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Mar 8, 2013


With the departure of Ted Baillieu, it’s a good time for a fresh look at one of his key moves as Liberal leader — the decision to preference Labor ahead of the Greens across the board at the last Victorian election.

If those preferences had gone to the Greens instead (as they had in past elections), they would in all probability have taken three of Labor’s inner city seats: Brunswick, Melbourne and Richmond. Three fewer Labor MPs in the current Legislative Assembly would make a big difference to its dynamic.

That’s not to say the Greens would be terribly sympathetic to the current government, which has taken some decisions (alpine grazing, wind farms) that outrage Greens’ supporters. But their presence would give new Premier Denis Napthine some additional options. With relatively poor polling and limited resources the Greens would not be keen on an early election, and they might have been open to some sort of deal (maybe one of them taking the speakership) that would keep the Coalition in power.

Even more so, one might think, since the alternative is having a government in hock to Geoff Shaw, a fundamentalist whose positions are the antithesis of everything the Greens stand for.

Of course, it’s not certain the 2010 election outcome would otherwise have been the same if the decision on preferences had been different. At the time, it was seen as a boost to Baillieu’s standing, showing him to be a decisive leader, and it certainly heightened Labor’s obsession with the Greens and the inner city, which diverted vital resources from its marginal seats.

Maybe without that distraction, Labor would have found the extra 262 votes to hold Bentleigh, creating a hung parliament. We will never know.

But it’s interesting that there seems to have been so little soul-searching among the Liberals as to whether they did the right thing with preferences. The narrative that the Greens are the real enemy has taken firm hold.

And that in turn lends even more interest to tomorrow’s Western Australian election, where the Greens and the Liberals have quite surprisingly managed to come to terms. For the first time since the Queensland state election of 1995 (the koala motorway election), the Greens are directing preferences to the Liberals in two seats, North West Central and Warren-Blackwood, both in an effort to get the Liberals up ahead of the Nationals.

In return, the Liberals are preferencing the Greens ahead of Labor in the only lower house seat that might matter, Fremantle, and also in four of the six upper house regions (my colleague Poll Bludger has the details).

For the Greens, this is a good opportunity to show some flexibility. There’s no real doubt about the overall outcome, and there’s not much in the way of policy difference between the two major parties anyway. Building some bridges to the Liberals is a sensible move.

The Liberals’ motivations are not so clear, but in a sense it’s a case of “Only Nixon can go to China”: because no one would suspect the WA Liberals of being a progressive organisation in the first place, they can afford to be pragmatic about their preferences.

Baillieu had no such flexibility. It didn’t matter that preferencing the Greens had been standard practice in the past, or that it made perfect sense in terms of the Liberal Party’s raison d’etre: (a) beat the ALP; (b) defend the economic interests of the middle class, on both of which the Greens are better allies. Anything that looked like sympathy for the Greens would have just fed the notion that Baillieu was a dangerous radical.

So he decided to placate the Right by shafting the Greens. In the short term it worked well, but as he found out this week, some people really can’t be appeased.


Mar 7, 2013


Ted Baillieu

To understand yesterday’s political assassination of Ted Baillieu, you have to understand a bit about the factional background of the Victorian Liberal Party.

For about a decade — say 1997 to 2007 — two groups fought for control of the party organisation. I call them the Krogerites and anti-Krogerites, but you could just as easily call them “Team X” and “Team Y”; they were just groups of people, bound together by complex webs of history and chance personal factors, who competed for positions and jobs and preselections.

The anti-Krogerites had control under successive state presidents Baillieu, Joy Howley and Ian Carson until 2003, when the Krogerites took over and Helen Kroger became president.

Like most factional contests, it was more obvious in the organisation than in the parliamentary party. Party leader Denis Napthine (who, in a remarkable turn of events, is now Premier) was collateral damage when he was deposed by Krogerite Robert Doyle in 2002. Doyle went on to lose an almighty landslide and was eventually replaced by Baillieu in 2006.

About five or six years ago, conflict within the organisation began to die down. The retirement of Peter Costello, who had been a mainstay of the Kroger group, was one factor; so was the election as president of David Kemp, who, although backed by the Krogerites, was more of a consensus figure. But there was also just sheer fatigue: people eventually get sick of fighting over someone else’s decades-old personal grudge.

The factional conflict had never really been about policy or ideas.

Those who identified strongly as right-wing tended to join the Krogerites, while those who thought of themselves as on the Left tended to join their opponents, but neither side ever talked much about ideology. Even among the Krogerites, attitudes were common that would have been out of place in the Liberal Party in most other states: they were often pro-choice, pro-republic and civil libertarian.

In the meantime, however, the party was changing. It would take a sociological thesis to explain exactly how and why, but membership was in a steep long-term decline, and a declining membership meant more influence for the ideologically driven. There was generational change, and the perceived success of John Howard’s “One Nation-lite” strategy was attracting a different breed of members — self-consciously conservative, often evangelical Christians, often from blue-collar backgrounds.

They didn’t share the ideological common ground of the older members, but they were good haters, and what they hated was “the Left”. Lacking any better target, they came to identify Baillieu as the representative of everything they disliked.

Baillieu was as unideological as they come, but because he was from the organisational wing he tended, more than most parliamentarians, to behave like a factional player. The Krogerites, who had run out of worlds to conquer in the organisation (and who were increasingly divided among themselves), kept up a constant low-level sniping at him. It obviously rubbed off on their younger members.

And then there’s News Limited. Relentlessly waging a culture war against “the Left”, it picked Baillieu as its special target. I pointed this out as early as 2006, noting the strange paranoia of some articles in The Australian that had equated support for legal abortion and gay civil unions (things that someone of Baillieu’s background would find quite uncontroversial) with “radical Greens-style social policies”.

It got worse over time; the tone of political debate deteriorated and the alliance between News Ltd and the Liberal Party’s Right rump got ever stronger. Three years ago it disposed of Malcolm Turnbull; yesterday it got Baillieu.

Perhaps it’s a long bow, but it’s hard not to see a parallel with other targets of intense right-wing hatred: Bill Clinton, Paul Keating, even Barack Obama. Precisely because they were so obviously not from the traditional Left — not socialists or anything like them — they attracted a particular sort of vitriol, as if their opponents dreaded being forced to examine the basis of their own position.

Baillieu certainly had his faults; he could legitimately be attacked on many grounds. But none of them seem to remotely justify the description of “communist” and similar terms that have been routine among sections of the Liberal Party. Those attacks tell us less about him and more about the insecurities of those who made them.

Geoff Shaw, the man who actually pulled the trigger yesterday, is a classic loose cannon, so it would be unfair to paint him as representative of any group. Nonetheless, it’s symbolic of what the Liberal Party has become that someone so far out of the political mainstream — a fundamentalist who once equated gay s-x with child molestation and murder — should have acquired such pivotal power.

Perhaps if Baillieu had won a bigger majority, none of it would have mattered. (Although he still would have had the Nationals to contend with, a whole new topic.) Even now, if Victoria didn’t have fixed terms, Napthine would have the option of a snap election to cut Shaw loose and dare the Herald Sun to support Labor.

Instead, it’s now become Shaw’s choice as to when he brings down the government. Baillieu wasn’t willing to serve under those conditions, and frankly, who can blame him?

The Arts

Jun 29, 2012


The Victorian government today will announce significant funding cuts in its arts portfolio, Crikey can reveal.

The cuts will affect most of the Victorian arts sector, with triennially and annually funded organisations to receive a 3.5% cut in their ongoing funding. Coming on top of a previous decision that funding would not be indexed, the cuts represent a 5% cut in real terms. Crikey understands that all programs will be affected, including funding to the major institutions, although sources differ on the size of the funding cuts for larger arts organisations.

Organisations with triennial funding contracts with the Victorian government will still have their funding cut by 3.5%, and the funding pool for organisations and applicants applying to 2013 rounds will also reduce.

Arts Victoria will itself suffer the knife, with the department expected to announce redundancies in coming weeks. Arts Victoria is part of Ted Ballieu’s Department of the Premier and Cabinet, which will suffer 50 job cuts as part of the Coalition government’s so-called “Sustainable Government” program.

The cuts were announced yesterday, with arts organisations phoned by their client officers and given the bad news. Crikey started receiving phone calls and emails shortly before lunchtime, and by late last evening word had leaked to Arts Hub. A spokeswoman for Arts Victoria told Crikey that the priority had been to tell affected clients first, before any formal media announcement was released. “All our competitive funding programs are continuing into 2012-13,” she added.

Arts organisations that Crikey has spoken to have been cautious in their reaction to the cuts, with disappointment mingling with concern about further cuts in the future. “It could have been worse,” one general manager told us, while another observed the cuts were far less damaging than those experienced by the TAFE sector. “It’s tough, but not killer, for an organisation like ours,” a general manager from the small-to-medium sector said.

The cuts are not unexpected given the relatively tough budget handed down by Victorian Treasurer Kim Wells in May. More than $7 million was cut from Arts Victoria’s “arts development and access” budget line, which funds the competitive grants and the small-to-medium arts organisations, a reduction of 7% from a funding pool of $60.1 million in 2011-12. In contrast, only $3 million was cut from major cultural institutions, in a much larger line item of $321 million. In other words, most of the austerity looks to have fallen on the small-to-medium sector.

Nicole Beyer, director of Theatre Network Victoria, wrote in an email that “the industry is disappointed to learn about the cuts — we certainly know that other sectors have fared badly too, but the small-to-medium arts sector is already vulnerable and this is going to really harm their programs for next year. We hope that it this a one-off, and that next year’s budget will make up for the cuts.”

Maintaining arts funding was never a formally stated Ballieu election promise. One thing that was promised, however, was a so-called “White Nights” festival for the Melbourne CBD, in imitation of Paris’ famous Nuit Blanche event which sees all-night access in major cultural institutions. Apparently, this initiative will go ahead in February 2013, according to an announcement made on June 13 by Ballieu.

The Melbourne White Nights initiative has angered some in the arts community, who question its relevance in Melbourne’s already-packed festival calendar. Industry insiders also question whether a major event of this nature can be put together in only seven months, with no director and no producer so far appointed. The event will be delivered by the Victorian Major Events Company, rather than an arts organisation with a track record of successful outdoor programming.

When Crikey published this morning we were still waiting, despite repeated request, for comment from the arts minister — who is none other than Ballieu.


Apr 30, 2012



Jan 19, 2012



Oct 24, 2011


The Emergency Services and State Super, a major superannuation fund with about 150,000 members, has spent nearly $1 million employing more than 20 consultants to review its management and business strategies, according to its annual report.

The fund, which has more than $16.8 billion under management, launched the reviews after chief executive Michael Dundon retired after just two years and was replaced by chief financial officer Mark Puli, until a full-time replacement can be found. Three of its 12 board members are also retiring in December.

Michelle Boucher, the fund’s general manager, said the review was “part of the business plan” but declined to provide details about why so many consultants were necessary, or how long they would be retained.

“They were hired for a variety of reasons,” Boucher said. According to a statement from the fund, the consultants were employed to assist with staff learning and development, in addition to strategic business plans.

More than $220,000 was spent on Emmanate, a Melbourne-based consultancy that, according to its advertising, offers leadership and team development, “corporate transformation” and executive coaching. Another $100,000 was spent on four management consultancies, including Inglis Consulting, a specialist in human resources.

Three consultancies, Right Lane, Condico Consulting and PFM Consulting, were paid nearly $290,000 developing business strategies. More than $100,000 was spent on research about the superannuation industry and membership.

Australians have more than $1.3 trillion invested in superannuation schemes with mandated contributions from their wages and salaries expected to double the total before the end of the decade.

But volatile global sharemarkets and major regulatory reforms proposed by the federal government are posing big challenges to the sector, forcing many funds to review their structure and strategies.

Fiona Reynolds, chief executive of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees, a not-for-profit industry group representing trustees, said the number and range of consultants could be justified by the departure of the chief executive and need for new strategies. But most funds typically employ a handful of consultants to monitor and advise on their investment performance, according to industry experts.

ESS Super’s net returns during the past 12 months was about 11%, or about three percentage points higher than the balanced fund benchmark, according to the annual report.

ESS Super is one of the nation’s largest super funds whose membership includes police, fire, ambulance officers and teachers.


Aug 31, 2011



Aug 9, 2011


On a chilly Sunday last April, former Victorian premier John Brumby stood in the gutted Tote front bar to announce the re-opening of the hallowed rock palace, which had been forced to close its doors three months earlier.

The stilted occasion was the culmination of delicate negotiations between local Labor MP Dick Wynne, new Tote owners Jon Perring and Andrew Portokallis and the leaseholder to safeguard the venue’s future, the demise of which sparked a large protest.

The former government, realising the potency of the issue (and its potential to cruel Wynne’s electoral hopes), had pulled out all stops, signing a live music accord, commissioning a $130,000 report by Deloitte Access Economics and later that year committing a hefty $24.7 million for the sector under its Victoria Rocks program.

The report, measuring the real economic and cultural benefits to Victoria, was finally released this morning. But this time it was Ted Baillieu draping himself in the Tote’s mythical sticky carpet to ram home his message that Liberals “love live music”.

A besuited Baillieu, serenaded by folky rootster Jordie Lane (Baillieu’s office had requested a rendition of  Dig Straight Through), trundled through the usual gags about his misspent youth, claiming to have once been a Moving Pictures fan and revealing he had rocked out to Men at Work before they conquered America.

Claiming to have once attended the venue late at night, Big Ted whimsically recalled last year’s protests, where 20,000 punters were greeted by members of the then-opposition on the steps of state Parliament. The convergence, Baillieu said, had ensured “there was a vote attached to the Tote”.

“Live music is here to stay in Victoria and we’re going to make it so,” Baillieu reckoned, in a speech laden with awkward generalities.

As jugs of orange juice sat in for Carlton Draught, and MC and Cherry Bar proprietor James Young revved up a phalanx of close-cropped Liberal advisers, it was left it to consumer affairs minister Michael O’Brien to announce that he would proceed — finally — with promised reforms to the Liquor Licensing Act and reinstate Brumby’s Live Music Roundtable, as demanded by industry lobbyists Music Victoria.

But sadly there was no time for questions as youngsters Stonefield, in exactly the same manner as Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge, counted in one of their Led Zeppelin-aping tracks that apparently went off at Glastonbury. (A doorstop out the back was confined mostly to questions about job losses at SPC).

Among the highlights in the Deloitte report, written in the dry language beloved of bean counters, is the $501 million in gross state product injected into the Victorian economy last year through live music alongside 17,200 full-time jobs.

A massive 5.4 million people attended gigs — way more than the 4.3 million that attended AFL games.

But perhaps the most telling indicator comes from the pittance artists earn each year — just $19,500 — with 70% of this grafted from live gigs at the state’s 600 venues, 370 of which are in Melbourne — the most concentrated amount in the country. The fact that you’d be better off on the dole raised nary an eyebrow as Baillieu trundled through the numbers.

The executive summary concludes blandly:

“Live music makes an important economic, social and cultural contribution to Victoria. Furthermore, as with any industry, the conditions affecting the ongoing commercial viability of live music are subject to a range of influences, particularly in relation to regulatory and policy developments.

“Careful consideration should be given to any government interventions that might directly or indirectly restrict or indeed promote the provision of live music.”

Music Victoria CEO and former Age scribe Patrick Donovan welcomed the report this morning:

“Music Victoria commends the state government for recognising the lack of quantitative data which has hampered our sector.

“We are pleased that social and cultural contributions of live music are now supported by genuine economic data. Now we have to look at strategies and solutions to assist the sector in living up to its potential as one of the live music capitals of the world.”

But veteran rocker Kim Salmon, who has penned a swingeing call-to-arms to be published in tomorrow’s Age, sounded a more cautious note, calling for the report to become a springboard for reform: “Let’s change our attitude to benefit the people without whom there would be no music industry — the musicians.”

The report comes after a long period of soul searching among the Melbourne live music scene that started with the Tote’s closure, followed by the SLAM rally and then the change of government.

As Crikey reported in May, compared to the record $24.7 million package announced by Brumby in the lead-up to last year’s election, the Coalition has reduced funding by 87% and axed the popular seven-year-old $2.4 million FReeZACentral mentoring program. More than 3500 participants had gone through the program, which is currently being wound up.

And the significance attached to the Tote is probably also misplaced.

Recent Tote documentary Persecution Blues has annoyed some punters because it failed to properly emphasise previous proprietor Bruce Milne’s cash flow problems, including a famously botched $75,000 beer deal with the collapsed Blueprint festival. Instead, the documentary laid the blame firmly at the feet of an aggressive Liquor Licensing Commission.

While extra security costs mandated by the commission’s heavy-handed enforcement regime played a part, the Tote was of course re-opened without any substantial changes to legislation after Liquor Licensing director Sue Maclellan fell on her sword. Changes to the policing of the Act provided some breathing space, but significant hurdles remained.

Dick Wynne told Crikey this morning that “Ted Baillieu had finally discovered the live music industry to launch a report commissioned by the previous government. There is nothing in today’s visit to the Tote that can give any joy to live music fans.”

No doubt Baillieu — as a champion of the scene — will hope rock fans stay deaf to that message.


Jun 17, 2011



May 4, 2011


The Victorian rock and roll community is reeling in the wake of yesterday’s state budget, which saw funding for the contemporary music sector slashed by 56% and the popular FReeZACentral program abandoned.

Despite trumpeting half-a-million dollars in new funding over two years to peak body Music Victoria in its official press release, detail buried in the budget reveals struggling rockers will have to make do with an annual shortfall of $775,000 compared to the $7.1 million spent by the previous government under funding arm Victoria Rocks.

The 7-year-old $2.4 million FReeZACentral program — which offers training workshops and rock star mentoring for struggling jobseekers — will wind up on June 30. And $1.3 million in popular music equipment grants, that allowed a “bank” of musical equipment to be hired by aspiring under-26 rock pigs, was also junked.

Instead, a bare-bones Victoria Rocks program will be maintained by the Baillieu government over the next three years with funding of just $2.6 million.

Push General Manager Peter Chellew, who oversees FReeZACentral and also serves on the board of Music Victoria, told Crikey he was “bitterly disappointed” and would be demanding a meeting with Youth Affairs Minister Ryan Smith in the next few days to find another way forward.

“On behalf of the music community we’re extremely disappointed that FReeZACentral is not going to be continued. It’ s been a fantastic and effective program in getting people jobs,” Chellew said.

He said the program has pushed over 3500 young people through training and a further 300 had received one-to-one mentoring from stars like Clare Bowditch.

Well-regarded ex-Age scribe turned Music Victoria CEO Patrick Donovan told Crikey that while he was pleased the seed money for his fledgling organisation was continuing, the government’s overall approach was based on a “very different economic philosophy” emphasising self-sustainability.

“The message I’ve got from the Coalition is they think organisations such as ours should be self-sufficient,” he said. “It’s really like comparing apples with oranges.”

Budget papers show that a fourth year of funding worth $250,000 promised under the previous government has evaporated, with Donovan expected to pay his own way through subscription fees and grant revenue by 2013.

Music industry sources have argued that yesterday’s Liberal commitment represents an 87% reduction in funding compared to what was on the table under the previous administration.

One irate former Victoria Rocks insider was scathing at yesterday’s numbers: “Last February I saw Liberal members holding up signs declaring their love of live music even though they had never committed to a contemporary music policy as part of their election platform. I hope that Victoria’s Rock ‘n’ Roll community holds the government accountable for this, as it would be a shame to see our musos slip on a pair of blue undies and jump into bed with Ted.”

As the Victorian election campaign entered its final days last November, John Brumby splashed hard on a rock package, spruiking a record $24.7 million contemporary music policy to woo inner-city voters thinking of defecting to the Greens. FReeZA funding was maintained and Victoria Rocks was extended by another four years. Brumby was apparently so keen to court the leather jacket set that a version of the Kinks classic Victoria was considered for his official re-election theme song.

The Liberal Party also appears to be an even more recent convert to the cause.

Protesters at the historic SLAM rally last year, when 20,000 fans rebelled against liquor licensing laws that wrongly equated music with violence, were surprised when they were greeted by besuited MPs holding “Liberals Love Live Music” placards on the steps of Parliament House. But in a subsequent interview given to Inpress magazine, Ted Baillieu media spokesman Simon Troeth needed to be reminded what Victoria Rocks was.

Credit: MT

SLAM organiser Helen Marcou told Crikey the struggling local music scene, in which aspiring rock stars are forced to live on as little as $11,000 a year, would be “further squeezed” by yesterday’s budget.

“The Liberals had promised they’d protect the industry but we had suspicions about their overall agenda. It appears these suspicions have been realised,” she said. Marcou noted the government was yet to make good on an election promise to change the object of the Liquor Licensing Act to protect the industry.

An Arts Victoria spokesperson confirmed the $2.6 million in re-branded funding for the three grant categories — Music Career Building, Music Touring and Strategic Music Industry Partnerships — would be maintained under Ted Baillieu’s personal portfolio.

Artists including Dan Sultan — last seen sporting an impressive Aboriginal flag singlet and Southern Cross board shorts combo at the recent Boogie festival in Tallarook — WA expats The Drones and Dan Kelly have all benefited from the grants over the last decade.

A spokesperson for Smith, who oversees the FReeZa components of Victoria Rocks under his Office for Youth, did not respond to Crikey‘s queries before deadline.