There
was a huge amount of coverage on Jeff Kennett this morning and plenty
of analysis of his political legacy. However, it is important to get
history right.

For instance, Kennett did not “sack” 10,000
teachers – the vast majority took voluntary departure packages. He did,
however, downsize the Victorian public sector from about 260,000
workers to 160,000.

The Herald Sun today blamed Jeff for
Victoria’s gambling explosion which is partly true, but it was the
Kirner government which actually introduced poker machines and started
the casino tendering process. The paper also said Jeff “sacked several
councils”. Err, he actually sacked the lot – almost 200.

The Herald Sun
also said public transport privatisation produced “mixed results”. It
was actually a huge success in that foreign operators paid way too much
for the franchises, saving taxpayers at least $500 million whilst still
delivering a reasonable service.

Some privatisations were great,
but others were terrible and the final figure was actually close to $40
billion. The $30 billion raised from energy sell-offs was the
government’s most important achievement because it completely rebuilt
the state’s balance sheet – something Steve Bracks has been enjoying
ever since.

However, flogging Tabcorp at just $2.25-a-share was
a disaster and the Transurban contract, then the world’s biggest
tollroad deal, was equally bad because investors have made almost 1000%
on their equity despite major construction blowouts and still not
reaching prospectus forecasts. Macquarie Bank certainly got the better
of Jeff on that deal.

Driving efficiency in public hospitals
through the revolutionary case-mix funding formula – you only get paid
for operations performed – was another brave and successful reform.

Similarly,
another plus was the way former AWB CEO Andrew Lindberg knocked
Victoria’s bankrupt workers’ compensation scheme into shape – saving
employers more than $500 million a year whilst still providing more
generous compensation than a state like Queensland.

However, it
is the broader rejuvenation of the Victorian economy which was Jeff’s
crowning glory. He turned around decades of net interstate migration
and Australians choosing to come to Victoria is surely the most basic
test of a government’s success.

On the downside, there was all the arrogance and abuse of critics, including many journalists. The 7.30 Report
was boycotted for his entire seven year premiership. There was also a major
ethical blind spot, whether it be secret defamation settlements with
Kerry Packer, dodgy share dealings, hounding the DPP, huge conflicts of
interest and contracting out the Auditor General’s function. Even
symbolic things like forgetting to return a portrait of Sir Henry Bolte
to the National Gallery of Victoria after he left office and
commissioning a $100,000 hagiography of his achievements count on the
debits ledger.

The Kennett Government was one of the bravest
reformers any modern democracy has seen in the past 50 years. It was
just a shame that Jeff couldn’t be humble about it, polite to his
critics and remain on the right side of the ethical line.

That
said, Victoria is today a better place after the Kennett revolution
but he was very much a leader for the crisis, not someone who can
manage steady service delivery in an inclusive way when the economy and
state budget are in good shape.

Peter Fray

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