New conservative government in Victoria set to obstruct the Federal Left
INCOMING Victorian premier Ted Baillieu will challenge key planks of Julia Gillard's reform agenda. This included the broadband network, health reform, the mining tax and water, in a clear challenge to the Prime Minister's ability to deliver.
The premier-elect last night told The Australian he will launch an immediate audit of Victorian hospital waiting lists to determine whether the national health reform deal signed by outgoing Premier John Brumby provides enough for his state.
Mr Baillieu will also make his support for Canberra's planned roll-out of the National Broadband Network conditional on improved mobile phone reception in regional and metropolitan areas.
Mr Baillieu's aggressive approach towards Ms Gillard's major reforms came as Labor insiders predicted Mr Brumby would soon stand down to allow a smooth transition to a new Labor leadership team.
As Mr Brumby formally conceded that the Victorian election was lost, speculation centred on his Health Minister Daniel Andrews as the likely replacement leader. Water Minister Tim Holding and one of the party's rising stars, Regional and Rural Development Minister Jacinta Allan, were also being mooted as candidates, but considered less likely to run.
Mr Baillieu drove through the gates to the Governor's mansion at about 6:30pm last night to formally accept his commission as next premier. While he is yet to formally outline his priorities for government, he told The Australian more questions needed to be answered before he could support either the NBN or Ms Gillard's reforms to hospital finance.
"Before taxpayers fund an NBN, basic services such as mobile phone reception in many regional and metropolitan areas of Victoria should be addressed and improved wherever possible," he said.
"Victorians don't know enough about the health deal John Brumby signed with Kevin Rudd. We will commence an audit on coming to government to reveal the true extent of hospital waiting lists in Victoria. I've made it clear that we'll examine every aspect of the health deal on coming to government, and if it's not in the interests of Victorian families, we will seek to get a better outcome from Julia Gillard."
The instalment of a Coalition government in Victoria, along with Colin Barnett's West Australian government, will further complicate the Prime Minister's task in securing state support through COAG for her reforms.
The NSW Labor government is widely expected to face a huge defeat in March next year and opposition parties in NSW and Queensland signalled they would also take a critical approach to Ms Gillard's plans. Mr Barnett said he was pleased not to be the only non-Labor premier.
Mr Brumby called Mr Baillieu shortly before a 5pm media conference to concede defeat in Saturday's election and pass on his congratulations. He blamed the "weight of time" after 11 years of Labor government as being the most decisive factor in the result. "The electorate has spoken and we must accept their verdict, no matter how close the result," he said. "The people of Victoria felt it was time to give another team a chance."
In addition to Ms Gillard's NBN and health reforms, Mr Baillieu urged caution towards Labor's proposed national curriculum, Murray-Darling Basin plan and mining tax.
"I am supportive of a national curriculum and it was originally a Liberal idea," he said. "But Victorian families don't want a prescriptive one-size-fits-all approach. There should be a focus on basics, especially with declining literacy and numeracy standards amongst Victorian students. It is also important to have a sound mix of content and skills and there should be a balanced approach to Australia's and Victoria's history and social values".
In a threat to the plans to return water to the Murray-Darling Basin, Mr Baillieu said he would not allow the changes to be fast-tracked in Victoria.
"It is clear that much more work needs to be done on the social and economic impact of the plan on Victorian communities and families," he said. Mr Baillieu will seek an emergency briefing from Ms Gillard on the mining tax and potential impacts on Victoria.
The comments to The Australian reveal the Prime Minister faces an uphill battle to deliver many of her national reforms.
Mr Baillieu said he would push for a "better deal" in the proposed national health reforms and additional commonwealth funding for major infrastructure projects.
In a forerunner to what is likely to become an increasingly difficult climate between the federal government and the states over proposed reforms, Mr Baillieu told The Australian one of the first things he wanted to do for the state on a national level was to re-examine what Victoria received in the health agreement.
"Victoria has the potential to make a bigger contribution to the national economy and do better on service delivery, integrity of government and cost of living," he said. "I will be pushing for a better deal for Victoria on health and infrastructure funding."
Mr Baillieu said he wanted to secure more funding for his proposed railway line to Avalon Airport, near Geelong, and funding to improve the state's level crossings.
He also wanted, as a key priority, "crucial road funding" to stop traffic bottlenecks in the city and suburbs which "damage the economy and slow travel speeds".
It comes as Coalition opposition parties said they would also take a critical approach to Ms Gillard's plans.
Queensland Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek said the Murray-Darling plan, the health takeover, the NBN and the mining tax were all potential flashpoints. "I am encouraged that Queenslanders are growing in confidence with the policies the LNP have been announcing, but we are not taking anything for granted and will work day and night to provide a viable alternative to the tired, long-term Labor government," he said.
And NSW Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell has declared that if he wins government he will not sign deals that left NSW people worse off. "The NSW Liberals and Nationals will not sign up to any national agreements which leave the state's services or taxpayers worse off."
NSW opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said NSW Liberals and Nationals had always voiced concerns about handing over GST funding, especially when there were no details on what levels the "efficient costs" would be set at.
"The NSW Liberals and Nationals have positive plans for health reform in NSW that we believe are compatible with the current arrangements but we reserve the right to act in the best interests of NSW patients should circumstances change".