How Abbott became political poison in Victoria

Denis Napthine may have fixed Victoria's balance sheet, but he is likely to pay the price at the state election for Tony Abbott's broken election promises.

Even a hardened politician like Tony Abbott must be shocked at how he is being portrayed in the Victorian state election. 

As you can see in the video, the ALP Internet and TV advertisements start with separate pictures of Tony Abbott and Victorian Premier Denis Napthine. Gradually, the head of Abbott replaces the head of Napthine. What is left is the upper portion of Napthine’s body with a head that is mostly that of the Australian Prime Minister but retains some of the features of the face of the Victorian Premier.

It is a grotesque image.

To intensify the personal attack on Abbott, radio advertisements have targeted Abbott’s ‘plan’ to shut the Williamstown naval dockyards as part of his strategy to further boost Victorian unemployment, which is already higher than most other states.

The Victorian election will take place on Saturday. In the last week of any campaign, the parties know what is resonating with voters so the ALP must have determined that Abbott is akin to arsenic among Victorian swinging voters. Even the Liberals say the Prime Minister is ‘poison’ and do not want him to come to the state. Instead, former Prime Minister John Howard was flown in and the popular, top performing Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will fly in on Friday.

The ALP’s Daniel Andrews is ahead in the opinion polls and, of course, it remains to be seen if the vicious attack on Abbott will succeed on polling day. But the reasoning behind that attack indicates that unless there is a dramatic change in the attitudes of swinging voters in Victoria, the Coalition is likely to be left with little more than token Victorian representation when the 2016 Federal election is held.

The Coalition has some 14 federal seats in Victoria. Four look impossible to retain and the likely loss will be five or six, which is almost one third of the number the ALP need to return to office.

Abbott’s Victorian unpopularity stems from at least two forces. First, he did a ‘Gillard’ and told the Australian people he could fix the deep problems left by the previous ALP government by cutting government spending and not raising taxes.

Yet when it came to the budget, the big spending cuts that were planned by avoiding the duplications between the state health and education departments were forgotten. The two Commonwealth departments had managed to snow their ministers, so spending cuts came from elsewhere and taxes were raised, including petrol and the now abandoned medical co-payment.

Those measures affect all Australians, yet Abbott is not nearly as unpopular in other states. 

My guess is part of the additional Victorian unpopularity stems from the decision of Treasurer Joe Hockey to actually spend money shutting down the motor industry. Toyota wanted to stay and did not want money, but Hockey effectively made Toyota unwelcome and sent them packing. Abbott got the blame.

The unemployment consequences of Hockey’s Toyota decision (GM and Ford wanted to leave) will hit Victoria and South Australia around federal election time. 

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine has actually done a good job fixing the Victorian balance sheet, although he may have cut technical education too hard.

Had Abbott not broken his pre-election promise to stop education and health duplication and encouraged Toyota to stay in Australia via non-monetary measures, Napthine would have been a good chance to win. And he still might win because of the close link between Andrews and militant parts of the union movement and Andrews’s opposition to the East West Link.

Napthine made a fundamental error in not taking heed of the ADC National Infrastructure Summit and raising money for the East West Link infrastructure from the public and self-managed funds, thereby locking the community into the project. Instead, Napthine did a closed-door exercise with the institutions: the old and dangerous way.

Meanwhile, Abbott has given his potential 2016 unpopularity an extra twist by threatening to take the federal money allocated to the East West Link and give it to NSW or another state if Victorian voters elect an ALP government and it halts the project. If that happened, Abbott’s 2016 poison would intensify and cause Victorian seat losses to escalate.