Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Victoria: "On the move" no more

“So are you saying that we’d be better off under the Libs”? “Ah yes, I am”, and so a discussion with acquaintances concluded on a mid August night this year. In the end, agreeing simply to disagree on the question of a Liberal Government versus a Labor one here in Victoria. With strong conviction, my friends - yes I do have friends that do not see eye to eye with me politically – added, “I don’t remember anything good about Kennett, he killed off teachers, schools, the country, and the railways just about everything.” I tried telling my audience that the cuts were necessary after the economic disaster left by Labor, which included a budget deficit in excess of $2 billion and over $30 billion of public sector debt, how else I added, “Could we reign in the economy without some radical budget cuts.”

After some time I realized my words were to no avail, Labor it seemed was deemed good and righteous, the morally superior body, the socially just, and fairer of the two, a perception that prevailed, in spite of some cold facts in relation to economic management issues.

Originally intending to sway my audience during our planned next get together, over the next few days, I penned some notes about some of the more palpable policy failures of the Bracks- Brumby Labor Government hoping to use such to sway opinion. To some degree it worked however, it must be said, excerpt for perhaps one, my audience seemed to consist of those inbred, casehardened Labor for life political types which constitute some 30% percent of the electorate. It was only in the last few days, while planning a meeting with a local federal branch Chairman that I revisited the observations made in August and decided to post them here, albeit in a more coherent written point form. Hence, a concise and I might add, only partial listing of the Victorian Labor Governments failures.

Education - Victorian students have the lowest basic skills levels in the nation according to OECD’s latest analysis. Three quarters of our 1,250 schools have over $250 million outstanding in maintenance issues. The Brumby Gov’t spends less on students per head than any other state (~$9,800 vs. SA at ~ $13,000)and in spite of high population growth, school enrolments at public schools have fallen since 2001. We spend less on TAFE than any other state and have raised fees for TAFE training at a time when we are supposedly in the midst of the greatest economic crises since the great depression – the significance being, workplace training should be encouraged to maintain employment levels during harsh economic times.

Law and Order - One only has to scan Monday’s papers to know that Victorian crime statistics are flawed and yet the state Gov’t continued to use these figures well into 2009 to peddle the notion that we have the safest streets in Australia. Labor has failed miserably in addressing levels of hooliganism and general crime especially assault, on both our streets and public transport. On a per head basis, we spend less than any other state on police and consequently have fewer police on the field that the other states with patrols falling 20% in the five years to 2007.

Public Transport - As someone in the know, I can reveal firsthand the levels of inadequacy with respect our train system. Shortcomings that include, massive levels of overcrowding, cancellations, delays, and poorly managed and maintained infrastructure. While the Gov’t is all too happy in blaming the service providers they in turn pin the blame on everything else including trade unions, drivers, rolling stock reliability, adverse weather, ill passengers, and trespassers. Fact is, much like our water crises the Gov’t has failed to plan effectively or provide for adequate funding in the management and maintenance of our train system. They have been far too slow when comes to ordering the new much needed trains with only one coming into service this year. Road infrastructure has also failed to keep pace with both economic and population growth resulting in Melbourne now having the slowest evening peak time average speed of any capital city at under 38 km/h.

Water - The Gov’t hopeless inaction during its first 7 years in office has contributed to our present water shortages and will ultimately be the reason why Melbournians will soon pay up to 60% more for water. The result of the inaction is a haphazard response with the hugely unpopular and very expensive desalination plant decision. What is also remarkable is that in spite of our very protracted drought conditions Victorian Labor has invested less per head than all states bar one (SA) over the past two years in water infrastructure

Country - Regional unemployment levels remain unacceptably high and second only to NSW. We have spent less than 50% of the allocated amount under the promised Regional Infrastructure Development Fund ($272 million of $585 million) with less than 2 years remaining on the decade long program. Bushfire prevention has been almost criminal like with constant squabbling over correct levels of fuel reduction in the most bushfire prone areas. Labors burn-off policies have fallen well short of the benchmark. The Gov’t has failed to adhere to the advice provide by a 2008 inquiry into the impact of public land management practices on bushfires as tabled in Parliament in the same year.

Economy - Our economic growth rate is below the national rate and earlier this year Access economics predicted that both the Victorian and NSW economies could actually contract in 2009 Business investment is the weakest of all states on last available figures for 2008. Exports are also well down on other states growing at less than 5% compared to 35, 70, and 38% for some other states. This alone clearly demonstrates Labors gross neglect in terms of maintaining our international competitiveness. Just last year we were the only state to lose jobs as the job market shrank for the first time since, you guessed it, 1992 when we were governed under Kirner. Infrastructure spending has also been less peer head than other states and we will have to significantly increase debt to catch up.

Health - The provision of services has continued to deteriorate with the number of sick patients having to wait for long periods in hospital emergency departments still too high. Almost 1 in 3 Victorians needing semi urgent elective surgery were not seen within 90 days and The Government needs to explain to ordinary Victorians why it sees it fit to conceal and distort hospital performance data.

To the list of mediocrity, we can add waste and mismanagement. Where do I begin? Let’s just say that in its nearly decade of power state Labor has mismanaged major project costs leading to cost blow outs in excess of $6.5 billion – the major offenders being the East link toll way, Myki smartcard, channel deepening, Wimmera- Mallee pipeline and the State library redevelopment to name a few.

With hospital figures manipulated, crime figures inaccurate, ministers accused of corruption in addition to failures in most nearly all major portfolios, state labors ineptitude is cemented. What is even more amazing is that the Gov’ts poor record of service delivery has coincided with a period of unprecedented levels of revenue inflow. The tax grab from stamp duties, land tax, GST funding, payroll tax, gambling tax and new records in speed fine revenue from our roads has resulted in a massive $270 billion windfall for the Victorian Government. Moreover, I have not even mentioned, the Brumby Gov’ts proposed Growth Areas Infrastructure Contribution tax that has many landowners screaming as I type. A new tax that labor says will raise yet another 2 billion in revenue over 20 years.

Care to add to the list?

As I see it, the Victorian Labor Government has squandered years of opportunity and I find it shameful that we Liberals have largely failed to hold them to account in a manner fitting of the scope and depth of failure in some key policy areas.

Not surprisingly, not one of my acquaintances bothered to recognize the economic benefits of the Kennett governments capital-works projects, such as the restoration of Parliament House, construction of the Melbourne Museum, the Melbourne Exhibition Centre, the National Gallery of Victoria, refurbishment of the State Library of Victoria, a new Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre and Federation Square, the Docklands redevelopment and Citylink project.

One final note, the Brumby Governments level of spin is almost frenzied; unremittingly we hear (or see) those ads – the one’s ending with the words -"authorized by the Victorian Government Melbourne”? Moreover, how much is this alone costing?

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