August 26th 2000

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: “Stolen Generation”: where to now?

EDITORIAL: Indonesia falls apart?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Why Howard’s IVF hand-grenade rattled ALP

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Protests to confront World Economic Forum

DRUGS: Victorian Liberals reject injecting rooms

Straws in the Wind

HEALTH: Ways to shorten hospital waiting lists

HEALTH: US-style Managed Care comes to Australia

'Fair trade' or 'free trade'


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Straws in the Wind

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, August 26, 2000
? Trouble in Paradise

One cannot but feel a certain sympathy for Steve Bracks as his Government staggers from mishap to mishap (as forecast in these pages when the hapless Premier first took office).

The same processes were ready to unfold had John Brumby been the Premier — except that Bracks, owing his elevation to the groups now destabilising his government and the state, was expected to give the union leaders who call the shots, what they demanded.

That he is trying not to surrender control of the state to these people is being treated by them as a betrayal. He has sold out.

He has not “sold out” — for he knows the price of surrender. But he is on a slide.

The nurses’ union will not get all of what they want, but enough to seriously blow out government spending. And the other health and caring bodies are going to demand the same — or else — with all the further fiscal consequences that that will entail.

The Teachers have a 30 per cent claim pending, and the Public Service Unions are waiting impatiently in the wings for their slice of the Magic Pudding.

And if anyone thinks that the building unions are now happy with their lot, they must be living in another country. Or rather, another state. As to the Transport Unions and the Power Workers — I for one will be watching their progress with interest. Hands up for another stoush with Chris Corrigan!

There are a number of melancholy features of all of this.

Firstly, we have two main parties, Government and Opposition, who are perceived to be weak, even divided.

Powerful extra-Parliamentary groups judge this situation as their opportunity, and so, we are enduring the politics of blackmail; the culture of extortion. Whereas Labor’s problems are structural, those of the Liberals may be temporary. They can already sense some electoral policy winners, and only the most energetic importunities on the part of outside interests, targeting individual conservative MPs, is slowing up the Liberal recovery.

Those “maverick” MPs might weigh the greater gains of staying with a renascent party, as against fifteen minutes of fame, or whatever, now.

The second melancholy feature is that this state, and the country, are perceived as having some fiscal surpluses, with the economy running fairly well. (Of course, both of these phenomena could change virtually overnight.) But sectional greed has been whipped-up, in order to demolish these surpluses. The media is leading the charge on this.

And in Victoria, the media, with a few exceptions, are giving these continuous strikes and threats of strikes, and their effects and future consequences, sotto voce coverage.

Thus, we have heard a little about hospital bed closures, but not, in many places, of ambulances being turned away from nine major hospitals. As they have been.

In reality, there is a fairly short time span for this kind of news management to succeed, along with its diversionary results, e.g., the Olympic Torch, Stolen Children, and Nelson Mandela’s forthcoming opinion piece.

We are not living in the 1980s, and people now sense that these largely prefabricated confrontations aren’t inevitable.

But another alarming feature of Bracks’ problem is one that he has created for himself. He is in danger of seriously alienating the police, on whose probity and unity so much depends.

Having demonstrated that they could clear a whole area of pushers and addicts viz Footscray, and announcing that they would do the same elsewhere, given the resources — they have found magistrates turning loose pushers, and big time operators of amphetamine factories. When the police suggested that our judiciary examine the law of this land, they were told to back-off, by the Attorney General.

Police Commissioner Neil Comrie has just announced that crime numbers are falling, including apprehended drug offenders. Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun has in turn suggested that the police are no longer bothering to pick many of these people up.

They’ve got the message — waste of time. Back-off.

Steve Bracks really has no option but to support our police — for they are not his — and spell out the duties of the judiciary, to the judiciary.

He would not want to finish his career, known as the man who nobbled the police, and let the drug barons run wild over Victoria. Some pollies I know wouldn’t care, but he does.

The final alarming development is the defiance of Industrial Tribunals by unions, and the initial readiness of Bracks and Co. to accept a mediator.

Presumably, one approved of by the unions. Fortunately, the nurses have now dropped this demand.

This by-passing of the legal system has just been demanded of John Howard, on another matter, but he enjoys the benefits of political experience.

Like Kennett before him, Steve Bracks is in increasing danger of losing touch with mainstream Victorians.

He might consider reshuffling his somewhat tatty Cabinet, talk more to the Independents, and listen less to the spin doctors.

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