Premier Denis Napthine stares down ‘rogue MP’ in Victorian crisis

Game on: Victorian Premier and South West Coast MP Denis Napthine (above left) and independent MP Geoff Shaw’s falling out has led to a constitutional crisis.
Game on: Victorian Premier and South West Coast MP Denis Napthine (above left) and independent MP Geoff Shaw’s falling out has led to a constitutional crisis.

A STATE constitutional crisis erupted last night with the Napthine government’s future in jeopardy following independent MP Geoff Shaw’s surprise withdrawal of support.

In a dramatic evening in Spring Street, Premier and South West Coast MP Denis Napthine said he “would not be held to ransom by the rogue member for Frankston” as political experts suggest an early election was unlikely.

Both the Premier and Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews met with state Governor Alex Chernov yesterday as the constitutional crisis unfolded, the biggest threat to Dr Napthine’s premiership since he took on the role 15 months ago.

Crisis talks started late yesterday afternoon following an explosive radio interview with Mr Shaw on ABC radio. The Frankston MP said he would support a no-confidence motion in the government after failure to gain parliamentary protection from the Premier.

“This assurance hasn’t been given and I don’t trust them any more — that’s why I’d support a vote of no confidence in the government or the Premier,” Mr Shaw told drivetime listeners.

Mr Shaw’s bombshell followed attempts by arch-rival former speaker Ken Smith to have the maverick MP expelled from Parliament.

Developments last night included:

* Dr Napthine claiming Mr Shaw made “outrageous demands” in return for parliamentary support;

* Mr Shaw’s withdrawal of support for the Napthine government leaves the Parliament vote deadlocked 43-43;  

* The state budget will be passed by the state opposition to circumvent a 1975-style financial deadlock; 

* Mr Andrews called for a bipartisan meeting with the Governor to sort out the constitutional crisis;

* The Opposition Leader refused to reveal whether he would bring on a no-confidence motion when Parliament resumes next week;

* Based on Mr Shaw’s switch of allegiance, a potential motion could bring down the Napthine government;

* Mr Andrews would then be expected to form a caretaker government until an early election;

* Labor will refer Mr Shaw’s alleged demands to the state’s peak government watchdog.

Dr Napthine said the Frankston MP made a number of demands yesterday afternoon which he rejected, precipitating Mr Shaw’s unexpected announcement.

“Let me assure you that I as Premier and this government will not be held to ransom by Mr Shaw,” the Premier said.

“It is now up to Daniel Andrews, as the leader of the Opposition, as to whether he wishes to do a deal with the rogue MP from Frankston.

“Whether he wants to accept the vote of Mr Shaw and how he wishes to proceed.”

Mr Andrews said he was prepared to seek the advice of Mr Chernov, although the Governor can only act on the advice of the Premier as per Westminster protocol.

The Opposition Leader said Victorians were sick of the dysfunction of the Napthine government.

Last night’s constitutional crisis was the first of its kind since the instability caused by the “four-day premier” Tom Hollway in 1952.

Monash University political expert Nick Economou said he doubted Victoria would have an early poll given the state election is scheduled for November 29. An early election would be held only three or four weeks prior — possibly October or early November.

“The whole process of bringing about an early election can only start from next Tuesday and then after that it’s a series of parliamentary processes which take months,” Dr Economou said.

“There’s also the question of a byelection for Geoff Shaw’s seat, but that’s another complex story.”

Mr Shaw’s demands included that the Premier provide an ‘‘absolute assurance’’ that the Parliament would not sanction him further in relation to the misuse of his taxpayer-funded car.

 The Premier said Mr Shaw had made other demands, including that he make a particular judicial appointment.

The latest Newspoll published earlier this year showed Labor with a lead of 51 per cent over the Coalition on a two-party preferred basis.


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