Steve Bracks was on his feet for almost an hour at a Melbourne Press
Club lunch yesterday, delivering a 25-minute speech and then dealing
with 11 questions from a range of journalists and interest groups. It
was quite a polished performance from an accomplished political
performer but the nice guy Premier really has mastered the dark art of
lies, damn lies and statistics. Try these for size:

Bracks gloated that Victoria has the lowest number of taxes of any
state. Surely the only figure that matters is the overall taxation
effort and in this regard Victoria is marginally above the national
average.

Bracks also said Victoria has the second lowest rate of public sector wage
increases. Surely the overall wage levels are what matters and Victoria is above the national average.

When confronted with statistics from retired journalist and spinner
Noel Tennyson pointing out how much higher the stamp duty is in
Victoria on a $300,000 house, Bracks elicited plenty of groans when he
argued that Melbourne housing is more affordable than Sydney or
Brisbane. This was utterly disingenuous because the question was about
a taxation rate, not asset values.

Asked about Victoria’s heavy reliance on poker machine revenue, Bracks
said that Victoria has fewer machines per capita than every state bar
Western Australian and the freeze at 30,000 machines for the entire
seven years of his government also represented a reduction in per
capita terms. Yes, but players lose more money on Victorian machines than
any other state, so the real issue is player losses not machine
numbers.

The ABC’s Ben Worsley asked if Bracks lamented reforming the upper
house and prospectively handing the balance of power to the Greens, but
the Premier seemed genuinely proud of introducing proportional
representation and pointed out that he
governed perfectly well in his first term without a majority in either
house of parliament.

When the media questions quickly ran out, one Country Fire Authority
chap was on his feet to prosecute his group’s wage claim through the
press club. Similarly, the RACV’s David Cumming predictably asked about
the broken promise of tolls on the $2.2 billion Eastlink project, which
Bracks defended on the grounds of budget blowouts and the fact that it
is a brand new road and would not involve any existing roads being closed.

Allowing punters into the Press Club does allow some strange questions.
One bloke wanted Bracks to spend $2 billion buying NSW and the
Commonwealth out of the Snowy and another woman lamented that with one
third of new migrants coming to Victoria, how would the Premier stop
existing citizens from eventually having to drink recycled sewerage?

Then again, given that the Melbourne Press Club still tolerates gaming
giant Tattersalls as its major sponsor, it can hardly try to exercise
any quality control over those attending its Premier lunch in an
election year.

Peter Fray

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