The Guardian May 23, 2001


Anger greets Victorian budget

by Marcus Browning

A measure of the pro-business bias of the Bracks Government's second 
budget, handed down last week, was the level of anger among the State's 
workers.

Manufacturing workers and teachers responded swiftly, the teachers 
threatening strike action over inadequate funds for education and 
manufacturing workers demonstrating outside Parliament because of the 
budget's lack of support and protection for Victoria's manufacturing 
industry.

Some of the anger came out of dashed expectations that the Labor Government 
would reverse the slash and burn policies of the former Kennett Liberal 
Government and bring in some fundamental changes to benefit working people.

State President of the Australian Education Union, Mary Bluett, said 
community expectations were high that the Government would "reinvest" in 
education.

The Bracks Government, like its predecessor, remains heavily reliant on 
poker machines, casinos and racing for revenue: $1.25 billion from gaming 
by the end of this financial year (on June 30), expected to increase by 
nine percent the following year.

Bracks used the budget to announce the construction of four new prisons at 
the cost of $194 million, to accommodate growing prisoner numbers, while 
spending only $70 million over four years on the development of 
preventative measures to cut offender rates.

Though these will be public prisons, their construction indicates the 
backward path of harsh sentencing and increased police powers will continue 
to be followed. The Federation of Community Legal Centres noted that the 
Government was putting priorities the wrong way round, spending almost two 
thirds more on constructing jails than on keeping people out of them.

At the same time the Government continues to pursue a budget surplus. "We 
warned last year that the Bracks Government looked set to run the same 
massive budget surpluses as the Kennett Government, using the same trick of 
over-estimating expenditure and under-estimating revenue", said Victorian 
Trades Hall Council Secretary, Leigh Hubbard.

"Despite denials, it has happened again, with the $592 million surplus 
blowing out to $1.2 billion."

The Trades Hall called for at least half the surplus to be put into the 
provision of services.

Tied in with the maintenance of a big and growing surplus is the Bracks 
Government's continuation of Kennett era privatisation, under the more 
innocuous sounding title, public -private partnerships. This is on top of 
already record low corporate taxes and the budget's payroll tax cut, from 
5.75 to 5.45 percent. Funding for vocational education in Victoria is 
$125.98 per head, compared to the Australian average of $171.29.

Mary Bluett pointed to the poor level of funding for pre-school, secondary 
and TAFE, which are the lowest in Australia, and class sizes which are 
unacceptably high.

"Unless we are going to write off that whole generation of young people we 
need to tackle class sizes. This Government was elected on the basis it 
would make public education the number one priority." Manufacturing 
workers, including more than 200 of the 600 sacked workers from the Arnotts 
plant in Burwood which is due to close some time this year, dumped the 
products of their labour on the Parliament House steps after the budget was 
announced. They were venting their anger at the rising number of jobs being 
cut in manufacturing.

"Where were the words "manufacturing' and "industry' [in the budget]", 
asked Terry Breheny from the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers' 
Union. "They weren't to be seen. We call on the State Government to have a 
proper industry policy, to make sure that when we work and when our kids 
enter the workforce they've got a job for the next 20 or 30 years, not just 
to siphon profits to overseas globalised corporations."

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