Counting continues in the Victorian state election, with two upper house seats still very much undecided. But unlike many other democracies, where changeover periods run to weeks or even months, our politicians don’t let things such as that stop them from getting down to business.
Hence Ted Baillieu’s cabinet held its first meeting on Monday, and confirmed that the new parliament will be summoned to meet before Christmas, albeit only for one day. Also on Monday, Labor’s new leader, Daniel Andrews, announced the make-up of his shadow ministry.
It’s a regular complaint that state parliaments are no longer attracting the talent they used to, making it increasingly difficult to staff a competent ministry. (That doesn’t stop leaders making it tougher by always making cabinets bigger — Baillieu’s has 22, one more than John Brumby had.) In light of that perception, it’s worth taking a look at how the two leaders have dealt with what their parties and the electorate have given them.
Labor’s team, of course, has more experience in government. The majority of them were in the Brumby cabinet, whereas only eight of Baillieu’s 22 were in parliament the last time that the Coalition was in government, and only one of them — Denis Napthine, who now takes the unwieldy title of Minister for Ports, Regional Cities, Racing and Major Projects — was a minister.
But in other respects, the Coalition had an easier task. Baillieu has had four years to hone a frontbench team to his satisfaction, and takes them into government with no change in personnel and only minimal change in responsibilities. As the tide has turned in the Coalition’s favour it has generally been gaining talent rather than losing it.
The shadow ministry, by contrast, looks much more raw. It has even less experience of opposition than the Coalition has of government — deputy leader Rob Hulls is the only one to have sat on the opposition benches before. With two retirements, two ministers defeated and three (including Brumby himself) choosing not to sit on the new front bench, the increase of one in the size of the ministry means Labor needed to find eight new shadows (although The Age only lists seven: Danielle Green is the eighth).
Despite that, there are some obvious problems with the Baillieu line-up.
They are a homogeneous lot: mostly white males in their fifties. The median age is about 54, but only five ministers are under 47 — there’s not much youth (Matthew Guy and Gordon Rich-Phillips, both 36, are the youngest) and no real veterans either, with no one over 61.
Only four are women — Brumby had five, and the new shadow ministry has seven — and they present a pretty uniform European appearance. Nor is there much prospect of that changing, since the newer Coalition MPs are overwhelmingly from the same demographic.
The shadow ministry has an even narrower age range — newcomer Steve Herbert is the oldest at 56 — but it is much more weighted in favour of youth, with a median age of 44. There are also more non-Anglo faces, although they remain a small minority. Occupationally, however, the ALP is getting less and less diverse: the majority started out as staffers or union officials, whereas the Liberals and Nationals come from an array of mostly small business and professional backgrounds.
Some of the individual match-ups should be well worth watching: Tim Holding, Labor’s slightly tarnished young turk, will shadow the invisible Kim Wells as treasurer; Hulls moves to the unfamiliar education portfolio against Martin Dixon; veteran Gavin Jennings will take on the government’s upper house leader David Davis in health; and the right’s Fiona Richardson moves straight into public transport, up against sometime leadership hopeful Terry Mulder.
Nothing in Andrews’ record suggests he will be a particularly dynamic leader, but he has enough talent and experience on his team to exploit any early difficulties Baillieu might encounter. History suggests, however, that the task of a state opposition leader is difficult and thankless.