Victorian Liberal leader Ted Baillieu is under pressure from members of his party room to push out Louise Asher from her shadow Water portfolio following her bungling of party policy on the government’s controversial “north-south” pipeline.
The pipeline has been considered by conservatives their last, best hope for winning the next state election with the pipeline seen as symbolic of the state governing putting Melbourne ahead of regional Victoria.
Liberal strategists say it’s not just country seats directly affected by the pipeline either, South Barwon, Ripon, the Ballarat and Bendigo seats, Macedon, even Yan Yean and certainly Seymour where the government will be feeling the heat.
It was assumed by outsiders that Asher’s new position was a carefully thought out strategy to snatch and grab those country seats and make that a higher political priority for the election that will be held on 27 November 2010.
Thursday last week, Asher declared most emphatically that a Liberal-National government “will not take water from the pipeline” and that isn’t “morally just” to do so.
Now the position is not greatly different from the government’s that the pipeline would only be used if needed.
Sadly for the Liberals, Asher’s position wasn’t carefully considered. It was a snafu of extraordinary proportions.
More than a backflip or an error, it’s a reversal that highlights that the complexity of the issue and why the pipeline is being built in the first place. It is an insurance policy for Melbourne, in case it runs out of water in 2010.
But the politics of taking country water “for Melbourne’s toilet bowls” was set to be devastating at the next election for a long-term government. The government has clearly not adequately made the case for the need for the pipeline. Letting Melbourne become a desert ghost town is not a defendable position, so there’s certainly scope for the state Government to get the message out. Unless they wish to rely on the Opposition’s own-goals, they government would do well to consider how they are communicating on this issue.
A number of Asher’s foes in Spring Street are saying the only solution is to give her another portfolio or to dump her completely so the vision of her backflippery cannot be used in the future.
Some in Ted Baillieu’s office are believed to be reeling over this debacle and agree Asher has “cost them plenty” but she is a crucial part of the bloc of support that underwrites Ted’s leadership of the party. “Humiliating Lasher is not an option for Ted. We’ll just muddle through and hope it’s forgotten in the excitement of Grand Final Week.”
For Essendon supporters like Asher, there’s not much excitement at all this Grand Final Week, just a few memories of past glories, a longing for victory and a probably unrealistic hope that rebuilding won’t take another five years. Her foes are right. She needs to be moved from Water at the earliest opportunity.