Former premier Jeff Kennett continues to cast a long shadow over the Victorian election.

In today’s Age, John Roskam calls Steve Bracks “audacious” for having asked Ted Baillieu, in the course of last Friday’s debate, “whether he would apologise for any of the decisions taken by the Kennett government.”

I call it a case of knowing one’s opponent. Any other opposition leader, put in that position, would have scored an easy point by saying something like “Of course all governments make mistakes, but on balance the Kennett government did a great deal of good for Victoria”, and moved on.

But Baillieu, put on the spot, refused to acknowledge that the Kennett government had ever done anything wrong. That made him look foolish, and Roskam repeats the mistake today: “every Kennett decision was necessary”.

Really? Every one? Even nobbling the auditor-general, increasing taxi fares, doing sleazy deals over advertising and spending a million dollars on a roundabout in Treasury Place?

Of course the Kennett government (which, like Roskam, I once worked for) did both good and bad things. Baillieu’s failure to acknowledge that obvious truth is starting to hurt his campaign, because it is drawing attention both to the less pleasant parts of the Kennett legacy and to the differences on it within the Liberal Party.

Kennett and his supporters, like America’s neconservatives, “don’t do nuance”. To them, any criticism at all of the Kennett years is unacceptable.

Roskam says that the three options are “to defend Kennett’s record, ignore it, or … apologise for it.” But none of those will work, because none of them recognises that that record, like virtually every government’s record, is mixed.

This failure to face reality gives added ammunition to Kennett’s (and Baillieu’s) party opponents, who are already concerned about Baillieu’s recycling of ex-Kennett staffers and strategists.

Worried insiders are even starting to talk about the nuclear option: a possible Kennett candidacy for the party presidency next year. Personal loyalty to a friend is one thing, but not at the risk of tearing the party apart.

Peter Fray

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