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."