Steve Bracks has gone from a sweating, shuffling blubberer to an impressive, confident performer. Siliva Style examines the transformation from the floor of the Moorabbin Town Hall.
strategically placed Labor luminaries did their bit for the assembled media:
Barry Jones fell into a warm embrace, skier and candidate Kirsty Marshall
gave him a peck on the cheek and the giant ex-footballer and Minister for
Sport Justin Madden extravagantly shook hands. A quick grouping of the
family and Steve Bracks sauntered to a dais to deliver his administrations
policy speech.

He announced a few initiatives – a new womens hospital, a water saving
scheme, an arterial road upgrade and cash incentives to encourage family
raisers to rejoin the workforce – but these days such occasions are a mainly
a rehash of previously announced policies and the chance to speak in
generalities. Thus the Premier can claim that Regional Victorians are no
longer second class citizens. and that Victoria is no longer a state
divided against itself. and none of the 500 party faithful was going to
jump up and demand to know exactly what was meant by this verbiage.

The morning at what was once the Moorabbin Town Hall – a remarkably ugly
1963 celebration of red brick – was all about style, not substance. But hang
on, this is Steve Bracks up there in the spotlight. The Steve Bracks who
three years back at his first policy speech in Ballarat broke into a Richard
Nixon sweat. The bloke who flubbed his lines and shifted his weight every
few seconds. And now we speak of Steve Bracks and style. Together?

Style, political style in particular, is transient. In 1996, Jeff Kennetts
style was regarded as assertive and dynamic. By 1999, it was aggressive and
dictatorial. For decades the electorate saw John Howard as static and boring
but now lauds him as a tower of strength as he protects our borders.

As Bracks faced his audience, took a deep breath and began his speech, he
displayed the confidence of a politician for whom time and chance have
neatly coincided. His recognition factor is high and growing, leaving his
Liberal challenger, Robert Doyle, far behind. Bracks realises that
Victorians know and like him. It makes a difference. He could afford, in the
only television debate with Doyle, to scarcely acknowledge his opponents
presence beside him, leaving Doyle to play the smiling everyman.

The delivery of the policy speech was as fluent and unhurried as the Premiers minders could have hoped, Bracks having (almost) mastered the use of the autocue. He basked in the constant applause. By the end of the twenty minute address only a few beads of sweat emerged from the makeup on the top lip. There followed the obligatory standing ovation and another family get
together.

The morning was not without some hiccups. Voters in Narre Warren would have
been delighted to know that there are free new schools in their area, rather
than three – Bracks often struggles with pronunciation. In misreading the
autocue and omitting the word low, he proclaimed that Victorias dams were
at record levels. The suburb of Epping was renamed Epic, a mistake he
acknowledged with humour and grace.

Three years ago Bracks would have lacked the confidence to make light of
such an error. He could only have staggered on, hoping to complete the task
without too many mistakes. At Ballarat (his home town), the wonder was not
the delivery but the fact that he managed to get through the ordeal.

Yes, there is a Bracks style. It may be bland, not particularly articulate
and often hesitant but it seems to fit the times and, of course, with power
comes confidence. By the next Victorian election, however, three or fours
down the track, a cynical citizenry may judge it as clumsy, even gauche.
There may be a glimmer of hope for Robert Doyle – if he can stick it out.

Peter Fray

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