In a disturbing but little-reported news item in mid-February, the Carr Government shifted the Violence Against Women Unit from the Attorney-General’s Department to the Department of Community Services.
Even Opposition Leader John Brogden was having trouble stomaching this one. He put it very succinctly when he said, “[Domestic violence] is a crime, it’s not a social issue”. Something is truly awry when the Liberals are attacking Labor for being regressive on social issues. This is really Labor’s turf, but Premier Carr is simply walking away from it.
In fact, the restructuring and disembowelling of almost all the socially progressive elements of the bureaucracy has been a remarkable feature of Carr’s third term of office.
Although unpopular, the Carr Government is in little danger of losing office. Sitting on such a comfortable majority, this should be the time when a government can really show its true colours, and implement its long-term vision.
But instead of taking the bold, progressive, agenda-shifting action you’d expect from a third-term government, the Carr Government is becoming even more reactionary, conservative and tabloid-driven than ever. It must’ve become a habit. There’s clear evidence of this in the bureaucratic shuffling and chopping that’s been afoot for the best part of the last 18 months.
First in the firing line was the Anti-Discrimination Board. The Wran Government was a pioneer of anti-discrimination legislation in Australia, but Carr has torn up that legacy with a 23 per cent cut in its 2003-04 budget and a 30 per cent cut for 2004-05. The Board no longer has a full-time president, nor does the Community Relations Commission.
Another victim has been the Department of Women. Last year, the Department was killed off, and the budget for women’s programs was cut from $5.7 million to just $1.7 million. Along with the Department went a host of women-focused initiatives across different departments.
This was a cruel blow to Labor’s rank-and-file, where there are many committed and active feminists. Left-wing women rallied together to fight the cuts, but their voice went strangely mute once the Government made it clear that the changes were irreversible.
Rounding off the savagery has been Labor’s regular scything of any watchdog or body that demands accountability from this runaway government.
Privacy NSW lost half its staff in the 2004 mini-Budget, despite a massive increase in its workload over the past few years. The Legislative Council in 2003 prevented the Government from abolishing the post of Privacy Commissioner, but the Government has got around that by not appointing a full-time Commissioner for over 18 months.
The vociferous Inspector-General of Prisons got the axe altogether, leaving Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham and Justice Minister John Hatzistergos free to run their prison fiefdom as they see fit.
Now it’s the Independent Commission Against Corruption. A review has just recommended virtually exempting parliamentarians from ICAC’s jurisdiction, and also setting up an ICAC watchdog that will presumably, if required, keep a muzzle on ICAC’s independence.
All told, it’s a sorry picture. You have to wonder where Attorney-General Bob Debus has been all this time. A left-winger, he is clearly being rolled in Cabinet on a regular basis. It’s a similar story in his other portfolio, Environment, where he hasn’t had a win on the big issues for years. The so-called “green Premier” has turned a distinct shade of brown.
This sorry saga must leave a lot of committed Labor people wondering what happened to the party they knew and loved. By and large, it’s also forced the Liberals to move even further to the right. It certainly reminds me why I’m in the Greens.
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