Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle comfortable re-election surprises no serious observer, on reflection. He had done a virtuous job as Lord Mayor and ran a very strong campaign. And yet, during the election we witnessed the most extraordinarily vicious attack on him by The Age newspaper about his team’s campaign fundraising.
A number of observations are worth making:
■ This is – according to Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood’s AGM musings – probably the last Melbourne City Council election there’ll be with a print edition of The Age;
■ Once, the impact of The Age’s attack on any one candidate or team would have been devastating, in this case, Doyle’s result was emphatic, an even bigger re-election endorsement than that received by the very popular John So in 2004 demonstrating the lefty newspaper’s flaccid impotence, the loss of power to even meddle in a Melbourne municipal election was revealed on the same day their soon-to-be shuttered Tullamarine printing press had a major power outage too;
■ Other candidates had many problems or scandals to deal with that didn’t get much of a run at all in that newspaper, except for the entrepreneurial fellow who has denied involvement in electoral fraud (arguably the biggest story of the campaign came from The Age’s principal source of anti-Doyle briefings, Ken Ong, who made some damning admissions that were reported in The Age without them realising their magnitude);
■ After his admission that he failed to report an offer of a bribe from a developer, Liberal Ken Ong, would probably do well not to pursue an active role in planning matters, and certainly not as chair of the Planning committee, and he certainly needs to come clean on what happened and with whom;
■ Despite Doyle’s landslide result, of nine, there are two Greensparty councillors elected (with Stephen Mayne, the Greensparty ally and preference feeder, who, by his own account, did no campaigning and whose legal entitlement to run – because he doesn’t live, doesn’t genuinely occupy or own property in the Melbourne municipality – is highly questionable) essentially because the ALP operation in Melbourne didn’t show up. To the extent it did, through the enthusiastic operations of Labor Right people David Cragg and his offsider Richard Foster, they did well. Mayoral candidate, Liberal patriot, philanthropist and pharmacist to the stars David Nolte helped get Foster there in a generous move that cements his high standing as a supporter of good causes. The Right is a reasonably small but feisty part of the ALP in inner-city Melbourne, with the Labor Left the largest grouping by a long way. The Labor Left, back in the day, ran the Melbourne council with a fierce intensity, now they appear to have gift-wrapped it and handed it to their enemy, apparently hoping they don’t make the most of it. Some in the Left told VEXNEWS they well understand that by not fielding a candidate they likely increased the Greensparty representation and therefore that party’s campaign infrastructure against federal candidate Cath Bowtell. Probably a mistake they won’t repeat.
If Robert Doyle continues to do his job well, we won’t hear that much from the City of Melbourne for four years. Ratepayers don’t want controversy and trouble-plagued councils, they want a quiet focus on the basics. In that context, attention-seeker Mayne’s role will be interesting, his form on Manningham council (where he vilified and harassed an elderly Chinese councillor to the point he quit due to poor health) and early Tweets suggest he’ll do his best to disrupt Doyle to gain attention for himself. Whether the other councillors can be bothered with these games, all likely to lead to unfavourable Manningham-style headlines and the government exercising its under-used ability to terminate individual councillors, remains to be seen.
In all, Doyle’s result is an astonishing repudiation of The Age’s multi-week campaign of smear and hatred and therefore warms our heart. He deserved re-election and that newspaper certainly deserves what’s coming to it real soon.
Every time we get a little bit sentimental about that newspaper’s impending doom, every time we reflect that having two competitive newspapers in Melbourne is inherently a good thing and good for journalists and journalism, every time we wonder what VEXNEWS will do when we don’t have them around to kick any more, every time we pray they don’t fold prior to the imminent criminal prosecutions for their voter database hacking, they commit a new atrocity that amply justifies their demise. Their atrocious behaviour against Doyle on fund-raising, when he has complied with every legal requirement, was self-indulgent madness of the most under-graduate, venal and vindictive kind. The Lord Mayor, understandably, has threatened to sic his lawyers onto them. He shouldn’t go there: the best revenge is success. And with a vote even bigger than the legendary John So, he has succeeded in spades.
UPDATE: It took the best part of a week for The Age to swallow its pride and congratulate Robert Doyle on the most emphatic victory since Melbourne has had direct election of the Lord Mayor. They are perturbed Doyle won’t speak with them until they apologise for implying corruption in election fundraising when no credible claim of any wrongdoing on the council has been made other than by The Age’s principal source, Ken Ong, who was attempting to boost the electoral chances of his ticket that was running in opposition to Doyle. Ong, as we reported at the time, revealed that he had failed to report a bribe offer made by a developer to himself. It was an own-goal of the most head-slapping kind.
The notable part of the Age’s editorial on Doyle is it envisages holding Doyle to account forever and a day despite its CEO – and recent catastrophically bad circulation numbers – making it clear that he’ll still be in the Lord Mayoral robes on the Age’s final day of publication. For the reasons we considered above, the music of celebration on that blessed day will be a bitter-sweet symphony, probably even for Lord Mayor Robert. Long may he reign.