The first extract from an as yet unpublished book by Kevin Balshaw, a senior staffer in Jeff Kennett’s office during the term of his government 1992-97, which sets out to examine not only the Kennett years but the changing dynamics of Australian politics.*

The final outcome of the 1999 Victorian election began to solidify on Wednesday, October 13, as it became clear the three Independents weren’t as free ranging as they attempted to depict. More and more strident criticism of the Government began to play in the media. They used radio for all it was worth, and the introspective, transient nature of radio played it for all it was worth.

After the counting of all seats except Frankston East, the Government held 43 seats, Labor 41 and Independents three. The wait for the Frankston East supplementary election was a farce, despite its significance to the final outcome. For one, it attracted 16 candidates, nine of whom polled less than 100 votes each, and the Liberals were never going to swing enough preferences to get near the finish line.

As emphasised in a Parliamentary Library research paper, the Frankston East supplementary election assumed great importance. “If the seat was retained by the Liberal Party, the Government would have half the lower house numbers, and would need only the support of one of the independents to control the Assembly. Craig Ingram seemed the least hostile to Premier Kennett. If Labor could win the seat, it would then be in a position of being able to govern with the support of the three independents, but a loss by Labor would have meant that it could not form a government that had any realistic chance of survival. In addition, the supplementary election was likely to be seen as an opinion poll upon the standing of the Government and might therefore play a part in influencing the independents when considering their future actions in the Parliament. During the election, they had, in fact, made it clear that the result in the supplementary election would do just that.”

Post-election, however, the Independents were of a different mind. Despite the display of setting out a charter of government that they submitted to Kennett and Bracks, their minds were made up. Two of them Susan Davies (Gippsland West, the seat vacated by former Transport Minister Alan Brown) and Russell Savage (Mildura, a seat he had taken in 1996 from Liberal member, Craig Bildstein, with covert support from discontented National Party people and the League of Rights) signed up with Labor by the 13th. The East Gippslander, Craig Ingram, wet behind the ears from the remaining flow in the Snowy River his single policy bandwagon to restore the Snowy signed up 2 pm Friday the 15th, as Labor MP Theo Theophanous told the Education Minister in waiting, Phil Honeywood, at a multicultural function on the following night as the Frankston votes were being counted.

There was the prospect of a last stand, one final act of bravado, with Kennett planning to recall Parliament, propose a vote of confidence and force the Independents to side with Labor in the full glare of publicity, branded as partisan. However, some of the inner circle of ministers were wavering and the last stand was cut short at a meeting in Kennett’s office on the night of October 18 when Mark Birrell, who had been Industry Minister, declared he would not support it. There were also rumours about to surface in the papers of a backbench vendetta against Kennett surrounding outer east suburban MP, Victor Perton. This and unrest among influential figures in the Victorian Liberal Party organisation was the beginning of a campaign to find scapegoats for the loss, a post-election review that would put a revisionist light on the handling of the election.

October 19. Boxes and boxes are being moved from the First Floor at 1 Treasury Place. Computers have been locked down, emails are frozen in space, filing cabinets emptied of their store of knowledge of seven long years. The Kennett Government, in full flight and seemingly unassailable a month before, was coming to an abrupt and, for many including JGK, devastating end. In its place, uncertainty, emptiness and many, many unanswered questions.

Most of us are hungover from the night before. In the political wash of the Frankston East supplementary election and the three Independents declaring their hands with Labor, the probable became unstoppable. Seven years in government evaporated. No miracles eventuated. After a month of uncertain highs, lows, boredom and frustrated waiting, time almost stopped for one last day.

We emptied the Premier’s drinks cabinet on the Monday night and showed a cavalier contempt for it all by smoking in his office. Tuesday the 19th people shifted shiftless from office to office, sat in groups talking ends and beyond the end.

The decision of the Independents from Mildura, Gippsland West and Gipsland East was put to a Coalition parties’ meeting at Parliament early afternoon. The Premier caretaker Premier, as the media delighted in calling him while Bracks grinned lewdly to have his picture taken called on Governor Gobbo at 4 pm and advised him to invite the eager grinning Bracks to form a minority government.

Monday 18th the office had gone into serial wind-down and the computers were crunched. This clearly was to be the end. “Obviously I am disappointed that tonight I leave government to our political opponents,” said Kennett at his final press conference, 5.40 pm on the 19th. “But that is life.”

Such is life.

“So tomorrow, Mr Bracks is given the opportunity of forming government.”

Ah well, I suppose it has come to this.

The man who in September, 1994, when he was being touted as a likely Prime Minister, said the premiership of Victoria would be his last political post. He had also been emphatic many times he intended to leave politics at the time of his choosing, riding high. But, then, he had also said on his election as the member for Burwood in 1976 he would stay in politics no more than six years two terms. Somewhere along the way he caught the bug.

He looked drawn at the press conference, stony faced with the light draining from him, eyes dulled and staring blankly. Political demise, like that of the boxer who scrambles stunned from the ring after taking a sudden knockout punch, is one of the most public of humiliations. The address to the media was dignified, measured and acknowledged regrets public and personal. “This brings to an end two coalition governments of which I am extraordinarily proud. We have worked to an outcome, to a vision, to a plan to restore to Victoria a sense of pride, a sense of dignity, a sense of employment that simply didn’t exist seven years ago. I genuinely believe the government that I’ve had the honour of leading over the last two terms seven years will be the benchmark against which a Labor Government will be judged, against which many governments in Australia will now be judged.

“It is true that we were highly focused. It is true that we had an enormous task on our hands. And it is true in trying to deliver that turnabout as quickly as possible that quite obviously some Victorians have not appreciated the style, and some will not have appreciated the outcome I informed the Liberal Party today that at Tuesday’s meeting next week I will resign the leadership of the Liberal Party. I have done this with a heavier heart than you can possibly imagine, given that most of you don’t think I have any heart at all Victoria is without doubt my life. I have given everything I have to doing the job that I thought the public expected of us in 1992. Again, some may not have liked the style It is my view that one era has ended and another is about to start. And if part of that healing process for the community is my withdrawal from a position of authority then that is a small part to pay I still remain absolutely wedded to the State of Victoria.”

With his traditional, “Thank you, have a good afternoon,” Kennett departed the lectern abruptly and walked swiftly from the packed media room. There were to be no final questions, no examination of the entrails.

He walked into the open plan media office where we were gathered to watch it on the internal monitor, leaned against the bench next to the media fax, sagged slightly and sighed. The staff, around 40 that remained, all standing, applauded for the best part of a minute. Loyalty, the sense of family, was there. The final standing ovation, The Last Post. And tears flowed amid a last flush of pride and regret.

One last drink the Melbourne Room fridge held the dregs of a supply of beer. We filed around there, three sides of the building away, its windows overlooking the Treasury Gardens. The room had been set up by Protocol for a function the next morning. We would leave it in need of a purge of empties and re-arrangement.

We sat around the lines of chairs talking about where we might go, buoying each other but not convincingly reassuring. Kennett was there walking around us trying to give people a brave face. To go home most likely to look blankly in the mirror at despair, the loss of face and a face so recognisable in every household in the country that would disappear from the media pages within 24 hours.

Soon, behind us there would be the memories that faded. Twenty-four hour parliamentary sittings as the storm of reforms broke loose in November, 1992. Came the day we had to make him lie on a couch in his office for an hour one afternoon to grasp back a level of coherence. There was the constancy of day and night media calls, unanswerable at times; trips overseas; roadshows around the country; chartered helicopter rides to official functions; the hours, the tiredness, the adrenalin, the feeling this was an historic time to be at the centre of the action.

Plenty of fun was to be had. Poking fun at John Howard “the little rodent”. Howard had been positioning himself for leadership in the final stewardship of John Hewson after Hewson ran with the GST and lost the unlosable election in 1993. The Federal party, with some manoeuvring from Peter Costello as well as influence from Kennett, went for the middle ground and gave the job, as it would prove, to the luckless, disaster prone Alexander Downer. Howard appeared to have missed the boat. The decision came through as we were in the car to Tullamarine for an interstate trip. “Brendan,” commanded JGK to his driver, “have we got any scotch in the boot?” It was 10 am.

In June, 1994, the Channel 9 Sunday program followed us on a trip through Gippsland and conducted an extended interview with him the following week to combine the two into a lengthy profile. They have a story. For the first time Kennett detailed his thinking in the lead-up to the 3AW interview in which he attacked Peter Costello and questioned his integrity over the Federal leadership of John Hewson, which led to the leadership takeover by Alexander Downer and Costello. It was a carefully considered decision, the Premier says, not the comment off the top of the head that some saw it as at the time. He had decided Hewson could not and should not remain, and determined Downer would make the best leader. “Was it the result you wanted?” reporter Paul Ransley asks. “Yes.”

His sense of fun also enabled him to make a wry twist of those characteristics which were highlighted by his most strident critics. Like arrogance. We were heading towards a country town on an extended trip, tiring of the perennial stops and meetings, when he suggested we check the racing guide and call at the next TAB for a bet. There was a midweek meeting at Mt Gambier. “There’s one,” he said, “Race two Sheer Arrogance.”

He had a sense of the unusual twist. The question of control over territorial waters was raised by The Age’s Michael Magazanik at a press conference, drawing the dismissive reply, “The fish can swim wherever they like.”

Sometimes you got your own back. The phone jumped off my desk a sure sign as to who was calling one day in 1993 when Vic 1 was heading out of town for the graduation ceremony at Ballarat University. He had reached a segment planted in the speech which spoke of his own indifferent academic career a fact he often acknowledged and the line that read, “I remember year 9 as the best three years of my life.” Times like these, devil may care Friday nights around a scotch bottle in his office, counterbalanced by the demanding experience of working for someone with a one-second fuse.

Many times we had to live with his rashness, but more particularly his unshakable and impossible loyalties. The most difficult were the strains of family trials and his protectiveness in handling them. There were the share deals, Felicity’s involvement in KNF Advertising, their formerly shared small business, a row over outstanding disputes from their involvement in a knitting mill project, eldest son Ed’s Crown Casino sponsored trip to play in a basketball tournament in Darwin, rumours of an affair, his undisclosed defamation settlement with the Packer-owned Nine Network (said to be near $400,000), Felicity’s role in the TV program, Healthy, Wealthy and Wise, and some of the trappings of stardom that subsequently came along, notably her nomination as an ambassador for BMW and the accompanying 5 Series that went with it. Kennett took all this as a deep personal affront, in media interviews and under Opposition questioning in Parliament.

You’re attacking my wife, he’d say with emotion. You’ve destroyed her business. And when, in 1998, Felicity walked out and they were separated for around a year, he would retort that Rob Hulls, Opposition headkicker, muckraker and subsequent Attorney-General, had destroyed his marriage.

He could be equally as defensive and intractable in relation to his friends mates at the big end of town, as the critics continually railed him. As a result, he was constantly defending Ron Walker and Lloyd Williams, of Crown/Hudson Conway, on casino issues and John Elliott in his battle with the National Crime Authority over a corporate case in which the best part of $70 million had been siphoned out of a New Zealand company in which Elliott was involved. Kennett went so far as to attack the role of the NCA in an address to the State Council of the Liberal Party at the Hawthorn Institute at a time when Elliott and the authority were before the Supreme Court. I could sense something coming as we waited in the upstairs tearoom for his and Felicity’s entrance to the customary standing ovation. I had the outline of some speech notes and a few themes he might focus on. He paced the room, ill at ease, muttering he didn’t know what he was going to talk about. But he knew damn well. They’d got to him my guess was Alister Drysdale, his former chief of staff and special adviser who worked with Elliott during the Elliott for PM draft. We tried to argue he was speaking generically of the role of the NCA rather than making any inferences about the court case, but to avoid a contempt of court charge, he had to appear and deliver a personal apology to the court.

There were some testing moments in the early years when the reforms were proceeding fullpace and the crowd anger spilled over. Some notable creations resulted, as always in these circumstances. Sometimes the meaning was blunt. One of the best was the tall man among the 100,000 strong crowd that jammed Bourke and Spring Streets at the mass John Halfpenny-led protest in front of Parliament in November, 1992, bearing a placard: “Kennett You Gormless Pillock.”

In a communications and speechwriting role, doubled with my job as press secretary in the first term but secluded from the frontline on the phones from the 1996 election on, I put some notable scripts together for him, speeches and lectures designed to reinforce his leadership on the national stage and global expanse of vision. They were delivered and quoted across the country and around the world.

The one I remember best for its impact was the Menzies Lecture in Canberra on August 22, 1995, in which he exhorted the nation to embrace change going into the 21st century. It carried the line that unless we look to the future, we risk waking up on January 1, 2001, with the mother of all hangovers and nothing will have changed. The Herald Sun two days later ran an editorial headed, “The father of a lecture.”

Another was The Preamble a 54 hour exercise I undertook with Kennett in 1999 to produce an alternative to PM John Howard’s pedestrian effort that had been written in collaboration with poet Les Murray as a new preamble to the Australian Constitution. Murray was later to get very sour about the whole exercise. Ours went nowhere either, but at least it was good and thorough and had some sense of the future that a united people might dream to be. It drew on a range of philosophers on human liberty and public expression of freedom going back to Aristotle, as well as the American Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, and was published under the heading, “Declaration of the People of Australia.” But Howard had devised the republican referendum to ensure it had no prospect of success, and the Constitution would remain in its archaic form.

In the Menzies lecture, we had him recognising the third millennium/ 21st century actually began in 2001. Too often, though, his three years in year 9 showed through. He would later come to proclaim 2000 as the new millennium. He would break out in media interviews with quotes like “that’s like Caesar rendering unto Caesar”, then come back to the office and I would be called in to set out and explain the real quote. Just get it right. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”

The job jobs really meant a lot of hard, grinding work. While I was press secretary, the phone would start ringing at 6.15 am and not go quiet sometimes until after midnight, weekends and all. Kennett would call sometimes early on a Saturday, and Lord help you if you hadn’t read the papers by 8 oclock and heard a couple of radio news bulletins. It would play hell with my 4.30 pm Saturday trips to the pub as well. The mobile would ring as soon as a pot landed on the bar. Even the media had us pinned down. I discovered the ABC national contact database had me listed as, “Goes for an early morning run, phone from 6.10 am ”

Attending large public breakfasts, working the day in the office, maybe attending another function with him at night or waiting for Parliament to get to the Adjournment debate and hoping nothing that would stir the horses would happen in the course of the night made for a lifestyle that not so much wore people out, not in my case anyway, but gave you the steel to keep going and remain sharp. There were times a few too many over at the Imperial one parliamentary sitting night, following which Steve Murphy, his chief press secretary, and I were summonsed into his office. Neither of us was standing quite upright and neither wanted to be the first to attempt to talk. More correctly, for him to realise how incoherent we were.

Like hangovers, you get over it, and mostly he had put it out of his mind by the next day.

The offsets were that it was really an exciting experience, a feeling of being on the inside as the state and the nation were being shaped for the coming century, sitting in on high level discussions, putting an oar in the water in the making of some of the major decisions, and dealing with people from all walks of life, supporters and opponents alike, people and communities seeking help, companies promoting their credentials or after government support.

The best times in Parliament were memorable for their humour. In a retort aimed at then Opposition Leader John Brumby, Kennett drew on Arnold Schwarzennegger: “I say this to the Leader of the Opposition and the Labor Party: the people of Victoria will say at election after election — just as the people of Canada said to Kim Campbell — that you are unable to be relevant. There is no way the opposition is in any way relevant to the needs of the people of this State. The people will simply say to you as they said to her: Hasta la vista, baby, Ha ha! And send you right home.”

Or the night we learned Tattersalls had lost its bid for the lucrative new national UK lottery one we had supported without public fanfare back home on a trip to London in July, 1993. I set up an interview with the influential Financial Times, which resulted in a page feature promoting Tattersalls’ credentials. In Kennett’s office at Parliament this night, Tattersalls’ chief, Peter Gilhooly, and Kennett polished off at least a bottle of scotch before Kennett decided to make an appearance at the end of night Adjournment Debate to respond from the Government to any issues raised from the backbench. “You’re as rotten as a chop,” says Opposition MP and former Minister in the 1980s, Ian Baker, a noted tippler himself. The slurs made it evident he was right. Eddie Micallef (ALP, Springvale) had to withdraw the use of the word, arsehole. The Premier: “Let me say that it takes one to know one. If the honourable member for Springvale looked in the mirror, he would have a good idea of the definition of the word he has just used ”

There were some rare insights and experiences, way beyond the basic fabric of everyday life. Most memorable was my week’s trip to London with himself and Felicity in 1993. At Felicity’s request the Qantas 747 did a circuit of Ayers Rock and the Olgas as the setting sun illuminated them in brilliant ochre against a darkening landscape.

Like the trip we made to Greece in April, 1994, it was not an everyday tourist’s experience. Our official Government passports got us through customs in a moment. In London we stayed at the Hyde Park Hotel a stone’s throw from Harrods in Knightsbridge; in Athens, at the Royal Bretagne Hotel opposite Constitution Square. The Agent-General’s Jaguar and driver chauffered us around London; high speed, police escorted motorcades of Mercedes to provide the royal treatment in Athens and later in Thessaloniki.

We met people like Sir Evelyn Rothschild and the directors of Rio Tinto in their boardrooms or private dining rooms, but the pinnacle was a private meeting with Formula One boss, Bernie Ecclestone, at his office just a little further along Knightsbridge. The personal power of the man was awesome. Kennett and he discussed the Australian F1 Grand Prix, then run in Adelaide, and the 500cc Motorcycle GP, which in the early 1990s had moved venues to New South Wales. We left with a strong impression both would soon return to Victoria.

In Greece, a beautiful countryside, the Aegean Sea and its islands a place to fall in love with, packed, polluted, concreted cities where trees were a rarity. A strong sense of security alert armoured vehicles and tanks and soldiers around the airport, guards in cheap suits with ominous bulges under their jackets following us everywhere. A woman bumped into Felicity on a walk through the Plaka stalls in Athens, only to be flung against a wall and held there until the Kennetts were safely on their way.

The highlight was an audience with then President Andreas Papandreou at his palace in a comparatively narrow, dark street behind the Parliament building, which overlooks Constitution Square. It was on again, off again and finally on at only half an hour’s notice after a great deal of lobbying and negotiations. My moment was to arrive separately at the Palace with the media contingent that had come on the trip. At a darkened guard box at the gate to the driveway, I encounter three soldiers pointing sub-machine guns in my general direction. We don’t speak enough of each other’s languages to make sense of why we are there. Strangely, a perusal of my business card by torchlight and a passing word from my driver finally gets us in.

And there was the announcement over January 20 and 21, 1997, that Mr Justice Sir James Gobbo would be appointed the 25th Governor of Victoria, the first Governor of Italian descent. Two days on which the temperature went above 40 degrees and none of the taxis I caught had working air-conditioning. The first day, for publication on the 21st, we gave the story exclusively to the Herald Sun, and I went out in advance of the interview to brief Sir James and Lady Gobbo. The second day, an open media conference.

Such, in summary, is government. An arduous trail marked by tremendous mood swings highs, lows, achievements, blunders, controversy, conflict, sharp edged debate, polarity. Then, as they say, it ends.

Come just seven oclock on the 19th, he’d gone, the Melbourne Room was emptying and that was it. We started to leave and the emotion overflowed. Anna Cronin, the chief of staff who weeks earlier could have brought departmental secretaries running, hugs and hides a sob on my shoulder. Eyes wet, farewell. Hard men who have driven the reforms, privatisation and the development of the big infrastructure projects stand to shake the last hands of goodbye. They turn their emotion aside to hide their crumbling faces and half-shamed grief.

I walk out through the Cabinet room round the vast, round Tasmanian blackwood Cabinet table, the screen at one end of the room, the oddly placed modernist wooden sculpture of a rabbit trapper near the window. Into the private office. The Premier ex now has gone. The PA’s office is empty. The door to his office is open and I walk in for a final sense of a place that feels as if it has had the power and spirit sapped from it, but not the memories. The windows are dark and mirror inwards. There is nothing here but the past in this moment.

The bookcases behind the desk immutable, the flags, Victorian and Aboriginal, at each end. The desk clear and ready for a new regime.

It is time for such liberties and remembrances. I sit in the over-sized chair behind the desk that rules Victoria and feel both its power and ebbing strength. On it, the traditional deskpad, and there an envelope bearing the letterhead, Premier of Victoria. In a distinctive handwriting black ink from a Mont Blanc pen is the designation:

Steve Bracks

Premier of Victoria

It is an overwhelming insight, the last secret of our departure, a message in his image, no doubt a welcome and good luck to his successor.

I walk the length of the building down an empty corridor and collect my bag like a school kid on the last day. The accumulation of material over the years in government had reminded me many times of the media picture on Monday, October 5, 1992, of three of us rounding the corner of 1 Treasury Place carrying into government, under one arm, everything we possessed and, unseen, our every hope.

Down the stairs, past the unmanned security posts, and press the button to open the front door into the October night. I walk past the State emblem etched in raised concrete and down the steps to the walk through Treasury Gardens, scampering at night with possums, a walk that I have warmed to a thousand times as my solace, both to and from work, a respite through the timeless elms.

At the top of the stairs finally the tension of the sudden end tightens in my chest and the tears begin to well. But quelled. One last look? no, don’t look around, don’t look back; through the darkness leads the path to a new world. Behind me is a profound silence. Let it go. Value it maybe, look upon it as a rich and rare experience that but a handful of people have the fortune to live, but there is no going back. There need be no regrets or need to count the loss.

There were those who read the graffiti on the wall and saw that a line had been drawn and Kennett had crossed it. But few can claim to have had insight into what loomed as the Victorian polling booths closed and television monitors flicked on in suites high in the Sofitel at the Spring Street end of Collins Street on September 12, 1999.

A block away, behind the imposing facade of the restored Old Treasury Building, at 1 Treasury Place, seat of the Premier, his Private Office and Department and home to Treasury, the Victorian flags and Victoria on the Move banners hang limply in the fading light. Possums are feeding on the lawns of Treasury Gardens and 1 Treasury Place is symbolically empty. The feeling was that there would be a triumphant return the following Monday, the Government stripped of a few marginals but retaining a comfortable majority.

Some nagging, but indefinable, doubts were picked up internally. Party polling hadn’t shown any sign of a wholesale swing, but State director, Dr Peter Poggioli, would admit to putting some question marks on the internal polls. Were they telling the full story? Were there reservations out in the electorate that as yet were not definitive and were not showing up on the barometer? Kennett held a gnawing concern, but found it difficult to articulate. After appearing as if it would be a third Kennett walkover, The Australian’s Newspoll on election morning suddenly showed a line ball. That was the biggest worry of all. Newspoll was building a reputation for calling the unexpected, and getting it right.

Beneath the apex of the Sofitel’s cavernous atrium Kennett, his family and select friends are in a lavish corner suite. A few doors along, the senior advisers who have been running the campaign strategy are huddled in a cluster of armchairs in a second suite. Two or three ministers call in and stay when they see the first results come up. An hour into the count and Felicity Kennett comes over looking for a place to have a smoke. “The cunts,” she says in good humour. And puffs away and laughs. What’s the feeling?

From the time the TV sets went on there was palpable unease among the advisers. People who a week before had put their tips in sealed envelopes, spanning the loss of up to half a dozen or so seats to status quo and a few bold predictions of further gains. This would be the first time the envelopes were never opened. There would be no prize for losing. No one yet is drinking anything stronger than mineral water or Coke. Of the first eight electorate results to come in, all but one are showing dramatic reversals as much as 8% – for government members. Even with only 2% of the votes tallied, the message is clear. Until election day the polls public and the internal polls through the marginals had been showing a clear Kennett win. Chief of staff Anna Cronin is clearly shaken and keeps drawing our attention to the Newspoll.

It’s a far different call to 1996 when Kennett and his Coalition team of Liberals and Nationals held their ground despite the whirlwind reforms of the first term. Then, the Kennett clan and advisers shared the one suite. People like Jamie Packer dropped in to swill a drink and extend the glad-hand.

Kennett walked into the advisers’ suite without his suit jacket and half slumped against the wall. Mark Birrell was there. Rob Knowles. The advisers. He had to go downstairs to the Liberal Party gathering in the ballroom, walk half a dozen steps onto the platform from a rear door and acknowledge it was down to the wire. The ballroom was scattered with clusters of people from the party and staff from ministerial offices, not nearly the crowd that jammed the place in 96. Maybe that was significant in itself. Gone was the buoyant elation; in its place only a subdued murmur, an awkward quiet, a feeling of unease for a leader about to announce in effect that he was beaten. There were tears, disbelief, people too stunned to talk.

It might have been decisive had not Peter McLellan died in his sleep on election eve, a fact that did not become generally known until the polling booths were in full swing. McLellan, a chainsmoking Vietnam veteran, held the working class bayside seat of Frankston East on a razor blade margin, but had been a prospect to hold the seat. McLennan was a backbench rebel against the Kennett tide in the first term and, after numerous disputes with Kennett over changes to WorkCover and the role of the Auditor General, and privatisation, he left the Liberal Party to sit as an Independent. Nevertheless, he would not have gone against the Coalition Government in a situation that might have brought it down.

A supplementary election had to be called for a month later an initial week of unfulfilled hopes that marginals like Geelong and Carrum, where the results had been inconclusive, might swing the Government’s way, a month of waiting, assessing which way the three Independent winners, all from country electorates, might cast their hands, shredding papers and clearing out desks, waiting for the sword to fall. The miracle Kennett was dwelling on just one marginal coming in failed to eventuate. The carnival was over.

* Copyright 2002 Kevin Balshaw. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced without the written authority of the author.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW