What do Victorian Labor Premier Stephen Bracks, his successor John Brumby and former Liberal premier Jeff Kennett have in common? A love for neoliberal politics.
On July 27, Bracks announced his resignation on national television after eight years in the job. Within hours, his deputy John Thwaites also threw in the towel.
After two terms of brutal slash-and-burn policies under Kennett, a traumatised electorate voted the Bracks-led ALP into government in 1999. The ALP inherited a dramatically changed Victoria, epitomised by the wholesale destruction of infrastructure and public services, and a head-on assault on working conditions and wages.
Kennett cut some $1.2 billion from social spending, while $1 billion was raised in new taxes and charges. Among his most criminal achievements were the closure of more than 260 primary and secondary schools and the privatisation of public transport. Under Kennett's reign, the word "reform" was transformed from something positive for the majority of people into a nightmare. No wonder people wanted to get rid of him.
Bracks might declare himself the most important Victorian Labor leader ever, but that claim, combined with his colleagues' tears and the sickening accolades in the mainstream papers, are inconsistent with his track record. After eight years of Bracks' Labor, it is clear that what Kennett did with an iron fist Bracks has continued with a velvet glove.
Under Bracks, only a handful of schools have been re-opened and many of those still standing are in gross disrepair. The privatisation of public assets, including transport and roads, has not been reversed. Community services are struggling to survive. The state budget remains heavily dependent on gambling, essentially stealing from workers and destroying the social fabric of many communities.
Bracks and his cabinet championed "public-private partnerships" — a vehicle to shovel large amounts of taxpayers' funds to big business — and have been reluctant to use the budget surplus to tackle urgent problems like the bloated hospital waiting lists.
In 2000, Bracks again exposed his right-wing agenda by labelling peaceful protesters at the World Economic Forum meeting at Melbourne's Crown Casino "fascists" and calling in the riot cops, whose excessive force landed many protesters in hospital.
The Victorian ALP has done little to resist Howard's Work Choices or ease the burden on working families. Bracks has refused to back Victorian ALP policy in favour of decriminalising abortion and he gave the green light to Howard's police-state "anti-terror" laws in Victoria.
Brumby is missing Bracks' cheesy smile, but his politics are the same.
[Margarita Windisch is a Socialist Alliance Victorian Senate candidate.]