The woes of Victorian Liberal leader Robert Doyle continued on Friday when the ABC’s Stateline took up the question of his backdown on the Scoresby Freeway tolls and its implications for his leadership.

As
usual, Doyle’s shadow ministry has been leaking like a sieve. Reporter
Josie Taylor said “one member of the Shadow Ministry claims the
original no tolls idea was dreamed up during a telephone conversation
between Peter Costello and Robert Doyle in the lead-up to the last
Federal election … others in the party say the no toll and then half
toll policies have ruined the Liberals’ chances of winning the next
election. One went so far as to say the next two elections are already
lost.”

Doyle, reasonably enough, refused to respond to anonymous
accusations, although those who are familiar with the parliamentary
Liberal Party can quickly narrow it down to a small number of suspects.
But the linking of the no-toll promise with Costello is a very
interesting move. Two things seem to be going on: Doyle and his
supporters are becoming frustrated at what they see as a lack of
support from their titular factional leader, the Treasurer; and his
opponents are trying to link Doyle and Costello more closely, hoping
that the defeat of one will help to discredit the other.

The
background to these manoeuvres is the current round of Liberal Party
state preselections in Victoria, which so far have been almost
uniformly bad for Doyle. Instead of an infusion of new talent he has
been getting a series of unknowns, of recycled former candidates and
MPs, and a few straight-out factional enemies. While this doesn’t
change the balance of power in the party room prior to the election, it
is giving increased confidence to his opponents, and unless the polls
improve it seems likely they will make some sort of a move sooner
rather than later.

On the other hand, Doyle himself is looking
more relaxed and comfortable than he has for some time. It could be the
confidence of a man who finally realises that he has nothing to lose.

Peter Fray

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