VICTORIA: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Bracks launches shock bid for second term
, November 16, 2002
The decision by Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks, to go to the polls on November 30, is a decision which will not improve the reputation of politicians with an electorate hardened to the cynicism of political leaders. His timing barely leaves time for any sort of election campaign.
Under Victoria's constitution, a government must serve at least three years of its four year term before going to the polls. After repeatedly declaring that he would serve his full four year term, Mr Bracks called the election on the first day after he had completed three years in government.
His reasons are obvious. The Parliamentary Liberal Party has recently replaced the uninspiring Denis Napthine with Robert Doyle as leader, and although Doyle has landed some telling blows on the ALP, he is still widely regarded as an unknown.Slick publicity
On the other hand, Steve Bracks' slick publicity machine has turned a person who was equally unknown at the last election into a genial and uncontroversial leader, who has distanced himself from the scandals surrounding some of his lieutenants.
These include Police Minister Andre Haermeyer's 20 day junket around North America and Western Europe, which cost taxpayers $20,000.
The Government's close links with the unions will also come under focus, with Labor bowing to union pressure to reject Commonwealth oversight of the MCG redevelopment. This cost Victorians some $70 million.
However, the election will be over before the damaging findings of the Cole Royal Commission into the building industry are released.
The Bracks Government's plan for a fast rail link to key rural centres, promised for completion in Labor's first term in office, will not be completed, nor will it achieve the time targets the Government set itself three years ago.
The Government also faces widespread criticism for its efforts to decriminalise street prostitution and establish heroin injecting rooms - but it backed away in the face of massive community protests. There was also widespread criticism of Police Chief Christine Nixon's decision to lead a Victoria Police contingent in Melbourne's Gay parade.
While Mr Bracks has called for a reduction in gambling, particularly on poker machines introduced by the former Kennett Liberal Government,* the State Government now earns some 30 per cent more from gambling than it did three years ago.
Excluding Crown Casino, Victorians lost $2.6 billion on electronic gaming machines - a disproportionate number of which are located in working class areas - in the last financial year. Gambling is now Victoria's second highest source of tax revenue after payroll tax.
Sleeper issues in the election include the soaring level of land taxes - due to the escalation of property prices - and the massive government windfall received in stamp duties from housing sales.
For many young couples, stamp duties add around $20,000 to the cost of buying a home.
Another issue is the impact of the drought in rural Victoria, where Labor picked up a swag of seats in the last election, due to widespread disaffection in rural areas with the policies of the Kennett Government.
Latest opinion polls suggest that the Bracks Government is marginally ahead of the Opposition parties on primary votes, but will get most of the preferences from Greens, who are polling 12 per cent and Democrats, who are getting just 2 per cent.
The Greens' claim after winning the Federal seat of Cunningham, NSW in a by-election, that they will win seats in inner Melbourne from the ALP is, however, wishful thinking. The Cunningham result was due to a concurrence of events - no Liberal candidate, local indignation at the imposition of a head-office candidate against a local, and preferences from all 12 other candidates.
On the other hand, there is a large number of Victorian seats which could easily change hands, including the seats of Bass, held by independent Susan Davies, and Benalla, won in a by-election by Labor after the retirement of former National Party leader, Pat McNamara.
There are six Labor seats with a majority of less than one per cent, compared to just one Liberal seat.
Although less attention is being given to Victoria's National Party, this election will be a life-and-death struggle for the party.
Its leader, Peter Ryan, faces three-cornered contests - against both the Liberal Party and the ALP - for every National Party seat. The Nationals have worked hard to shake off the legacy of their years in coalition with the Kennett Liberal Government, when they were widely blamed for widespread closures of schools, hospitals, banks and other services in rural Victoria, while forced amalgamations were imposed on many local government areas and water boards.
Mr Ryan has declared that if the National Party has the balance of power, he will not re-enter coalition with the Liberals.
At the time of writing, the Victorian election outcome is completely unpredictable. Labor could win easily; but more likely, the poll will be close with the final result dependent on preferences in a handful of marginal seats.* Footnote on poker machines - 30 Nov 2002
In the last issue of News Weekly
, I wrote that poker machines had been introduced by former Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett.
It has been pointed out to me that poker machines were introduced by the previous Labor Premier, Joan Kirner, before the election of the Kennett Government in October 1992.