by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
Victoria - Battleground State
, June 16, 2001
Federal Labor plans to relocate its national campaign HQ to Melbourne - in the hope of winning up to seven marginal Liberal seats in Victoria. Whether it does so or not will be partly influenced by how voters perceive the State Liberal opposition and its policies, as against Premier Steve Bracks and his.
The State Liberals - no fault of opposition Leader Denis Napthine, or any other possible replacement - are performing badly. Not because Bracks is doing well, but because the Liberals here are virtually refusing to take advantage of Government mistakes, or make a stand against approaching legislation, to which most Victorians are opposed. Were the Liberals to resist, and they are in the position to do so - this would create, among other things, a far more inhospitable climate to Beazley's people, by the end of the year.
But there are really two Victorian Liberal Parties: those still attached to the Kennett way of doing things, and surreptitiously, to him and the network of connections and little mates which he had created, and to whom, in his second term, he appeared to devote all attention, while ignoring the voters. These Kennett-style Liberals yearn for the good old days, and hope that the Master's previous associations, including some important lobbies, might still throw them at least a few crumbs. It would only be crumbs, for if voters are fickle, so are lobbies and corporate heavies.
They switched from Kennett to Bracks without a tremor, once the necessary reassurances were forthcoming. The Casino and the pokies still reign supreme - and help gut the working classes. They, poor dears, have been bought off, temporarily, by cheaper beer and a couple of cents off petrol, at the permanent cost to Federal budgeting, be it Liberal or Labor. Perhaps Beazley shouldn't have bellowed so loudly for these idiotic handouts. Melbourne's Central District still seems a haven for beggars, pushers, and yobbos. Ugly new big-ticket architectural atrocities keep arising. Then there are the "Arts" and Education.
Victorian State education started to deteriorate with the advent of Hamer. The pandering to the Sixties generation, not to mention 57 varieties of feminism, which occurred during those wasted years of Sir Rupert, makes it rather unkind to blame Joan Kirner for everything. She simply built on rotten Lib/Lab foundations.
Kennett tried, I think, to repair the State education system, but failed, and gave up. He couldn't deal with the entrenched Left education bureaucracy; he allowed his own politicians to do sweetheart deals with the widely unpopular chalkies, and their media cheer squads. This policy is continuing.
If one wants to find out Bracks' education policies, one rings the union, not the Minister. If curious as to what Labor is going to do about some industrial conflict, try the Trades Hall first. As to social policies, such as Race Vilification laws, the relevant lobby, whose wish list is the Labor Government policy. Drugs? I'd rather not say. And if you want to know the time, don't ask a policeman - ask the International Socialists. If you want to discover if you can get through to the airport to catch your plane - don't ask the Transport Minister or the Police Minister, but the dominant faction among the taxi drivers. Like Italy - in 1921.
The second half of the Liberals, the post-Kennett people, want to do all this, but are being checkmated by colleagues who are displaying all the signs of running dead.
After all, Bracks is carrying out, or would like to carry out, the kind of policies which Kennett would have endeavoured to push through, had he been re-elected. He seemed prepared to decriminalise drugs - if only in stages; he felt no unease about the Casino/pokies/booze culture; he was on excellent terms with developers, builders and building unions, who see mass immigration, irrespective of the state of the economy, the fragile labour market, our balance of payments, the environment, or the wishes of the majority, as the way to go. And Kennett agreed with them. He was all for extra race vilification laws. So Bracks is simply following the Kennett path, only more tactfully.
I could continue, but the Bracks and Kennett policy mixes are in many places indistinguishable.
This is an unpleasant experience for people who voted Labor, but the joy of being on the side of the Winners (any winners will do) has become of central psychological importance to many Australians. Those who feel losers are especially vulnerable to this sado-masochistic philosophy. Which is why Hanson has to be portrayed as a loser, with a divided party. Napthine is getting the same media treatment, along of course, with the usual; viz denying his statements publicity, where they can't be misrepresented. The Big End of Town is happy with a docile, deal making Labor Government; but it is well to notice just how compromised and vulnerable some of our moulting corporate cockatoos are starting to appear. And how much industrial strife and street theatre await us, now that our disruptors have cottoned on to what a weak, confused regime we are really under. A wasteful, hype-driven, increasingly incompetent bunch of provincial amateurs, funded by parvenus.
But, like Bush's Republicans, our Victorian Liberals seem cursed with people who should really be on the other side, where the rich pickings are to be had. At least for a few more years.