The Victorian election has seen the Liberals resort to the same fear and racism as their federal counterparts Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison, in a desperate effort to win votes.
Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy is running a right-wing “law and order” campaign, feeding on racist media reporting against Sudanese and African youth. He is promising to put “the force back into police force” alongside harsh new mandatory sentencing laws. He is also blaming immigration for lack of services, pushing for a population commission and restrictions on where migrants can settle.
Guy also wants to axe Victoria’s Safe Schools program and reintroduce religious education in government schools.
Labor Premier Daniel Andrews has committed $3.8 billion to build 70 new schools, as well as upgrade 1300 existing schools. But this is still short of the 220 schools that the Grattan Institute says are needed by 2026 to keep up with Victoria’s population growth.
Public schools in Victoria get the lowest per-student funding in Australia. Yet Andrews has prioritised funding $400 million for Catholic schools.
He has also promised $1.24 billion to help households buy rooftop solar panels. But investing in large-scale wind farms and solar plants is what’s really needed. This could cut power prices and install 100 per cent renewable energy in ten years, according to a Beyond Zero Emissions report.
The unions are strongly backing Andrews, who marched at the head of their “Australia Needs a Pay Rise Rally” on 23 October.
But Labor has often failed to deliver. Andrews drew the ire of the MUA when he privatised the Port of Melbourne for $9.7 billion.
Nurses welcomed Andrews’ legislation implementing nurse to resident ratios in aged care, but this covers only the public sector—less than 10 per cent of the aged care workforce.
Over 200 ASU members protested the Victorian Health Minister’s office in August after a $75 million funding cut, introduced under the guise of transitioning to the NDIS, was estimated to leave 135,000 people without mental health services. In September, Andrews was forced to restore $70 million in funding and promise a royal commission into mental health. Serious union campaigns can hold Andrews to account and win proper funding for public services.
The Greens are challenging Andrews from the left, advocating investment in public transport instead of Labor’s West Gate Tollroad. Greens’ MP for Northcote Lidia Thorpe addressed a rally of hundreds on 26 October, demanding a more inclusive treaty process, and an end to logging of native forests.
The Victorian Socialists are also standing in the upper house and some lower house seats. Their efforts are concentrated on electing Steve Jolly to the Northern Metropolitan upper house region, demanding an expansion of public housing and public transport.
Daniel Andrews’s Labor government looks set to be returned.
But to challenge racism and win adequate public services we will need stronger union and community struggles on the streets and in the workplaces.
Fighting Melbourne’s racist panic
A Four Corners special report has detailed the “moral panic” whipped up in Melbourne about so-called African crime.
Chief Judge of the County court, Peter Kidd, criticised media sensationalism, saying, “if you’re an African youth of South Sudanese background from the western suburbs of Melbourne… The media choose to report upon those cases”.
Earlier this year Victorian Liberal campaign materials vilified African migrants as “gangs hunting in packs”, in a coordinated attack with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.
Sadly, Labor Premier Daniel Andrews has made concessions to Guy’s racist fearmongering.
After a December Supreme Court case found children should not be held in high security adult facilities, Andrews turned Barwon maximum security prison into a nominal youth facility, redeploying 40 corrections staff “armed with batons and capsicum spray”. After youth rioted against their treatment, Andrews promised that “these thugs will be brought to order”.
Andrews also moved to let police issue children as young as 14 with “anti-association notices” preventing them from interacting with individuals convicted of certain offences. Though the laws have now lapsed in the upper house, they were a push towards criminalisation that would target migrant and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth.
Andrews has also committed $2 billion to what he calls “the biggest roll-out of new police in Victoria’s history”. But introducing thousands of new police officers will only increase racial profiling and harassment, and do nothing to provide the services that people need.
A serious campaign against this racism is needed. Instead of criminalisation and scapegoating, migrant communities need funding to provide jobs, health and education.
The “Stand together against racism” rally on 10 November, backed by Victorian Trades Hall, The Greens and South Sudanese community groups, is an excellent start.
By Sophie Cotton