Premier of Victoria
Born in: Melbourne
Home Town: Melbourne
When The Power Index sat down with Melbourne's business, media and political elite to ask them how power works in the southern city, all shifted uneasily on the subject of Premier Ted Baillieu.
"We're different people, I wouldn't want to compare myself with Ted at all," said Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, before moving quickly on to other topics. Media buying guru Harold Mitchell nominated Doyle as the city's most powerful figure, commending the Premier only when prompted.
But the more common response was private resignation. Powerbrokers stayed polite while the tape was running but were far from respectful when they went off-the-record.
Take this on-the-record pronouncement, for example, from a leading business figure: "In any state, you start with the question of the Premier. I think both Steve Bracks and John Brumby did a good job and obviously Ted's clearly important and doing well."
Off-the-record it was a different proposition: "He's been slow. You need to decide what your agenda is and get on with it. He's a decent bloke, he's a good guy, but you're judged ultimately by what you do."
Has Baillieu in effect abdicated, leaving the state rudderless? Is there no appetite for a repeat of Jeff Kennett's brutal asset sell-offs or John Brumby's daily 'announceables'?
Under normal conditions, the Premier of Victoria should be the most powerful figure in Melbourne. He or she pulls significant levers that shape the city's economy and culture, despite the influences of the global market and Canberra.
Despite repeated messages left for press secretaries and advisers, all of The Power Index's requests for an interview with the Premier went unacknowledged. It's been a hallmark of his government to treat the media with contempt -- last month Baillieu announced 3,600 public sector cuts, but failed to front a doorstop for a week.
But others were less reticent. One senior Liberal powerbroker from an opposing faction said his party, and by extension the state, had become irreparably broken.
"He's just not respected by many people, he's not powerful in the business community, he doesn't have lots of allies and friends. He doesn't make any tough decisions ... I mean what power is he exercising? Not much. You know he says things like people should drink responsibly and drive responsibly. They're all soft, weak, nebulous issues and that's why we're not going anywhere."
But why is this so?
"For the very obvious reason that Ted isn't up to being Premier of Victoria. He's only up to being a junior minister. He's never had a policy idea in his life," claims the senior Liberal.
Baillieu bragged during the 2010 election campaign that he would bring his life experience as an architect -- his first job out of uni -- into the political realm. But a draughtsman's doodling is a long way from Friedman and von Mises.
"He's not an ideologue, he's not really interested in public policy. He sort of just starts from a blank sheet of paper and says 'well what do I do?'"
Indeed Baillieu never seems to have completely shed his patrician yoke, where bedrock wealth and summers at Portsea aren't necessarily conducive to creating a sense of urgency.
Insiders tell of Cabinet proposals sitting in limbo for months before being signed off with hours to spare. They talk of the party losing $5 million from donors while Baillieu failed to bed down fundraising guidelines that should have taken a week. And a leader that promised "no secrecy, no spin" is now so paranoid that even the simplest of FoI requests take months to process.
Former Federal Liberal Party bagman Ron Walker fervently defends the "frustrated" Baillieu, saying he is a victim of the state's balance sheet blues inflicted by Labor. The hulking state assets that gave Jeff Kennett a license to spend don't exist now.
"It's easy to borrow money and get things done and be applauded by the community," he explained, "but all that infrastructure that Kennett was paid for by selling assets and turning the states into an income powerhouse."
Political experts with longer memories agree, but for slightly different reasons. Monash University politics professor Nick Economou says that Baillieu is delivering the kind of cautious government Victorians prefer when the state is humming along without industrial strife or an economic crisis.
"Ted's an amiable sort of guy, with a very limited view of what has to be done...he gives the impression of doing things incrementally especially if it doesn't cost anything," Economou says.
In fact, it was the overwrought "action man" personas of John Brumby and Jeff Kennett that brought them undone -- Jeff should have got another term in 1999 and Brumby was never elected. Their bullishness chafed with the "very conservative" electorate.
Meanwhile, Baillieu, a gradualist leader in the mould of Rupert Hamer, is quietly bedding down modest reforms with little or no fanfare and leaving Melburnians free to live their lives.
One Baillieu cabinet loyalist told The Power Index that while Baillieu's power might be opaque, he's finally begun to "cut-through", setting up the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission and teaming with NSW to drive reform through "competitive federalism".
But the suggestion the Premier is now "finding his feet" doesn't really cut it. He was Liberal Party President for five years under Kennett, an MP for 12 years and has been Premier for 14 months. The cobwebs should have been well and truly flushed and Ted should have hit the ground running.
To abuse another metaphor, power politics -- even state power politics -- abhors a vacuum. And after 14 months of glacial progress there's now increasing talk of "trouble in paradise" inside the Coalition. Renegade Liberals think Nationals "co-premier" Peter Ryan hung Bill Tilley out to dry during the Simon Overland debacle while the Nats -- who hold the balance of power in both houses -- have quietly chalked up wins on guns, alpine grazing and forestry.
A succession of challengers-in-waiting have begun to emerge, led by energy and gaming minister Michael O'Brien, planning minister Matthew Guy (the most devastated man on election night as he saw his immediate leadership and lower house dreams nixed) and more recently, hard-edged Attorney-General Robert Clark.
Like Barry O'Farrell in New South Wales (who was also relegated by The Power Index to second place in our Sydney list due to a lack of action), Ted Baillieu could easily become a "oncer" -- the first since David Tonkin's disastrous effort in South Australia in 1982.
That proposition will be tested when the next Newspoll is released. Last August, state Labor's primary vote crashed to a two-decade low of 28%. But by December, it had rebounded to 34% and the party was within striking distance of seizing power on a two-party preferred basis, despite Daniel Andrews' almost total lack of brand recognition.
One year in during a normal cycle, new state governments should be commanding a massive lead. But for Baillieu, unbalanced and under pressure from his internal enemies and a more confident ALP, it's hard to not to think of that infamous phrase used by Paul Keating to describe another prominent Victorian liberal: all tip and no iceberg.