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Victorian deputy premier John Thwaites is in danger of losing his seat after a cynical about-face against his former supporters from the Save Albert Park lobby group.

The Federasl seat of Melbourne Ports has moved from being a safe Labor to marginal simply by demographic shifts. That is one problem. The old working class areas of St Kilda and Port Melbourne have been gentrified over the past decade. In addition the new development at Beacon Cove has attracted a Yuppie crowd, who are now beginning to outnumber the trendy left artists and academics of Middle Park. That has brought Thwaites’ majority in Albert Park down to less than 5% over the past 2 elections.

Now we understand that there is a movement from the very people who have been his allies to unseat him. When the Kennett juggernaut came crashing down so unexpectedly in 1999, there was rejoicing in the inner suburban areas which make up the Albert Park electorate. One local had gone so far as to print her own anti-Kennett pamphlet which she had distributed widely in the two most marginal Liberal electorates, knowing fewer than 100 votes would have to change cause a change of seats. This person also handed out How to Vote cards for John Thwaites.

Thwaites support from such natural constituents has been progressively eroded. The Labor party has not lived up to the expectations of those who voted for a change of government. Premier Bracks is less aggressive than his predecessor but has still aligned himself with big business and failed to make a significant break with the past policies of the Kennett government. Promises to investigate the Crown casino tender disappeared soon after a large Packer donation. A fund-raising dinner was crowded with those who were formerly Kennett cronies. The core promise of open and accountable government is now seen by many to be a sham. Decisions are still made without consultation and conceal important details.

In many key areas, Bracks ministers are seen to have failed; wood chipping continues unabated and Cheryl Garbutt has not supported a number of conservation issues. In particular she has failed to adopt the Parklands Code, which she supported in opposition. Despite promised Educational reforms, class sizes are still too large. Support for Major Events such as the Commonwealth Games is not only of dubious financial merit but also continue the taking of public parklands and open spaces for commercial events.

In particular John Thwaites has disappointed in those specific areas which are under his direct control. The ambulance Royal Commission has lost the ability to investigate the very matters which caused ordinary Victorians most concern and has been strung out at great expense. Hospitals are still on ambulance by-pass and hospital waiting lists grow longer. Thwaites may not have “called in” planning matters with the same enthusiasm of his predecessor, but he has not given protection to heritage areas or prevented developers from building projects which are too high, too close to other dwellings and too intrusive in the neighbourhood.

But what may tip the balance against Thwaites at the next election is the fact that many of his former supporters are asking the question “who is he there to represent, the people who voted him in, or the Cabinet?” Thwaites was frequently seen at Save Albert Park rallies from 1994 to 1999. He launched Save Albert Park publications and often expressed his backing for the movement. His home sported a yellow ribbon on his balcony until the day after the election which brought his Party to power.

The Bracks government policy is to keep the F1 Grand Prix in Albert Park. If Thwaites publicly opposes this he will have to step down from Cabinet. Yet the backbone of his support in the Albert Park electorate comes from those who have worked tirelessly to stop motor racing in the Park.

This puts the Minister in a cleft stick. To advance in the Labor party he must endorse its policy. But his aspirations to remain in parliament will come to a crashing halt if he loses his seat. Any attempt he may make to find a safer seat will be seen as an ignominious retreat from his principles. It would undoubtedly also bring out his former constituents to lobby against him wherever he decided to stand.

The Kennett policies created a coalition of disaffected voters who worked to white ant his government and contributed to its ultimate fall. Some of these people live in the Albert Park electorate. They would not hesitate to sacrifice John Thwaites to make the point to the man they call Jeff Bracks that they have the power to bring down

ends

Within hours of this article being published on Crikey, this letter arrived in the inbox.

Ron Walker’s conflicts of interest

Dear Stephen,

The Crikey article on the threat to Deputy Victorian Premier John Thwaites opens up the same conflict of interest problems (called corruption scandals in other countries) created by the Kennett government.

The inability of the Bracks government to wrest control of the Grand Prix from Ron Walker will prove to be a thorn in their side at the next election. It is perhaps not well known that during the last state election the late Joanna Johnson, with a team of five volunteers hand delivered a personal note to every household in the marginal electorates of Carrum and Oakleigh. This note succinctly exposed the secrecy, propaganda and conflicts of interest behind the casino/Grand Prix influence on the Kennett government.

The rest is history: Bracks scraped in to office by winning these two marginals and of course gaining the confidence of the three independents. Bracks now has the Ron Walker problem, and the apparent conflicts have grown since Walkers friend Jeff Kennett passed on the baton to Jeff Bracks. Last year Ron Walker brokered a deal for the sale of part of Bernie Ecclestones business which netted Walker a $100 million profit. Bernie is now one of the exclusive coterie who are part of Rons private telco (The People Telecom). Ron in turn administers one of Bernies family trusts. Ron Walker, as chairman of the taxpayer funded Australian Grand Prix Corporation should take the new opportunity provided by the threat of competition to Bernies monopoly to drive a new deal to win a significant reduction in the $20 million fee paid annually to Bernies business.

Competition always delivers benefits to the customers, and Ron Walker in this case represents several million of them, that is the people of Victoria. Unfortunately I remember it was Ron Walker who said in 1999: If he (Bernie Ecclestone) doubled the fee tomorrow, I would not complain.

Save Albert Park has been urged by disaffected ALP supporters to take the issue to several marginal electorates early enough for the members to stand up to Jeff Bracks and have some influence on getting the best deal for the taxpayer.

The issue of the Grand Prix is damaging both sides of politics, as well as wasting a great deal of money – $16m per year to set up and pull down at a temporary track, where incidentally Rons sons company, Urban Maintenance Systems has a contract with the Australian Grand Prix Corporation reliant on the race staying at the highest cost option. Indeed, BRW noted (25 May 98) that Of course he (Campbell Walker) uses his father to open doors. One wonders what the historians will make of the Walker influence, but two things are for sure, country Victoria will not be getting valuable infrastructure spending and the benefits of a permanent track and Save Albert Park will be telling them all about it.

Yours sincerely, Peter

PS: Ron has crept the Commonwealth Games cost up to $700m! See last week’s news stories in the Melbourne dailies. It took him all of 2000 to get it up from $300m to $400m but now there is no controlling him, he is apparently committing the elected government to expenditure outside of the processes of Parliament but who will listen other than Crikey?

Peter Fray

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