The media is backing the Denis Napthine-led Coalition to govern Victoria for another four years, despite opinion polls showing voters are likely to toss out his government at tomorrow’s election.
Editorials in Victoria’s three major newspapers – The Age, Herald Sun, and The Australian – have all backed Dr Napthine’s policies as the best way forward for the state.
Chief to their argument against a Daniel Andrews-led Labor government is his commitment to scrapping the East West Link and the likely $1.1 billion compensation bill that will result.
While praising Andrews’ personal transformation as Labor leader and his ability to unite the party, the Herald Sun said his links to the CFMEU were concerning, as was his pledge to stop the road project.
“For Victoria, most alarming of all is Daniel Andrews’ backflip on the East West Link. After spending most of the year assuring Victorians he would honour contracts and build the Link, the Labor leader used some questionable legal advice to change his mind,” the paper wrote.
“How can a politician who so flippantly changes his mind be trusted? Dishonouring these contracts would compromise Victoria’s global business reputation.
“(The Herald Sun) believes that, as premier, Mr Andrews should find a way of building the tunnel. The East West Link is the biggest weakness in the Labor leader’s quest for power. Not building it leaves a no-man’s land in the state’s transport system.”
The Age also questioned Andrews’ tunnel pledge, saying the issue had become “the crucial point of difference between the two parties”.
“Melbourne needs significant investment in both rail and road networks. It is vital because Melbourne is growing rapidly – more so than any other capital city – and if the next government does not grasp this fundamental challenge, then instead of being one of the world’s most liveable cities, Melbourne will become Australia’s most dysfunctional metropolis,” the paper wrote in its editorial.
“Four years ago, as the new Opposition leader, Mr Andrews conceded that one of the main reasons Labor lost government was that, through its 11 years in office, it had failed to keep up with the many demands that a fast-growing population imposes on government services. It beggars belief that he is now going to voters with no coherent plan for infrastructure development. Worse, his threat to terminate the East West Link construction contracts is reckless and jeopardises the investment climate in this state.”
The Australian also fixated on the tunnel as the key platform dividing the parties saying: “Dr Napthine is right to have committed to the building of the East West Link road and tunnel project”.
“Even many who are planning to vote Labor tomorrow are horrified by the party’s ridiculous pledge to scrap the project. Doing so would cost taxpayers more than $1bn in penalties for contracts already signed and leave the state without a major infrastructure project,” the paper said.
While all three papers were clear on the need for the tunnel they also noted the lacklustre campaign and the feeling among voters that Liberals had stalled Victoria’s progress under former premier Ted Baillieu, and that progress was only just beginning under Dr Napthine. They said the protracted dramas over Liberal-turned-Independent Geoff Shaw had also detracted from the party’s efforts to govern.
They said Victoria was in a strong place economically and that the Liberals were on track to deliver a solid budget surplus.
But The Age and The Australian lamented the lack of big picture vision for Victoria beyond the four-year electoral term. The Australian said the Coalition only had itself to blame if it lost Saturday’s poll.
“As well as being undermined by internal divisions for much of the past term, the Coalition has lacked a narrative about how Victoria should manage the opportunities and challenges presented by its rapid population growth,” the paper said.
“After an indifferent first term, it would need to deliver a far stronger performance if re-elected. Labor also has failed to present a cohesive narrative or convince sceptics it would look far beyond the vested interest of its union base.”
The Age delivered a similar message: “Both the Coalition and Labor are offering voters small horizons, a hash of lacklustre and incomplete policies and a welter of promises that underscore how little has been done to date. For example, neither has put forward a compelling policy of health, one that addresses the many critical issues in this sector and we doubt the Coalition’s claim that it added 800 hospital beds since 2010.”
The Herald Sun urged voters to be decisive on Saturday, saying a minority government would be disastrous for Victoria’s future.
“In a democracy, the people are always right. But in this election, Victorians must seriously reflect on the instability and indecisiveness that has been caused by minority governments,” it wrote.
“The Victorian governments of former premier Baillieu and successor Dr Napthine were balanced on a … knife edge.
“Policy took a back seat to politics. So it is an absolute necessity that Victorians vote for one of the major parties.”
The Herald Sun’s regional stable mate The Weekly Times, has also called for the Coalition to be returned, saying they had done little to deserve being a one-term government.
It said the lack of regional voices in Labor’s cabinet was a concern, but plans to revive TAFE and initiatives to attract young farmers were promising points in favour of the party.
“Mr Andrews has made much of his rural roots. And if he does take power on Saturday, it is hoped he does not quickly forget them,” the paper said.
“However, The Weekly Times believes Mr Andrews and his party have not presented a compelling enough case to change government.”
This was a sentiment echoed across the major dailies.
“While Mr Andrews outplayed Mr Baillieu and has out-campaigned Dr Napthine, he and this team have not shown they are ready to govern,” The Australian wrote.
Similarly The Age said: “Victorians deserve strong, visionary leadership. On the basis of the policies presented in this campaign, The Age believes Denis Napthine deserves to be elected to serve a full term in his own right.”
And the Herald Sun concluded: “Perhaps one of the principal failures of the Napthine Government has been an inability to sell itself to the electorate. But missed opportunities alone do not render the Coalition unfit for a second term. The Herald Sun therefore urges Victorians to vote for the return of the Napthine Government.”