The Premier needs a crisis to overcome his 'Won't Do' appearance.
TED Baillieu needs a crisis. It need not be a natural disaster, like the storm that came to President Barack Obama's aid, but as a leader who is careful and deliberate, rather than swashbuckling in the manner of the last Liberal premier, he would fare better if he had the chance to calmly steer the state in high seas.
Given that there is (thankfully) no extreme weather event in Victoria, no severe economic collapse - not even the fiscal calamity that his party peddles - Baillieu may have to find an emergency elsewhere, his own Falkland Islands.
As it stands, the major crisis appears to be his rating in the polls, which one suspects has been caused by what voters see as complete inertia. Jeff Kennett, for all his quirks, was the "Can Do" premier. Baillieu is seen as the "Won't Do" version.
The temperamental contrast with Kennett is more striking than with either of Baillieu's Labor predecessors. Kennett and Baillieu are from the same faction in the same party, yet they represent a stark contrast that crosses ideological and party lines, between the leader who plays the political game like golf and the leader who prefers the safer game of tennis.
The political golfer is a reformer. He is active and often visionary. Rather than simply responding to immediate events, he assesses where the ball sits and tees off, his eyes fixed on the flag in the distance. That destination - like Ben Chifley's "Light on the Hill" - is where he wants to take us. The golfer's task is risky, because he has to generate his own momentum off the tee. But he doesn't care. If he lands in the rough or the bunker, so be it.
Paul Keating, Gough Whitlam, Kennett and Margaret Thatcher were golfers. They surveyed the landscape, selected their club and took aim at the pin. Labor governments are more inclined to golf - introducing a Medicare, carbon tax, compulsory superannuation or disability insurance scheme - but there are also enterprising Liberals who will take a swing. What made Kennett unusual - and strongly resented - was his activist psychology.
Baillieu, clearly, has little aptitude for political golf. In the length of time that he has been premier, Whitlam had changed Australia forever, and Kennett had sacked anyone who moved and sold anything that didn't.
Baillieu, reputedly a nice bloke, appears to hold few fierce beliefs. It's not easy to say what he stands for, besides ocean swimming. Campbell Newman has shaken up Queensland, Jeff-style. The obligatory Liberal ritual sacrifice of public servants aside, Baillieu has left us alone, yet is slowly sinking. So it follows that his best - maybe only - hope of reviving his fortunes is to give tennis a try.
The tennis-playing leader takes fewer risks, but he still plays some shots. As a leader who reacts to the immediate circumstances, he has to be nimble on his feet. He hits the moving ball in a confined space, and so he does not need to possess long-range vision. He sees the ball before him - a fiscal crisis, a boat in Australian waters, or a failing Frankston train line - and plays his shot, which still requires considerable skill.
While John Howard wasn't completely averse to picking up the golf club - he teed off when introducing the GST - his signature moments were largely responses to events: gun reform after Port Arthur the East Timor crisis the Tampa and September 11 and the intervention in the Northern Territory.
Howard was comfortable on the tennis court, hitting the moving ball, where his political instincts and skills wrong-footed a cumbersome Kim Beazley. Late in the day, he pulled WorkChoices out of the golf bag and found water.
Bill Clinton, too, was Roger Federer-gifted with the racquet and, of the recent Victorian premiers, steady Steve Bracks was certainly inclined to tennis (following a mandate to not be Kennett). A leader doesn't have to be a reformer to be successful in their response to whatever is thrown up, they can exercise sound judgment.
The most talented tennis-playing politicians pick up the flight of the ball early, seizing the moment. They can take an event and define it as an emergency. Baillieu, for instance, might have seen a crisis in the sexual abuse of children by some Catholic clergy and insisted on a royal commission but it was Julia Gillard who played that big shot.
Baillieu could have declared that Victoria is suffering from a crisis in housing, or infrastructure, or public transport. He might have responded to Jill Meagher's murder in a way that prompted a conversation and crackdown on violence against women - a cause that might unite law-and-order conservatives with liberals.
Granted, state governments don't have the scope to transform in the way the federal government can, since they're largely confined to prosaic service delivery - trains, schools, hospitals. Moreover, Kennett's privatisation of utilities left Baillieu with little to sell. If those handcuffs must be acknowledged, he has still made a vivid non-impression.
While there's no appetite for revolution or austerity, the voters would welcome signs of intelligent life in Spring Street. Watch the ball, Mr Baillieu. It could be the crisis that saves you. Pick up your racquet and have a whack.