View from The Hill

The last thing the Abbott government needs is an early Victorian election

Victorian independent MP Geoff Shaw is at the centre of more intrigue in that state’s parliament. AAP/David Crosling

The crisis that is enveloping the Liberal government in Victoria will be sending some shudders through the Abbott ranks.

With maverick state crossbencher Geoff Shaw threatening to support a no-confidence motion in the hung parliament, how events will unfold is unpredictable.

In a day of high drama, Denis Napthine told an evening news conference: “I as premier will not be held to ransom” by a rogue MP from Frankston who had made “unreasonable” demands.

Shaw had wanted an assurance the parliament would not seek to sanction him further in relation to a privileges committee report critical of his misuse of a government car. Napthine would have none of it.

With the rules around a fixed-term parliament constraining him, Napthine said the ball was now in Labor’s court. Was it going to do a deal with Shaw?

Opposition leader Daniel Andrews wants a joint meeting with the premier and Governor Alex Chernov. Andrews talks of putting the political contest to one side and asking the Governor for advice. Clearly he is uncomfortable at the thought of cosying up with Shaw.

The Victorian government is not due to go to the polls until late November. But now it might fall quickly, unless key players have cold feet.

Voters are well known for distinguishing between the state and federal spheres but if there were an early state election would they want to? They might see it a great opportunity to give the Abbott government a very sharp kick.

The Napthine government would be appalled to be saddled with the unpopularity of the federal Liberals. It would be fighting a huge battle for survival in which the Coalition would start with the odds against it.

Just as Julia Gillard found her own party preferred her to stay out of the Western Australian state campaign, so Abbott would not be much welcomed by his own party in Victoria.

The campaign would see the Victorian Coalition fighting the Abbott government over the federal budget’s proposed cutbacks of projected spending on hospitals and schools.

That would be happening as the Prime Minister battled with the Senate over budget measures.

Tuesday’s Essential Poll (in which the Abbott government trails Labor 47-53%) gives some indication of why people would likely take the opportunity of an early state election to register a federal protest.

More than half (53%) believe the Labor opposition should vote against some parts of the budget – and this includes 41% of Coalition voters.

Asked about specific measures, a majority want Labor to vote against deregulation of university fees (63%), raising the pension age (62%), the Medicare co-payment (61%) and cutting university funding (57%).

A measure of the feral atmosphere this budget has engendered is that 47% said they would support Labor blocking the budget (of which there is not a chance) and forcing a new election (40% opposed). That is a quite extraordinary result.

(And predictably, pollsters are back to asking about Malcolm Turnbull who, equally predictably, heads Abbott as best leader of the Liberal party 31-18%. Although the leadership results are academic, they must be dispiriting for Joe Hockey, on 6%, and Scott Morrison, on 1%.)

As Abbott told Tuesday’s joint parties meeting, these are testing times for the government. But he insists the electors’ message is they know there’s a job to be done and want the government to get on with doing it.

The government needed to be “indefatigable, relentless , decent, sympathetic, compassionate but unapologetic”, he told his colleagues. It had established itself in the minds of the electorate “as having warm hearts, clear heads and a strong spine”.

It’s not quite clear where the Prime Minister is getting his electoral feedback, given what the more objective data is saying pretty clearly.

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