Earlier this month, Victorian state government’s passed anti-association laws that the Human Rights Law Centre describe as “senseless, dangerous and a sign that Premier Andrews is pandering to [opposition leader] Matthew Guy’s toxic law and order agenda”.
Then Andrews promised more police and Guy went one further, offering more tasers.
Neither of these announcements sound like the work of a government who proudly runs “the most progressive state in Australia” — rhetoric we can expect to ramp up as the state election later this year approaches.
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Of course, these questions have been around for a while — where is the split between Daniel Andrew’s progressive rhetoric and some of the more, shall we say, concrete policy choices?
Concrete: approved mass surveillance
Perhaps most egregiously, Andrews — like every other state premier — happily signed up to the Turnbull government’s Orwellian facial biometric matching agreement, which would, in the words of Crikey‘s Bernard Keane, “ensure governments can know where you are any time you are in public and in range of CCTV cameras, using a national facial recognition database designed for use in shopping centres and sporting venues, as well as anywhere else where CCTV cameras have proliferated, such as city streets”.
Andrews for his part did not seem bothered by the “the notional infringement, the notional reduction in peoples’ rights and liberties and freedoms”, making the following, not at all authoritarian, argument: “Some people have the luxury of being able to have that notional debate. Those of us in positions of leadership don’t have that luxury”.
Symbolic: female traffic lights
Early last year pedestrian traffic lights depicting female figures were installed in Melbourne’s CBD as a part of a push for gender equality by tackling “unconcious bias”. Importantly, such a radical and revolutionary move was not imposed indefinitely. The ten female pedestrian figures were installed at the intersection of Swanston and Flinders streets as part of a 12-month trial.
Concrete: plans to bulldoze sacred trees
The Andrews government plans to bulldoze over 260 trees sacred to the Djap Wurrung peoples in the Ararat region — including a traditional birthing tree — for the Western Highway project, following allegedly inadequate consultation with those affected.
It should be pointed out the Andrews Government passed the first legislation in Australian stating a formal intent to negotiate a treaty or treaties with Aboriginal people in June. Questions still remain about the practical significance as opposed to the symbolic — as Massimo Amerena put it in these pages: ” Daniel Andrews’ commitment to justice and empowerment for Aboriginal peoples must be evaluated by his government’s actions, not its good faith rhetoric.”
It’s been argued that the treaty is meaningless without the assertion of Indigenous sovereignty which an individual state is unable to provide, while others are encouraged by the extensive consultation and establishment of a representative body to lead negotiations.
Symbolic: unenforceable wage theft law
If re-elected, the Andrews government said it will change employment law to potentially jail employers for up to ten years for wage theft. Which is a bold and striking policy that could change everything, until you think for a second and realise the states have almost no power to enforce industrial relations law. So while the state government plans to introduce laws that make wage theft a criminal offence, a) that would immediately be subject to a constitutional challenge, and b) that may be unenforceable, given the lack of hitherto publicly available detail on the policy.
Concrete: cosies up to Crown casino
In July, the Andrews government’s relationship with Crown casino came under scrutiny, after it was reports that rules around minimum spin length would not apply to the gambling giant. Which, again, seems to us like the kind of callous, in-bed-with-big-business policy a progressive government might try to avoid?
Inconclusive: imprisonment conditions haven’t changed
After years of “tough on crime” rhetoric, record incarcerations and backward steps on prisoner rights under Liberal premiers Ted Ballieu and Denis Napthine — bail, sentencing and parole all got stricter. Labor came to power with the a notable lack of policy addressing the state of imprisonment, and have made little progress on issues like suspended sentences or solitary confinement.
The more progressive members of the Andrews government may need to get better at negotiating, it seems like they’re getting a raw deal. Before that, however, Labor will need to get over the line in this November’s election, most likely by relying on an unpopular and scandal prone opposition leader in Matthew Guy while trying not to self immolate.