ELECTION 2006 – NOTEBOOK
KAREN KISSANE THE first thing you notice about Ted Baillieu is his height. Six foot seven in the old lingo, (190 centimetres for those under 40). But he somehow manages to tower over everyone around him without being an imposing presence. He has a small cleft in his chin and a funny gap between his front teeth, which are ever so slightly bucked. His voice is light and soft, his stance casual, his manners gentle. It seems the state Liberal Party has abandoned its penchant for alpha males. This guy’s never going to shovel dirt at photographers.
In fact, Ted Baillieu comes across as just a little shy. He is articulate enough; the words flow. He faces media packs with composure and assents courteously to the ridiculous rituals of life on the stump: he walks back and forth for the cameras, starts his speech over for reporters who arrive late, tries not to look embarrassed as he crouches beside a dentist’s chair for a picture to go with his new policy on Victoria’s teeth.
He has his messages all down pat: John Brumby and his wobbly figures have a struggle with credibility, the Government is “taxing the stuffing out of the state”, the Government is stealing Liberal Party policies but fails to follow through with substantial change. “This Government’s been in power for seven years,” he says. “They’ve had incredible opportunity, they’ve had coffers overflowing, they’ve had mates all over the place. There’s been absolutely no reason why they couldn’t deliver, but they haven’t delivered. And increasingly they have turned this state from a can-do state to a might-do state.”
But he delivers all this tub-thumping rhetoric quietly. This politician seems to be a bombast-free zone. As he speaks to the out-thrust microphones and tape machines, he occasionally moves his hands from being clasped in front of him to being clasped behind him. There, they tremble, a sign perhaps of nerves.
Yesterday, he began his public appearances with a stop on Mordialloc beach to promise more sand, followed by a walk through weeds in Sandringham to promise a new police station on a vacant lot for which Labor had promised a police station in 1988. By noon, it is Bentleigh, and a policy of $30 million more for dental services and $3 million for scholarships for dentists. Mr Baillieu plants himself on the pavement for an interview.
A journalist asks: “The writs are under way. How are you feeling? Are you ‘pumped?’ ”
“I’m ‘pumped’,” he assures them, in the same relaxed tone. “I’ve swum this morning.”
From another: “Are you tired of (former opposition leader) Robert Doyle taking pot shots in The Sunday Age?”
He says smoothly: “No, I think Robert is making a very valuable contribution.”
“By pointing out there’s no coherent overall link to all your policies?”
Mr Baillieu stands firm: “I don’t think Robert was saying that at all.”
Asks a third: “Have you tried to almost ‘channel’ some of the Kennett government paraphernalia with your ‘Let’s get Victoria moving’?”
Says Mr Baillieu: “No, we are reflecting a mood in the community that this state is starting to stagnate.”
There was one moment of genuine excitement. Driving from one venue to another, Mr Baillieu and his party were almost hit by a large blue bus that swung nonchalantly out in front of them. Mr Baillieu’s driver had to swerve to the wrong side of the road where, luckily, he met no oncoming traffic.
Joking about it later with journalists, Mr Baillieu says: “You guys would have been there with your cameras going ‘click click click, no don’t help him, can you just wipe that blood from your eye, Mr Baillieu?’ ”
He’s getting ahead of himself. According to the opinion polls, it is on election night that that might happen to him.
ENTERED PARLIAMENT September 1999
FAMILY Married with three children
CAMPAIGN SLOGAN “Let’s get Victoria moving again”
First published in The Age.