There was no bigger symbol of John Brumby’s imminent demise than the scene outside Melbourne’s Treasury Place this morning as hundreds of soon-to-be-sacked staffers huddled nervously as their boss’ private office was raided by anti-terrorism commandos.
As wave after wave of federal operatives stormed the building just as the shredders had begun to whirr, the conversation outside on the grass swiftly turned to what went wrong.
How, after a smooth campaign run by a man handpicked by the premier, had it come to this? Three weeks of upbeat policy announcements and carefully-crafted image makeovers gave little forewarning of the carnage that engulfed state Labor on Saturday night.
Despite a few missteps over some churlish (and rehashed) anti-Baillieu advertising, the word was that State Secretary Nick Reece had executed his task well. From the cushy CBD offices of an 11-year-old government, buttressed by support from acolytes scattered across the business world, the lust for punishment was all but imperceptible.
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As early as 8.15pm on Saturday, with the writing on the wall, a glowing Helen Kroger, who had earlier manufactured a front page Herald Sun story calling on Baillieu to place the Greens last, emerged on the ABC telecast barely suppressing her glee.
With the swing well and truly on, Crikey moved quickly to the Greens shindig at the Savoy Hotel, where apparatchiks seemed surprisingly bubbly considering the Tory mist that was settling across Victoria and the knowledge that Kroger’s agitating had destroyed their lower house hopes.
One senior Greens strategist didn’t seem too perturbed over a Baillieu triumph, musing instead on the toxic affect of a growing pool of conservative “ideas” would have on public discourse. Over at the Victory Room at the VEC’s Docklands tally room, respected party hard-head Greg Barber, fresh from a mauling by Andrew Bolt on conservative radio MTR, was refusing to concede defeat, claiming that 30-40% of Liberal voters had ignored their party’s HTVs and stumped for his crew instead.
On the inner-north, the Libs were “saving Labor’s bacon just as they’re beating them to a pulp”. “The wheel’s still spinning but the hamster’s dead,” Barber added mysteriously, before disappearing inside Neil Mitchell’s glass-walled temporary studio to endure more abuse (while the rest of the broadcast media were content to use the tables provided by the Victorian Electoral Commission, 3AW had decided to erect a shimmering shrine to Mitchell’s perspicacity, presumably at significant cost to Fairfax shareholders).
As Martin Pakula slammed down coffees on Faine, and Brendan Donohue queued up for the inside word from Liberal chieftains, it was time to high-tail it to the Sofitel, where a clutch of buoyant functionaries were awaiting the arrival of a man they regard deep down as being far too soft to be trusted as their party’s new handmaiden. Senior staffers seemed genuinely surprised, noting the “disconnect between what we do every day and what was going on out in the electorate, where there was a reservoir of negative sentiment towards Labor”.
“We’ve slain the dragon,” they noted, between glasses of suspiciously cheap sav blanc.
But after Baillieu’s victory speech, IPA functionary and friend-of-Crikey Tim Wilson let loose: “Rob Hulls has made a profession out of being a professional liar, so his line about there being a hung parliament is absolute rubbish. As for the Greens, the Liberal Party has shown real moral authority by locking out these left-wing extremists, and the Labor Party has failed to do the same despite their big rhetoric otherwise.
“This result shows you that most Victorians like most Australians don’t want this kind of fringe extremism in politics,” he said, adding that Hulls was, again, a “liar and a fraud.”
This was indeed the ugliest night in Hulls and his Batman’s political life and it was about to get worse. Crikey arrived at the ALP-dominated Imperial Hotel opposite parliament house to witness some chaste celebrations by representatives of the party’s Socialist Left, who had managed a pyrrhic victory in the inner north with the assistance of their conservative frenemies.
As Sky News host David Speers settled down for a chat with The Australian in one of the pub’s secretive side booths, and Tim Holding mulled over what the result meant for him, the reality slowly dawned that the vast majority of the drinkers would soon be on the breadline as slurred incredulity and strawman attacks broke out as the lights went up.
Many will now convene at 4pm this afternoon to formalise their evacuation plans, before shredding the final traces of 11 years of Labor government. True party loyalists should be able to secure ongoing employment within the shadow ministry. But for the thousand-strong group of yes-men and media hacks, the state-subsidised glory days have vanished forever.