Well of course, after the triumph and the shouting in Victoria comes the hungover dawn, and the realisation — what one already knew — that Labor will be intolerable. With a twenty plus seat majority, and a hammering of the Greens (even though, on the numbers, they avoided disaster), any chance of exercising some leverage from the left is going to be hard yards indeed.
The stability of majority government is clearly what many people voted for — crossing from the Libs to do so — but it’s bad news for those that Labor is leaving behind, and for causes they don’t have much time for. Chief among those are people of Melbourne’s North and West, sequestered in safe Labor seats — now, stonkingly safe seats — who have been utterly ignored by Labor, as it pursued votes in the marginals in the south and east (remember marginals?).
For years, the so-called “most progressive government in Australia” has presided over the steady decline of these areas of Melbourne, with unemployment heading towards 25% and beyond in areas such as Broadmeadows and Craigieburn. Local members are largely useless — Broadmeadows MLA Frank McGuire commuted from Brighton for a while, before being shamed into moving… to Fitzroy. And there’s no public industry policy plan in place to compensate for factory closures. Almost nothing has been done after fires at “recycling” plants — waste dumps — bathed the area in toxic fumes.
Boring, unglamorous things, like double-tracking rail lines and improving train signaling to ease SRO trains through peak hour, are left undone, in favour of the “in twenty years” Metro Two and suburban loop tunnels. No wonder the Victorian Socialists — which, disclaimer, I am associated with* — took 8% in Broadmeadows from a standing start.
In the inner city, Labor took up the Baillieu Liberals’ sell-off of public housing land — chiefly dilapidated walk-up flats — to private developers who promised “affordable” housing. As the study of this program in inner-west Kensington has shown, unit replacement didn’t occur, decades-long communities have been scattered and public housing tenants who want to live in the inner city can’t. This is the worst of Labor’s age-old “middle-strata” class approach — its relative lack of interest in the poor and excluded.
The truth is that Andrews’ Labor is a centre-left neoliberal government, with Andrews initially put in the leadership in 2014 as a placeholder for an inevitable 2018 loss. Now he’s the “most powerful Labor man in Australia” — except of course for Tim Pallas and half a dozen other members of the right standing behind him. Thus they are steadily and unnecessarily capitulating to that juggernaut of left neoliberalism, the NDIS, which is hollowing out public care across the country.
A state government could set up public care service providers to provide the services that NDIS tenders out — but don’t wait for this socialist left government to.
Left neoliberalism? How about a North-East Link road that’s a holdover from the disastrous 1969 freeways plan, makes a Doncaster rail line impossible and pours state money into Transurban’s coffers, which they then send across the border, not back into our community? How about giving away a public space the community support as such, so a computer shop can have its own forecourt? Old growth logging continued in the Central Highlands, to keep two mills going, which could source alternative timbers — but would prefer to keep hacking into the practically free trees on offer, and Labor too scared of CFMMEU Forestry division blowback to sort it out? And so on.
Well, there’s one thing about a stonking majority — it gives the Socialist Left faction, and the separate Industrial Left faction, no excuse now to not put forward some real demands about the direction of travel. The Industrial Left had no demands except finding Jane Garrett a seat. Now that she is safely pickled in the upper house, presumably history has concluded and full communism has arrived.
Though some good stuff has been done on energy, renewables and other matters, Socialist Left focused too much on social measures — gender-neutral traffic lights and the like — during their first term. De facto, they acted as an alibi for the right’s agenda. If they want to deserve their factional adjective, they have no excuse now not to raise hell.
For the rest of us to the left, they’re going to be unbearable.
*hence no commentary during the election. I don’t feel so constrained now.
Is Victoria’s Danslide hangover coming, or is Labor’s new vitality a sign of things to come? Send your comments to [email protected].