The Australian seems to have taken a set against Victoria’s new Liberal leader Ted Baillieu. Twice in two days, reporter Rick Wallace has relayedalleged concerns among Baillieu’s colleagues about “his adoption of radical Greens-style social policies”.

This probably says more about The Australian than it does about the Liberals; notably the fact that “gay civil unions, the decriminalisation of abortion, voluntary euthanasia and condoms for prisoners” are its idea of “radical”. Baillieu may indeed be failing to make up much ground
– or “going no good” as one of Wallace’s sources oddly put it – but that’s probably got more to do with the fact the Liberals changed leaders a year too late, leaving too little time for him to cut through before November’s election.

The Oz gives the impression that Baillieu was hiding from the media – “refused to comment yesterday, remaining in his office” – but in fact, as The Herald Sunreports, he “launched himself in front of the cameras” for a “drive-by doorstop”, and he still seemed in good spirits when I spoke to him at a function last night.

Liberal Party in-fighting in Victoria over recent years – as distinct from, say, New South Wales – has been non-ideological, characterised by the sort of factional bitchiness reported in this morning’s Age rather than by any grand dispute over policies or principles. Whoever is leaking to Wallace seems to be trying to change that, but it looks very much like a one-off: most of Baillieu’s factional opponents never mention his policy views.

Yesterday’s report likened Baillieu’s approach to that of British Tory leader David Cameron – without of course mentioning that the polls so far show Cameron’s strategy to be achieving some success. But the difference is that Cameron leads an avowedly conservative party, so trying to turn it into a liberal party is a fairly major exercise (comparable to what Tony Blair did with the Labour Party). Baillieu’s task is just to make his party live up to its own name.

Peter Fray

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