How Napthine could win voters back

The Victorian government's fiscal discipline has busted state construction blowouts as well as flushing out Geoff Shaw at the party's expense. It's a reason for praise - not mistrust.

Sometimes in business, politics and even life in general, what can appear to be a great weakness can often in fact be a great strength. Take the Victorian Napthine government for example. On current opinion polling the Premier is a political ‘dead man walking’ with the government certain to lose the November 2014 election.

The government’s main weakness is the appearance of internal disunity. It has produced a fabulous budget delivering a big surplus and commitments to big spends on roads, rail, schools, hospitals and so on. Its members are arguably the best managers of government in the country.

But they hold the balance of power by only one seat. And one Coalition parliamentarian, (one-termer Geoff Shaw, the member for Frankston) has been found guilty by the parliament of using his parliamentary allowances for private purposes.

It’s been a long drawn out and ugly process.

Angry at being ‘outed’, Shaw left the government to become an independent and triggered the resignation of then Premier Baillieu. He has caused mayhem in the parliamentary process since the last election, making the passing of legislation complex and seemingly chaotic. He’s been suspended from parliament.

The Labor opposition has played an astute political game. They've kept a careful low profile and done everything to assist the appearance of parliamentary chaos. Labor’s message is that the government can’t run itself, so how can it run Victoria? It’s a winning message.

Voters will not vote for a government that appears to be internally fighting. The Victorian Coalition government has proven incapable of countering that impression. There’s the government's great weakness.

But looked at differently the ‘Shaw’ saga is a story of great strength.

The thing that voters hate more than internal dissention is corruption. The Napthine government is well able to argue that the Shaw affair is a demonstration of the highest standards of honesty and transparency by the government.

Shaw’s misuse of money involved relatively small amounts. Some governments, it could be argued, would have tried to cover for Shaw and push the issue 'under the carpet'. Such an approach would have made for easier politics.

But no! The Coalition saw misuse of money and, even though it was ‘one of their own,’ addressed the issue at great political cost. What this demonstrates is a clean government, a government that can be relied on. The budget further shows a highly competent government that manages finances and delivers on infrastructure and services.

Further, the Coalition can legitimately argue that the Labor opposition would be a government pandering to big business and this would threaten the financial viability of Victoria.

There’s a history to show this.

Throughout the last period of government under Labor in Victoria, only construction companies which did union deals were given government construction work. This resulted in a duopoly developing in Victorian construction with massive blowouts in construction costs. The Victorian desalination plant was the prime example. It should have cost less than $2 billion to build but cost more than $5 billion.

These massive construction cost blowouts were a direct outcome of Labor’s bad management favouring big business. The Victorian Coalition government has fixed this. It has brought in new construction contract arrangements that ensure fair competition and a fair go for small sub-contractors. It's this increased competition that will control construction costs. Consequently these new Coalition rules have enabled the commitments to big new road, rail, hospital and school projects.

The government can allege that if Labor is put back into power, construction costs will again blow out, creating a crisis in Victorian finances and resulting in fewer services and jobs being delivered. That’s the message the Napthine government can use to counter Labor’s charges against it.

The Coalition will be hoping the voters will hear them.

Ken Phillips is executive director of Independent Contractors Australia and author of  Independence and the Death of Employment.

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