The Latham Diaries have driven other political news off the front pages, including the backdown
by Victorian Liberal leader Robert Doyle on his promise of a toll-free
Scoresby Freeway. In the circumstances, that is probably the best thing
that could have happened, although, perhaps unwisely, Doyle is getting out trying to sell his new policy.
Doyle’s problem was his original commitment to scrap the tolls, made
almost a year ago. It was universally believed to be unsustainable, and
that has now been confirmed. Given that, he has probably wriggled out
of it as well as anyone could, but it takes a rare talent to make an
opposition leader’s broken promises into an election issue, and it is
being widely reported that Doyle’s leadership is now on trial.
Unfortunately for him, the test will be one that probably no-one could
pass. The knives will be out for Doyle if the opposition fails make to
make significant headway in the opinion polls. While the Bracks
government is well clear (54% in the most recent Newspoll
and likely to remain so) there is no evidence a change in leadership
would make any difference. The Victorian Liberals should realise this,
since that was the situation three years ago when they dispatched Denis
Napthine in favour of Doyle, only to lose the election by an even
bigger landslide than was otherwise looming. Historical memory,
however, is not their strong suit.
Broken promises, of course, are often a matter of what the opposition
and the media choose to highlight. It was a major story when premier
Steve Bracks reneged on his promise to build the freeway without tolls,
but few bothered to point out that he had originally promised not to
build it at all. Such is the power of the roads lobby in Victoria.