Barnett, Baillieu and the state of Julia

Colin Barnett and Ted Baillieu have had fortunes as divergent as their states. For Julia Gillard the story will also wrap up dramatically, but the prime minister will keep fighting regardless.

One Liberal premier swept back to power with a thumping swing – and a few days earlier, another Liberal premier suddenly ups and walks in the dead of night.

Colin Barnett was in the right place at the right time. His state was booming and confident, thanks largely to minerals in his vast lands. He projected the image of a no-nonsense plain talking 'what you see is what you get' leader.

The people of WA took little notice of the election campaign. The ALP – minus Julia Gillard – campaigned well. They highlighted the government’s vast failings and broken promises on infrastructure. But the punters didn’t care. They knew all along what they wanted.

Three hours across the continent, Ted Baillieu had been in the spotlight. One moment he was there in public and in private – defending the actions of his deputy, his COS, and his party director in a revived police corruption scandal. The next moment, in the dead of a warm Melbourne night he announced he had just quit.

Baillieu had responded to unprecedented events.

He had taken the temperature of his colleagues and didn’t like what he heard and saw. He decided not to stare his internal opponents down, or to wait it out. He called in a friend and ex-Leader and quickly persuaded him to stand. He made the decision to put the interests of his beloved state before any other.

Baillieu had been operating in an environment eerily similar to that faced by Gillard.

He has an internal rival who was never far from the cameras pledging his undying loyalty.  The polls were lousy, and prominently displayed. The media were rushing to print with 'exclusives' – right or wrong – to gain clicks and eye-balls. A rogue backbencher was causing mayhem, even making a written threat to destabilise.

It was all pretty toxic – and unbecoming a government trying to come to grips with health, education, infrastructure and debt.

And now with our national debate mired in finger-pointing about the number of migrant workers and the behaviour of dreaded asylum seekers, the Sunday tabloids and cable TV continue their pursuit of stories that involve the standing of the prime minister.

It’s the same story of lousy polls, rivals and speculation about Gillard’s end. “Julia Might Get a Tap” runs front page tabloid opinion yesterday.

For the hundredth time in 18 months the ever faithful Richo proclaims ,“…if Newspoll comes out with a bad result, I think she’s gone. She doesn’t listen to anyone.

"Even her strongest supporters are starting to think ‘is it all worthwhile?’” he says.

For the next two weeks Julia Gillard moves from the besieged Novotel in West Sydney to the Lodge in Canberra. It will be a time of politics, not policy and of campaigning not governing. And it will be a time of perhaps unprecedented scrutiny and punditry.

Julia Gillard knows what’s going to happen on September 14. Just ask Colin Barnett. Her colleagues know. Her rival knows.

But Julia Gillard will not do what Ted did. In the middle of the night she is planning her next foray, her next announcement and obligatory accompanying press conference — not her exit script. This lady is not for the quitting.

Wayne Swan and Penny Wong and colleagues will be getting on with the huge behind-the-scenes task of ploughing through budget options. It will be a budget that defines the core of this government's priorities and values.

But it will be the last thing on the mind of the prime minister over the next two weeks as she digests the polls, the tweets, the words and the behaviour of her hovering and anxious party room colleagues.

From home or his garden, Ted Baillieu must be looking on with a small modicum of sympathy, and a wry smile.

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