After a token post-election sitting just before Christmas, Victoria’s new parliament got down to business last week, and all eyes were on how its new democratic Legislative Council would perform.

The Bracks government’s reforms have left it in a minority – 19 out of 40 – in the upper house, but the majority against it is a diverse lot: 15 Liberals, three Greens, two Nationals, and a solitary DLP member.

Working together, even where they have a common interest in embarrassing the government, was always going to be an interesting test.

So far they seem to be doing well. Sensibly, they did not start with anything too ambitious; there was no grand plan for half a dozen different investigations into the government’s record. Instead, they picked a soft target: an inquiry on its handling of gaming licences, which nicely combines public concern about gambling with more political worries about probity in the licensing process.

Now the government has revealed another piece of low-hanging fruit, in the shape of its secret pre-election deal with the police union. This morning’s Age reports that the numbers could be there for an upper house inquiry on the subject: “The Liberals, Greens, Nationals and DLP member Peter Kavanagh … all told The Age they would consider such an investigation.”

It certainly looks tempting, particularly since Steve Bracks has refused to rule out the possibility that there are other secret agreements with different stakeholder groups. But taking on the police is always a tricky business, and this is no exception.

No-one seems to be reminding them of it, but the Liberals were once very keen to recruit police union strongman Paul Mullett to their team.

A Stateline report in July 2005 claimed that he had joined the Liberal Party and was actively seeking preselection; that fell through, but Liberal Party sources continued to talk up the prospect for some months afterwards.

Kenneth Davidson, also in The Age, is referring to the gaming inquiry when he says that “both the major parties have skeletons in their cupboards”.

It’s a comment that could equally apply to the police union.

Peter Fray

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