VICTORIA - by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
Return of the Rust Bucket state?
, March 11, 2000
Victoria's Labor Government has been mugged by reality. Strikes and blackouts have dogged its short reign while previously offensive Kennett creations such as the Casino and the Grand Prix seemed to have been quietly embraced. Max Teichmann explains.
Victoria's new Labor Government has hastened to fulfil the direst forebodings of its critics as to its ability to govern a modern state, and its apparent readiness to return Victoria to the rust bucket condition in which Kennett found it. But so long as the time servers and newly empowered non-entities can hang on, all's right with the world. But it isn't all right, and a number of my friends are saying that Labor in Victoria has already lost the next election. It's possible.
Victoria has been racked by industrial strife of an increasingly severe kind, virtually from day one of the new regime. There was a costly power strike which could easily reignite.
Even more serious for Victoria's future is the headlong attack on the wages structures by the building unions and the electricians. A 36-hour week and a 24 percent wage rise is the demand which justifies holding up the completion of some of the most important constructions proceeding in the state. Many building and electrical workers could, with over-time, be bringing in $80,000 to $100,000 a year.
The results have been predictable. On-going projects have been mothballed, others preparing to start have been put in the too-hard basket. Overseas initiated schemes have been scrapped, and the perception of Victoria is now that of a state in industrial anarchy, with no government in charge, and a weak and ambivalent legal structure, that cannot enforce even the deals that it does strike.
Trained interstate building and construction people are being told not to seek work in Victoria - and many young Victorians, apprehensive of their future, are starting to look outside their state. It would appear that the flow of Victorians to other parts of Australia, which Kennett had virtually stopped by lifting economic activity - no matter how bizarre some of its forms - and providing order and certainty, is resuming.
All this highlights the disappearance overnight, of essential parts of the Labor anti-Kennett campaign. Opposition to the Casino and the gambling culture, and to any extension thereof; continual criticism of the Grand Prix, and constant pronouncements that when elected to government the Coode Island petrochemical complex sitting off West Melbourne - 'a dagger at the jugular of the metropolis' - would be moved elsewhere, post haste.
Instead, the Casino is fine and, hopefully, capable of extension; the Grand Prix is a great Melbourne icon - and the Coode Island installation doesn't need to be shifted; some monies have been spent on it, so it is perfectly OK. So there it is.
Now just about every licensed wind bag demonstrator in Melbourne has regularly turned out for one or more of these issues - to be lavishly photographed by television crews operating on the dictum that more than five people bent on inconveniencing others is a Crowd - a News Item. Revolving queues of religious figure have opined on Kennett/corporate wickedness, ex cathedra, ad nauseum, pro bono public houso.
Whole forests have been felled to feed Age readers with Labor/Green resentments, at the iniquities of the Casino, the petrol heads and the Coode Island loaded dog.
Torrents of spittle have flowed out of ABC radio to the same pious effect. But now - silence. Where have all the marchers and banners gone? The blazing headlines and purple rhetoric, and the Labor election pledges? To Never Never Land. Never was so much surrendered by so few, in such a short time.
The demonstrators are gone because they were rent-a-crowds, and the rent has been stopped. The labour movement and its rich friends are not going to fund a demo against a Labor Government. The media feel the same way. Which is where all the headlines have gone. In fact, I can't remember an authentic, spontaneous demonstration in Melbourne for a long time. All that remains now is a hard core of broken-hearted clowns.
But I worry about our unemployed demonstrators. The media must beat up something for them, for Satan finds mischief for idle feet. They could finish up demonstrating against the rising of the sun. Or the setting of the Age.
In Victoria unions still pick the leader and his policies by one means or another. Which is why Victoria's government is now behaving like a headless chook.
The transplant hasn't worked. But a praetorian guard of big, rich unions pick the Caesar or dismiss him at their pleasure. Alas, Brumby, we hardly knew you. And they prefer weak emperors.
The bush is being toured by every politician and his minder, but is still waiting for Godot. They haven't heard anything interesting since Pauline was last through.
There will be new public works, new tourist developments, but no new core jobs. Our rural industries are being slowly leached by tariff cuts, exclusion from important markets, and undercutting by subsidised products from the US. Worldwide. No Free Trade here. And still both parties support economic rationalism. The bush will be selling its votes to the highest bidders; while continuing to wait for Godot.
But this general catastrophe has been coming for Labor, especially Victorian Labor for a long time.
The decimation of its basic moral ideas, and social aspirations, resulting from the highjacking of the party, by the "realists" and pragmatists, by Hawke and the Accord, a process replicated in the unions, has left a party without a future, and a past that they have trashed themselves.
Most members have long since fled the scene as they have the unions, wherever there is no compulsion to be a member.
What are left are De Tocqueville's hacks and mercenaries, whom he saw as running the American Democracy of the future. Second raters, but with the same tastes as the rich and powerful. But without their energy or intelligence. So politics would be, not their mission, or vocation, or even their profession, but rather their opportunity; for self aggrandisement and temporary status. I stress temporary, for these pollies, especially nowadays, are like grubs who turn into butterflies for a few brief days and then expire.
If one were to range through the number crunchers, faction leaders, place men and token women in the present Victorian Government and Party - Bracks' hacks, as some now call them - one would finish with a full hand of these kind of people. Not even a Joker.
The Victorian conservatives would like Bracks and Co. to stay on for some time yet; whereas Labor needs to regain momentum with a new Big issue. Meanwhile, of course, Victoria expires.