been castigated by the left as a ‘do nothing’ politician but he remains popular and could assist in the Victorian election campaign to help a similarly anodyne but effective leader Daniel Andrews. The Abbott brand was too toxic to be seen anywhere south of the Murray this month.

Abbott once famously called himself a weather vane. He must be aware heavy storms are coming especially as he charts a course for a second budget while still negotiating the tricky reefs of his first one. Treasurer Hockey has been a poor performer but the people will blame Abbott not him. As Insiders pointed out this morning, Abbott’s Prime Minister’s Office is becoming as notorious as Kevin Rudd’s for its obsessiveness with the message and its failure to deliver. Whether that is a problem with the office or the man is a moot point, but it is looking like a doomed Prime Ministership.

Abbott will face his reckoning at the next election, if he is lucky, or more likely stabbed in back by his own colleagues next December as panicked parliamentarians look to someone else to save their skins. It will be, as Andrew Robb inadvertently pointed out today, already too late. The Liberal goose was cooked in early in 2014 and will stay uneaten and poisonous on the table until Labor feasts on its entrails in 2016.

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