Today’s other big Victorian election story is The Age’s front page splash on material deleted from the recent Public Accounts and Estimates Committee report on public-private partnerships.
The report as tabled was critical enough, but the unrevised version, leaked to the ABC yesterday, adds further to the picture, pointing out that public-private partnerships have suffered from secrecy and lack of transparency, and that “large components of [the investment] risk have reverted back to the Government.”
This is all good news for the opposition, but there are a few reasons why it’s not quite as good as might appear.
First, it’s just not a s-xy issue. Complex financial transactions are never going to interest the average voter, unless they happen to result in spectacular bankruptcies – by which time, of course, it’s too late. That could be why The Herald Sun has given the story a much lower billing.
Second, with three weeks still to go before the election, there’s plenty of time for it to be swamped by other issues – not to mention such non-election news as next week’s Melbourne Cup.
Perhaps more important though is that the issue would force the Liberals to face the fact that these problems go back to the 1990s and the Kennett government. Shady deals with the private sector, protected by commercial-in-confidence arrangements, were one of the hallmarks of Jeff Kennett’s management style. Sometimes other ministers got their way and were able to achieve relatively clean (and profitable) privatisations, as Alan Stockdale did with the electricity industry.
But more often, complex contractual arrangements resulted in privatising profits and socialising losses. This week’s reports just confirm that it’s still happening. One person who refuses to accept that the Kennett legacy is electoral poison for the Victorian Liberals is, of course, Kennett himself.
Yesterday he was at it again, saying that “if the Labor Party want to use me, then I am quite prepared to come back and remind the public that Labor fundamentally destroyed this state”.
But the difference, as Paul Austin pointed out yesterday, is that Steve Bracks “explicitly disowns parts of his predecessors’ legacy.” But Ted Baillieu doggedly refuses to dissociate himself from Kennett. Today’s Herald Sun comments that “Senior Liberal strategists will be increasingly concerned that the Kennett legacy is starting to swamp Mr Baillieu’s campaign messages.”
So they should be.