EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Why Labor could lose Victoria
, November 27, 2010
Eleven years after taking power in Victoria, a tired state Labor Government faces possible defeat from a resurgent Liberal/National Party opposition which has belatedly latched onto the deep frustration felt by many voters at the failures of John Brumby's Labor Government.
Among the major issues directly attributable to the state government are the massive increases in costs of electricity, water, council rates and public transport, while hospital waiting-lists have continued to grow. Expensive promises to address these issues are either not believed, or are seen as contributing further to the future tax burden facing Victorians.
Additionally, there are a number of particular issues which have aroused widespread opposition around the state. In areas north of the Great Dividing Range, there is deep concern at the Government's failure to support irrigators during the drought which has forced thousands of farming families off the land.
This has been aggravated by the construction of the North-South Pipeline, which diverted waters earmarked for irrigation in the north of the state to supplement Melbourne's water supply.
While the Labor Government has refused to consider construction of new water storages in Gippsland and the Otway Ranges, the two wettest areas of the state, it is in the process of spending some $4 billion on a large desalination plant in Gippsland, along the coast of the Bass Strait.
The plant will be a major consumer of electricity, at a time when the State Government has promised to cut electricity production at Victoria's largest power station, Hazelwood, by 25 per cent immediately, as part of its plan to close down the brown coal-fired power station entirely, to deal with climate change.
The fact that the closure of the power station will have little measurable effect on Australia's overall use of fossil fuels, at a time when many other countries are expanding fossil fuel consumption, seems to have been lost on a Government more interested in placating the Greens than in providing inexpensive and reliable energy for Victoria.
Many Victorians also consider that the Victorian Labor Government, under pressure from extreme environmentalists, locked up state forests and national parks in the years prior to the last year's bushfires, thereby contributing to the tragic loss of over 170 lives in the wildfires which devastated parts of the state in February 2009.
And there is deep concern at the way in which the Greens have exercised their power since forming a de facto coalition government with Labor in Canberra, since the recent federal election.
The Liberal Party, which courted the Greens in the run-up to the federal election, promising an exchange of preferences which helped the Greens win a seat in the House of Representatives, has had a reality check.
After the election, the federal Greens, led by Senator Bob Brown and the Greens' sole MP, Adam Bandt, helped Julia Gillard form government, and then signed an agreement with the Prime Minister giving the Greens unprecedented access to government and opportunity to push their legislative agenda.
In Victoria, when the Liberals attempted to negotiate a preference swap, they discovered that the Greens were simultaneously negotiating to preference Labor. A fortnight before the election, the Liberals announced that they would preference Labor ahead of the Greens in all seats, effectively ending the Greens' chance of winning seats in the Legislative Assembly, and having the balance of power in state parliament.
At the same time, there has been a sudden focus on the Greens' legislative agenda which would impose further massive increases in costs on all Victorians, with the immediate closure of Hazelwood Power Station, huge subsidies for solar and wind-power generation, the introduction of death duties, and cuts to funding for independent schools, to name a few.
Both the Greens and Labor have also alienated the Christian constituency in Victoria.
With Green support, the Labor Party's support for Victoria's draconian abortion law - while claiming that it supported a conscience vote - aroused widespread opposition, while the federal Greens' promotion of homosexual marriage and euthanasia has further antagonised many people who had believed that the Greens were primarily concerned about environmental issues.
There are at least three Christian-based parties, the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), Family First and the Christian Democratic Party (CDP), which are contesting upper house and some lower house seats. They are exchanging preferences, and therefore maximising their vote, before giving preferences to the Coalition Liberal and National Parties, ahead of Labor and the Greens.
Additionally, in country areas, the Country Alliance is standing candidates on an explicitly anti-Green agenda. The fact that Labor is giving Country Alliance preferences in Northern and Eastern Victoria has infuriated the Greens' leadership.
The Victorian election will be a test for both Labor and the Greens.Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.