Victorians are set to punish the Liberals at November’s state election. Labor was leading in the polls as we went to press, with the likelihood of the end of the Liberal government after one term.
Anger against Tony Abbott and his budget attacks are one key reason, with 23 per cent of people in one poll saying the performance of the federal government will affect their vote. The residual anger is a sign that keeping up the Bust the Budget union campaign could have both hurt Napthine as well as put a more decisive nail in the coffin of Abbott’s May budget.
Tony Abbott’s name is poison in Victoria, but the Victorian Liberals and Premier Denis Napthine ruined their chances of a second term all on their own. The issues voters care most about are health, education and jobs and employment. Long and public bargaining campaigns from nurses, teachers and ambulance unions have dogged the Liberal government. For almost two years unionised paramedics have covered their Ambulances with messages denouncing the inadequate staffing, atrocious pay and dangerous conditions the government is responsible for.
Unions can take credit for laying bare the Liberals’ terrible record. But their political campaign has given Labor a mostly blank cheque. While Labor has promised to resuscitate TAFEs, they have said nothing public about reversing teacher performance pay. Similarly, some hospitals have been promised cash injections, but nothing in the order of what is needed.
The campaign to stop the Liberals’ $18 billion East West link toll road, and demanding investment in the long promised Doncaster rail line, has been strong enough to change Labor policy. Labor’s initial position was a promise to stop the new toll road as long as contracts had not yet been signed. But facing local council and community pressure, as well as electoral pressure from The Greens who promised total opposition to the road, Labor have agreed that if they win the election they will rip up the contracts as well.
The Greens have concentrated their resources on trying to win lower house seats in the inner city. A breakthrough for The Greens would help put pressure on Labor to deliver some real change. But The Greens’ decision to focus on Liberal-held Prahran will only reinforce the perception of the party as focused on middle class issues.
A defeat for the Liberals will be a further straw in the wind for Abbott—and can give some confidence to revive the fight against his austerity agenda.
By Lucy Honan