A Labor movement insider who is close to Crikey has provided this insightful review of the first 12 months of the Bracks government in Victoria.

Recent popularity polling has the Labor Premier as the most popular leader in the country with a record breaking 70 per cent. But more significantly, the ALP’s internal polling shows the entire state swinging a further 10% since the September ’99 election. An election now, would wipe out National Party seats and see long time true-blue electorates like Alan Stockdale’s former seat of Brighton delivered to Labor.

The December ’99 Burwood by-election delivered a safe Liberal seat to the Bracks portfolio and sent shivers through the blue bloods, who were finally starting to acknowledge defeat. The Labor camp were also acknowledging that the electorate at large loved them, but more significantly the public sector where coming to terms with the fact that they had new bosses. With that revelation came resignations.

The Benalla by-election, in February 2000, was a terrible defeat for the Nats, confirming expected upsets for the upcoming Federal election and forcing the break up of the coalition. Then again, as two separate parties, the leader of the National party and his deputy leader get all the benefits of an opposition including a pay rise; chauffeured car; and extra parliamentary staff. Of course, this had no impact on their decision to split – none whatsoever.

Extensive internal polling confirms that both regional and metro communities have embraced the Bracks ideals and have confirmed that he really is Mr Popular. The messages of a consultative, open and accountable government is being heard and believed. The electorate is getting a little impatient waiting for delivery but they seem willing to put up with the delays for the chance to be heard.

On the whole, the Bracks government is doing okay with the constituents, but there have been down days. The summer power crises was not well handled but did a great job of overshadowing the fact that Victoria had lost the Virgin airlines coup. The Premier and the Attorney General had a public debate over the IVF bill. The State Government did a huge about-turn on the Grand Prix and Albert Park. Waverley did not get saved and football is not being played there. Also the government is battling controversy over the recent S11 clashes with police.

The Labor party rank and file are disillusioned and far from happy with the extreme ‘rightness’ of the Leftie leader. Expectation will see State conference (which occurs on the weekend after the one-year anniversary) go ‘feral’. Motions from branches are condemning the leader’s handling of the S11 blockade in Melbourne. Old hands and the State executive are wheeling and dealing and trying to limit the exposure of the negative motions and balance them with positive motions. Political skills of the hacks are being tested and are straining to limit the damage.

There is also major unrest within the ranks of Ministerial staff who feel they have being forced to accept a pay deal that they find unfair. Their wage claim will likely reach a temporary end but is sure to raise its head again. For all the hot air blown by the party faithful, none wish to see a Liberal Government in power and all will work toward keeping Labor as the ruling party.

One thing that could realistically kill Bracks no matter how brilliant he is performing in the polls is the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) redistribution that is planned to be finalised next year. Growth in some suburbs has caused electorates to have a ‘constituent total’ greater than the VEC’s preferred 10%. The difference between the largest Electorate, (Dandenong) and the smallest, (Frankston East) has blown out to over 30%. This is unacceptable to the VEC, who have ordered a review and reshuffle. As the VEC will not increase the number of electorates from the current 88, two seats must be abolished enabling two more in the southern and northern growth corridors.

The VEC is an independent body that cannot be ‘massaged’ by Governments. All parties will sit on the committee that will create new electoral boundaries. How the boundaries fall could tip the scales on marginal seats one way or the other.

In a post-redistribution Victoria, which seats will be abolished? Which marginal seats will tip over to the other side purely through normal voting patterns? As a consequence, current safe Labor and Liberal seats could become more marginal.

It is inevitable that next years redistribution will cause massive factional wars within both parties during preselections, (when the mainstream press eventually pick up on this, remember you first read it in Crikey).

One year on and not much has really changed. The average Joe still hates politicians (even when they don’t know who they are). The bureaucracy is still consuming state dollars (and still no one quite knows what they do). A full year without Kennett and peace has descended, the world keeps spinning and the general public is comfortable with him gone. The media and government are still intertwined. With some exceptions, the media still reports rubbish and still blame consumers for buying it.

In reality the only difference after one year is that we have a guy called Steve as Premier instead of a guy called Jeff and next time around, we could have a gal called Louise as Premier. Now that’s a scary thought.

*If you have any doubt of the power of jeffed in the lead up to the 99 state election just listen to John Faines infamous ‘I’ll just here and drink my tea’ with interview with Jeff on the abc radio web site at local.abc.net.au/melbourne

Peter Fray

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