The Guardian October 27, 1999

Bye, bye, Kennett

No-one was more surprised than Jeff Kennett, when the dice rolled him 
out of office in the Victorian elections. Kennett pushed privatisation at 
break-neck speed, government accountability and democratic procedures went 
out the window, health and education became poor relations to big business 
interests and the trade union movement was anathema to the Coalition 

These policies were taken straight from the manual of the economic 
rationalists. That the people of Victoria have rejected them after only 
seven years is a warning to other governments across Australia, both 
Liberal and Labor which are pursuing similar policies.

It remains to be seen whether the fundamental policies implemented by Jeff 
Kennett, especially privatisation, will be changed.

In welcoming the election of the Labor Government, Leigh Hubbard, Secretary 
of the Melbourne Trades Hall, has called for quick action on the 
restoration of common law rights of the seriously injured to sue a 
negligent employer, the re-establishment of an industrial relations system 
for the 40 percent of workers who have no protection in Victoria, more 
resources for health, education and the public sector, an end to compulsory 
competitive tendering in local government and the restoration of the 
Auditor-General's powers. These are all good policies which need to be 
implemented without delay.

There is also the question of electoral reform, giving priority to the 
introduction of a system of proportional representation. A number of 
organisations have called for this for the Victorian Upper House, the 
Legislative Council, which remains dominated by the Coalition parties. This 
body can block legislation coming from the Legislative Assembly and after 
the Government's honey-moon is over, they are certain to act to look after 
conservative interests.

The Communist Party calls for the introduction of proportional 
representation for both Houses of Parliament. The present single member 
constituencies for the Legislative Assembly virtually guarantee the 
continued domination of the two-party system for many more years.

The demand for proportional representation may seem to be a popular and 
logical demand for a Labor Government to implement but what is happening in 
NSW is a warning that what may seem to be logical is not what the main 
political parties want. In NSW the Labor Government is about to implement 
electoral "reforms" which will make it virtually impossible for small 
parties such as The Greens, Democrats, the CPA and others to obtain 
registration. NSW Labor is making these changes because 30 per cent of the 
electorate does not support either of the main parties and this trend 
challenges their control.

A main feature of the Victorian elections was the swing in the countryside 
indicating that farmers and those dependent on agriculture in country towns 
are hurting badly.

The closure of banks, government offices, post offices, etc., cut-backs in 
transport, health and education facilities and services have affected the 
countryside more than the cities.

The volatility now to be seen in rural and regional areas in all States is 
both a warning and a challenge. It is a warning because their votes and 
actions could swing to the extreme right as was to be seen in Queensland 
where One Nation received a high vote. It is a challenge for the trade 
unions and labour movement parties to champion and do something about the 
needs of country people.

In this respect Leigh Hubbard has called for the re-establishment of 
regional infrastructure to provide more jobs in the countryside.

Australian politics have now entered a period in which large swings are 
taking place. It reflects the rejection of economic rationalist policies 
and a search for new ones but what those new ones need to be is not yet 
clear to most.

It will be impossible to bring about any meaningful changes until policies 
dictated by the interests of the big corporations are brought to an end and 
policies based upon the economic, social and political needs of the people 
are implemented.

Bye, bye to Kennett does not mean bye, bye to the policies that have made 
many Victorians unhappy.
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