VICTORIA: by Ross SmithNews Weekly
Bracks' fading honeymoon with voters?
, December 16, 2000
Ross Smith MP questions whether the Bracks' Government's high approval rating in the electorate will last for much longer.
While the Brack's Labor Government continues to enjoy its honeymoon with a high approval rating, there are already signs that the State is quickly reverting to its former "rust bucket" status.
Union domination over government decisions, businesses quitting Victoria to go interstate and off-shore, workplace costs soaring following WorkCover and other tax increases and overseas investments almost drying up, are the relevant tell-tale indications.
The so-called "Fair Employment" Bill has yet more repercussions for business on the whole industrial relations' front. The buoyant economy of a year ago and the "can do" Government driving major projects and enterprises have all but disappeared - only to be replaced with 350 plus reviews on simple policy matters.
In fact, some of the new investments did not even make it to Victoria, including IBM and Oracle, which moved to NSW, Virgin Airlines to Queensland and BHP relocating its administration to South Australia. Substantial sweetheart deals with teachers' and nurses' unions have resulted in huge slices of the State budget being spent to return the union favours of helping Labor into government, albeit with the help of the independent MPs (Labor has 43 of the 88 seats in the Legislative Assembly).
The business sector, like the long-suffering public, was not impressed with the La Trobe Valley power unions flexing their muscles, which resulted in two random widespread blackouts. A crisis is developing in business confidence as a result of all this union militance that has also extended itself, of course, to schools. At the same time hundreds more public servants are being employed, which is standard practice under Labor administrations.
The hard-earned $1.7 billion surplus left by the previous Government will soon be fritted away at the current rate of government spending or, as some business leaders are saying privately, misspending.
A curious development, which surprised the whole electorate, was the sacking of the Governor, Sir James Gobbo. While this has not dented Labor in the popularity stakes, it is a sleeper, particularly in the minds of the Italian community, where he has attained almost icon status.
Meanwhile, Victorians generally are becoming increasingly concerned at the unprofessionalism of some of the inexperienced new ministers. For the Association of Secondary Principals to pass a motion of no-confidence in Education Minister, Mrs. Delahunty is almost unprecedented - but understandable due to appalling communication and delayed announcements of the major alteration to schools' global budgets, which penalised schools with more experienced teachers. The hand of the Australian Education Union was clearly all over this change, following negotiations on the teachers' pay package.
As for the Melbourne Herald Sun of November 30 to devote its full front banner to the soaring costs of the Ambulance Royal Commission with a banner headline "Sick Joke", this could spell the beginning of the end of the Bracks honeymoon period.
The story claimed that the cost of the Royal Commission was climbing towards $40 million - enough to put 130 life-saving ambulances on the road.
While the Royal Commission has grabbed the headlines, Labor's record in health administration is unspectacular. Public hospital waiting lists are up by 5000 over the last of the Kennett years as thousands of operations are cancelled or postponed.
Health Minister Thwaites cancelled elective surgery during the Olympic Games for three weeks, which is unprecedented in the Victorian hospital system. People waiting on trolleys for hospital admission are up by 54 per cent. All these figures were obtained from Government reports, including that of the Auditor General.
Semi-urgent elective surgery lists were up this year by 57 per cent and 7000 fewer people were treated in the emergency system than during the previous year.
Labor's heroin injecting room proposal was rightly rejected by the Liberal Party after wide community consultation, which including the input of the National Civic Council.
In Opposition, Labor called for open, honest and transparent government. These claims were their daily mantra. In government, Labor is running as far from these ideas as their legs will carry them.
This is a Government that is unwilling or unable to make decisions. This means it is unable to provide the dynamic leadership required to guide Victoria into the 21st century. It clearly has no agenda for the next three years.
No wonder the business community has run out of patience with it. The next big question is how long will it take the wider voting public to realise that little is happening as a result of Bracks Government initiatives.
All rhetoric, no substance!