by Russell SavageNews Weekly
Victoria: Liberals in trouble - independent MP
, January 27, 2001
Russell Savage, the independent Member for the Victorian state seat of Mildura, believes the signs auger badly for the Liberals at both a state and national level.
V ictorian Liberals hope Steve Bracks' bubble is about to burst. So do their federal colleagues.
The outcome in seats such as Ballarat and McEwan is likely to be determined by a battle between John Howard and Steve Bracks rather than John Howard and Kim Beazley.
In NSW Labor 'guru' John Della Bosca's famous Bulletin interview last year he said that out in the suburbs people saw John Howard as "reassuring, the kind of guy you trust with the books of your small business, do the job, don't have to worry about it, apparently simple values".Assessment
Victorian Liberals might look at this assessment of Mr Howard to explain Mr Bracks' level of popularity. Liberals have focussed on strength as a major electoral asset, a characteristic Jeff Kennett appeared to have in abundance. Paul Keating, Nick Greiner and Wayne Goss also were perceived to be arrogant. All are now feather dusters.
'Della,' however, highlighted trust and decency. If Labor defies the odds in Queensland and survives it will be because Peter Beattie is perceived as being decent.
Decency, honesty and competence appear to be the most likely combination to generate political success today.
Victorian Liberals are having difficulty passing the decency test because of the Kennett legacy. One problem they have is that they either say it was entirely his fault, thereby admitting the weakness of key members of the current frontbench, or they say that they were not concerned about arrogance at the time.
Memories of what they did to the Auditor General will fade, but it will take time. The consequences of Kennett's privatisation will linger also.
Meanwhile, the Victorian Opposition puts its faith in questioning the State Government's financial performance. They have struck a chord with unexpectedly high increases in Workcover premiums, due to much more than the partial restoration of common law, suffered by small business.
However, their opposition to the Fair Employment Bill raises the decency issue. A significant number of regional Victorians earn about $400 for a 38-hour week and are the least likely to be paid overtime and penalty rates, courtesy of the Kennett awards.
There is not even substantial evidence that these conditions have generated extra jobs.
While VECCI maintains its opposition to the legislation, the Master Builders, Housing Industry Association, the Road Transport Association and the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce have withdrawn their opposition since the Government amended the legislation.
There is also a credibility problem. Seventy-five thousand Victorians found full-time jobs in the twelve months to the end of November, the job growth in the country was stronger than in Melbourne and the Australian Industry Group confirmed the Government was not responsible for the large job losses in manufacturing.
The Liberals accuse the Government of being financially irresponsible, but stand accused of making promises totalling $4.5 billion last year.
Perhaps the explanation for John Howard's standing with ordinary Australians lies in his views on social issues. However, it took his Victorian counterparts months to announce a decision on injecting rooms.
When it comes to extending the Equal Opportunity Act to include transsexuals and cross-dressers, Dr Napthine described me, in a homosexual paper, as a reactionary, pandering to my conservative constituents because I had tried to amend the legislation to give extra protection to small businesses, parents, women and religious bodies.
The Labor Government has introduced legislation to extend benefits and property entitlements to homosexual couples and children in these relationships.
Since 20 Liberals, including three or four of the parliamentary leadership team and another five Shadow Ministers, inserted a full-page ad in the brochure promoting Melbourne's 2001 gay and lesbian festival, presumably nothing will change.
Given the Opposition's list of Government "failures", one wonders why Steve Bracks is still so popular. They could say their assessment has not yet filtered through to the electorate.
Alternatively, it could be that while the Liberals' criticisms appeal to the business community, they not only do not strike a chord with average Victorians, but also revive memories of the Kennett Government's withdrawal of services.
Maybe it is the voters who see Steve Bracks as being decent and competent, just as ordinary Australians see John Howard as being decent and competent.
Then again, maybe the State Government's standing has much more to do with assessments of the Opposition as it has to do with anything else.