Yesterday Daniel Andrews – Labor Premier of Victoria – resigned. For many of us this came as a surprise ; but it seems Andrews wants to leave on his own terms.
Andrews has led a reforming Victorian Labor Government. While championing the rights of trans women and men, Andrews also presided over a radical increase in the number of women in Cabinet. He also oversaw controlled legalisation of euthanasia and medicinal cannabis. What is more he oversaw the shift towards railway crossing removals as a much-more cost effective means of reducing road congestion. The Andrews Labor Government also took something of an authoritarian turn during the Covid 19 crisis ; but perhaps the unparalleled times called for this. Andrews also oversaw the beginning of negotiations for a state-based Treaty: blazing a trail ahead of his Federal colleagues.
On infrastructure and Health, Andrews made big investments in public health: most specifically in increasing the number of nurses on the ground ; and providing incentives and financial support for future nursing graduates. A total of over $150 million was invested in indigenous Health (with an anticipated 100,000 extra appointments) ; as well as free IVF, women's health clinics, and a mobile health clinic. Further, public Aged Care levels were maintained ; and funding provided to assist in ensuring a registered nurse was provided in every aged care facility. Almost $50 million was maintained for GP Respiratory clinics: whose importance I testify to personally as a person whose mother died of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease after a long and traumatic illness before this was made available. And since 2021 the Andrews Labor Government has invested over $6 billion in mental health: largely in response to the Mental Health Royal Commission. This includes the establishment of the new 'Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2022' which will modernise the operation of mental health in Victora, with dialogue and inclusion of families and consumers in decision-making emphasised.
On infrastructure in addition to investments in health infrastructure (hospitals and the like) Andrews Labor also made big investments in public transport which anticipate future need. This includes projects such as the Metro Tunnel, North East Link Program, and West Gate Tunnel– which together have created over 50,000 jobs. Failing to invest here would come with a huge social and economic cost into the future, with uncontrolled congestion and a decline in the overall quality of the public transport network.
On the other hand, though, it is against these backdrops that the Andrews Labor Government has continued a now long-held Labor government tradition of privatisation. (acknowledging that 50 year leases are not 'technically' privatisation ; though they will effectively operate as such for decades and decades to come) Amidst a strong sense of irony the Liberals argued in November 2022that Andrews had raised approximately $20 billion from the (effective) privatisation of the Port of Melbourne, VicRoads, and the Land Titles Office.
Consumers will pay the price for this for decades to come. Some of these are now effectively private monopolies in their fields.
But in a seeming Ideological U-turn Andrews Labor also announced the re-establishment of the SECV. (State Electricity Commission Victoria) Those of us old enough to remember the old SECV may recall a time when energy was provided relatively cheaply ; and natural public monopoly effectively held down cost-structures. The new SECV will be a substantially different creature – despite the nostalgia. Beginning with a $1 billion investment, the new SECV will emphasise the building of renewables infrastructure, with (according to Andrews) the creation of 59,000 jobs. The task will not be the recreation of natural public monopoly , but the re-establishment of a part-public player: which might perhaps be run on a not-for-profit basis – and inject significant competition into the sector. In this case consumers would stand to gain. Depending on what the involvement is with superannuation funds, however, there will be pressures to run 'for-profit'.
In June the Federal Government – in an olive branch to the Greens – announced a $2 billion fund to be provided to the States for the construction of public housing. https://thenewdaily.com.au/finance/property/2023/06/17/labor-pledge-2b-housing/?breaking_live_scroll=1
This was enough to get the Federal Government's $10 billion public housing fund passed with Greens support for this year. The Greens' defence of this behaviour was that over the long term a $10 billion fund could not provide enough turn over to substantially increase and improve public housing stock. But in the future this $2 billion expenditure will have to be renewed every year – or even increased. (perhaps to the vicinity of $3 billion) This is because State Governments (including State Labor Governments) are pressed for cash and rely on Federal money to get many projects over the line.
That said, the housing crisis is real, and Andrews Labor's response has been disappointing on many fronts. Recently the demolition of 44 public-housing towers was announced– to be replaced mainly by 'affordable' and 'social' housing (alongside mainly private dwellings) in the form of 'public private partnerships.' Social-Housing is 'broadly defined' ; and includes so-called public-private partnerships. (which can be light on the public component, and deliver rivers of gold to private investors) Public land will be made available for private investors in return for a 10% 'affordable housing component'. The alternative for developers is to pay a levy accounting for 3% of the project's worth; then diverted into social housing.
There is a place for 'affordable' housing in 'the mix' ; but looking to Austria for instance, public housing can be done so much better than this. In Vienna nearly half of the city's housing marketis covered by co-operatively owned players and city-owned housing. Not only does this deliver for equity: it provides quality and flexibility.
Benita Kolovos of 'The Guardian' has observed that: "of the 30,000 proposed new dwellings on public land, only 11,000 will be available to public housing tenants.". This has led the Greens to brand the policy as 'the biggest privatisation since Jeff Kennett.' The continued 'ghettoization' of public housing will see it marginalised on an ongoing basis. To break out of that 'ghetto' – and to break prejudices and stigma - public housing needs big ongoing investments ; and it seems now the only hope for that lies in bigger purpose-tied commitments from Canberra. And this requires Federal Labor to move away from overly-conservative fiscal policy.
Again: State Labor Governments, and State Labor parties – need to be pressing Federal Labor to provide at least $3 billion a year for this purpose. Andrews Labor's expansion of the market may increase supply over time, and in-so-doing do something to contain prices. But at the same time quality housing will remain out of reach for many struggling families. Perhaps if Labor had diverted the $3 billion earmarked for the Commonwealth Games into public housing this would have been more palatable.
So in conclusion, there is something of a 'mixed report card' for Andrews Labor. On many fronts – despite absurd jibes about 'dictator' Dan (Comparing him to the North Korean despot Kim Jong-Un) - Andrews Labor has proved itself 'more socially liberal than the Liberals'. In this day and age that is not all that surprising. In-so-far as there was a streak of authoritarianism it was only under the unique circumstances posed by Covid 19. But the structural costs of a suite of privatisations will be passed on to consumers for decades to come.
Federal Labor needs to 'step into the breach' to remove fiscal incentives for State Labor Governments to 'sell what's left of the family silver' in order to pay for big projects. A good Labor government is one which expands the social wage and welfare state, while also strategically expanding the public sector. Ideological preference for 'Small government' will not do. (though the source of Andrews Labor's policy was more pragmatic than Ideological) Who-ever takes the helm of Victorian State Labor ; and whatever else happens Federally – something needs to change. And hopefully this article is suggestive of where we could start.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
6 posts so far.