19 January 2011

Baillieu in 2011

I want to say from the outset that I don't intend for this to be a political blog. This is not to say that I will not discuss topical issues on this blog from time to time. However, on a personal level, after the events of 2010, I'm feeling slightly 'burned out' by politics. In particular, politics which focuses on personality and six second soundbites rather than issues.

That being said, this is my first time blogging in quite a while, there are a few things that have been playing on my mind for a while that I need to get off my chest, and first and foremost of them is why I think the 2010 State election played out the way that it did, and what it means for Premier Ted Baillieu in 2011. After all, 2011 will be the year that Victorians begin getting a 'feel' for their new Government and where they stand. How that plays out will depend in part on why a new State Government was elected in the first place.

The first thing to note is that Melbourne is, in a sense, a 'liberal' town. Obviously, outside of a university essay, most people won't examine the degree to which the views put forward in On Liberty by John Stuart Mill resonate with their own personal beliefs. But ask many Melburnians what their view is on a given issue, and it will probably lie somewhere between the centre right and centre left. It is telling that Melbourne was the birthplace of 'small l liberals' such as Rupert Hamer and Malcolm Fraser.

The 2010 Federal election and State elections demonstrated that many Melburnians will vote for a leader who they perceive as being a "moderate" liberal, and yet not vote for a "conservative." To many Melburnians, Tony Abbott was perceived as being "too conservative," while Baillieu was viewed as a "moderate." And while some voters were unwilling to lend support to a "too conservative" Liberal over a Government which by its own admission had "lost its way" (and lost it even further while trying to "move forwards"), they were willing to vote for a "moderate" liberal over a State Government which had lost its way.

As an aside, in my opinion, it is quite likely, had either Malcolm Turnbull or Joe Hockey (i.e. Liberals perceived as "moderates") run as the Liberal Party leader at the last Federal election, with the right campaign and policies, that there would have been a number of electorates which would have fallen, especially given the Federal ALP's performance in 2010.

So where did Victorian Labor lose its way?

Three city-wide issues which I think swung voters in the 2010 State Election were crime (especially nightclub violence), public transport, and urban planning / major projects.

Crime is pretty self explanatory as an issue. Yes, there may be a train wreck fascination in having a series of Underbelly play out in the evening news. But people also want to feel safe getting to where they work, where they shop, where they study, and to the pub on Saturday night. Kennett era cuts to the police force damaged law and order as a selling point for a State Liberal Government. Key Liberal promises, including armed guards on trains, helped to allay fears that a Liberal Government would mean further cuts to the police force.

Then there's Spending $1 Billion on the Myki ticketing system (which was still not working on a bus I caught earlier today) rather than investing that money on improving the reliability and frequency of train (and bus) services and extending rail lines was a large part of why John Brumby lost. 10% of Melburnians regularly catch public transport, are spread throughout the metro area, and can swing an electorate. I suspect that these two issues will also play a key role in how Ted Baillieu will be perceived as time goes on. Finally building a rail link to Doncaster and investigating a rail link to Rowville is a big step in the right direction here.

The third issue, even more than John Brumby himself, was (in broad terms) urban planning and housing development. Sure, Brumby was perceived as arrogant and unwilling to listen, and it's very telling that the Liberal campaign ads showed Planning Minister Justin Madden. In retrospect, just like "Jeff.com" in 2009, making John Brumby the focus of Labor's campaign was a mistake. But the reason why Madden and Brumby were such easy targets had to do with the way a number of local urban planning and major project issues were handled by the Brumby Government, and how these played out at the local level.

For example, there was a swing against Labor in Frankston and Carrum, costing the former Government these seats. And it was also through these seats that the Brumby Government forced through the Frankston Bypass through the middle of the 220 hectare Pines Flora and Fauna Reserve in Frankston North. Unlike Yarra Derran Reserve in the marginal seat of Mitcham, the Labor party took the working class voters of Frankston North for granted and did not bother investing in putting the freeway through a tunnel under the reserve, let alone improve public transport in and around Frankston (including electrification beyond Frankston Station and improved local bus services to help ease congestion). They're probably still scratching their heads wondering why people who will soon wake up living next door to a six lane freeway rather than a park decided to vote against them!

Then there was the GAIC. The GAIC was a big new tax the Brumby Government imposed on land owners on Melbourne's outer suburban fringe in order to pay for infrastructure in new development, even if it would be many years before their land was sold. Again, Labor struggled to work out why these once loyal voters turned on them!

And there were a string of other poorly thought through, and poorly consulted on, projected pushed through by the Brumby Government. Consider the way the Desal plant in Wonthaggi or the North South Pipeline were handled as examples. Another example was the rail widening in Footscray (another blue ribbon Labor seat that Labor took for granted), which local residents only found out about when asked for their reactions by journalists! In fact, the Brumby Government introduced draconian new legislation, including the Orwellian Major Transport Projects Facilitation Bill, which was enacted in order to further shut down public debate on such wasteful projects!

These local issues may not have made the evening news all that often, but they were potent at a local level. It's a point which hasn't really attracted too much notice in much of the analysis of why certain seats fell the way that they did. After all, these projects were all ultimately funded with our tax dollars!

And all this is without even mentioning "Progressive Business" or the "Brimbank City Council." Or the level fo State Government debt for that matter.

Well, Victorians had enough of it, and enough of Labor. In my humble opinion, it's why many switched to the Liberals in 2010. Now it's time for Ted to make his mark in 2011.

Feel free to send any thoughts, comments, or feedback you may have about this article to andrewsadauskas at gmail dot com