VICTORIA’S new premier will need to spend more time trying to sell the government’s message, while navigating the Liberal Party out of crisis, in the coming weeks and months.
Speaking to The Standard yesterday, leading political commentator Nick Economou said Denis Napthine would have a better approach to the media than his predecessor.
The Monash University academic said Dr Napthine was a seasoned political communicator.
“I think that will be one of his greatest strengths,” Professor Economou said.
He also challenged suggestions the party had resurrected a previously-unsuccessful opposition leader.
“He didn’t really get a chance — he was removed by Robert Doyle and other forces in the Liberal Party,” he said.
Few could have foreseen the former veterinarian and country Victorian MP rising to the highest office this week.
Professor Economou said Ted Baillieu’s departure appeared to be aimed at keeping the former premier’s allies in the commanding seats of government.
“It came as a real shock. I think what has clearly happened is that Ted Baillieu has relieved himself as leader to reinforce the position of his allies,” Professor Economou said.
He said Mr Baillleu had “blindsided” opponents hoping to topple him and install Planning Minister Matthew Guy.
“He’s beaten his opponents to the punch by resigning … he’s jumped before he was pushed.”
But he said Mr Baillieu would have likely survived a leadership spill.
Dr Napthine still has to resolve a scandal surrounding secret police tapes and rogue independent Frankston MP Geoff Shaw — whose actions have undermined the Coalition’s majority in the lower house.
Liberal backbencher and Western Victoria MLC Simon Ramsay described Dr Napthine as a capable leader.
“It’ll be up to Denis to decide how to deal with Geoff Shaw,” he said. “It’s not helpful for Geoff Shaw to sit on the cross bench with no one knowing what he’s going to do.”
Meanwhile, Dr Napthine will also have to confront two bitter industrial disputes with teachers and paramedics who are both demanding pay increases.
Australian Education Union Victorian secretary Meredith Peace told The Standard she was hoping for a different atmosphere when both sides negotiate in Melbourne today.
“If the new premier is true to his word about resolving the dispute he needs to come to the table and negotiate,” she said.
“The government have put up the same position over and over again.”
Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Dr Napthine also rejected calls to reverse TAFE funding cuts.
Ambulance Employees Association of Victoria secretary Steve McGhie said he hoped the leadership change could kick-start fresh talks.
“I don’t know if he’s going to be any easier but we’re hopeful that he will give some direction to his negotiators,” Mr McGhie said.
Federal Wannon MP Dan Tehan said Dr Napthine was the best choice to lead the state.
“It is unexpected and it’s caught everyone by surprise but Denis will do an outstanding job as premier,” Mr Tehan said.
“He’s got wonderful experience in the job with 25 years. He’s been opposition leader in the most difficult circumstances that you can have immediately following an election defeat.”
Dr Napthine previously served as parliamentary secretary for Mr Tehan’s mother, Marie Tehan, when she was health minister in the Kennett government.
Local Liberal stalwart Jim Dwyer said he watched Dr Napthine grow from a “young veterinarian into a seasoned political campaigner”.
“I think it’s a great coup for Warrnambool to have a premier down here,” he said.