Politicians on both sides want to be seen to get back to work quickly after an election, but it’s probably not good for them. What they need – especially the losers – is to take a bit of a break, calm down, and get some perspective on what’s happened and the lessons that can be learned.

Hence Victoria’s Liberal Party is having a party meeting today, when what they really should do is take a collective cold shower. They have spent the last two days in some particularly vicious infighting, centred primarily on environment spokesman David Davis.

What’s being attempted is a pre-emptive strike against Davis, who is the obvious candidate to replace his namesake, current upper house leader Phil Davis.

The upper house team of Phil Davis and deputy Andrea Coote are leftovers from the Robert Doyle era, and it was always likely that Ted Baillieu would make it a post-election priority to replace one or both of them.

Back when David Davis was health spokesman under Doyle, even his enemies conceded that he was one of the most effective performers on the front bench. But now Doyle, Michael Kroger and party president Russell Hannan have all attacked him in an effort to protect their own allies.

David Davis is accused of being more committed to factional manoeuvring than to policy, which may well be true, but he would hardly be alone in that. Others have form as well, notably Phil Davis, who back in February said the Baillieu camp “are ethically challenged, have no morals, and are the scum of political life.”

The genuine fear that the Krogerites seem to feel for David Davis is itself tribute to his capability; no-one much fears Phil Davis or such anti-Baillieu plotters as Terry Mulder.

Despite its new importance, the upper house is fundamentally a sideshow: this is really a proxy war over the leadership and control of the party.

The Baillieu/Kennett group has the numbers in the parliamentary party but not the organisation; its aim is to consolidate its position as a springboard to take control at the state council meeting next April, just as the Kroger/Costello group did four years earlier.

Paul Austin in today’s Age criticises Baillieu for “dereliction of his duty” in failing to stop the infighting. But that ignores the fact that Baillieu himself is such a factional player; indeed, the main complaint against him is that he failed to work with his organisational opponents during the campaign.

They are stuck with Baillieu for now for lack of a credible alternative, but don’t expect that to end the matter.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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