Kirner delivers statement on jobs crisis


By Melanie Sjoberg

MELBOURNE — After much fanfare, Premier Joan Kirner delivered the state Labor government's economic statement on jobs on March 25.

The statement was distinguished by the embellishment of its language: ignoring such embarrassments as the Victorian Economic Development Coroporation mismanagement scandal and the fiasco with Pyramid, Kirner described Victoria as a state "rich in assets, rich in people". Picking up on the phrases of the federal mini-budget, she called for support from all Victorians in sharing "one goal, one priority".

Initial comments to the media from many union and welfare lobby leaderships were generally approving. John Halfpenny, secretary of the Trades Hall Council, said the statement was "well directed" and would help the recovery of Victoria. The statement has been endorsed by the executive of the Victorian Council of Social Services and the Brotherhood of St Laurence, along with the Australian Conservation Foundation.

However, there are also doubts as to how much the package will really do to meet the jobs crisis: how much of substance it will give to the unemployed and how much it is merely electioneering or handouts to big business.

On closer inspection, much of the "new" spending announced by Kirner is merely a repetition of budget commitments already made or a minor supplement to the "One Nation" promises previously announced by Prime Minister Keating.

The statement pledges to commit $30.4 million in 1991-92 and a further $132 million in 1992-3 to create a total of 80,000 jobs over the next year and a half. But the actual figures provided in the add up to only around 40,000, and even here there is no solid information about how and when these jobs might appear.

It appears that the figures in the statement are slightly "spongy", and the state could be facing a budget blowout of around $130 million from this exercise.

The statement projects a total of $55 million being spent on roads in addition to the federal government's commitment of over $260 million. This is supposed to generate 13,000 jobs. It will assist in the development of the Ringwood, Springvale and Western bypasses.

Kevin Healy from People for Environmentally Sustainable Transport (PEST) told Green Left that the group was very disappointed with the statement. "We have consistently opposed the Western Bypass on social and environmental grounds", he said. The practical impact of developing further freeways will be to increase urban sprawl, traffic congestion and community health problems through pollution, Healy warned.

As an alternative, he suggested that an outer ring rail route would provide the necessary passenger and freight transport requirements r number of jobs with fewer social costs. The economic statement "is really to meet the needs of big business", said Healy. "The next phase will be to privatise some of the roads and set up toll facilities."

In the statement, Kirner referred to close collaboration with the Committee of Melbourne, which represents the state's big business interests. This is borne out in the section of the statement that has received less publicity in the media.

There are 17 joint venture contracts currently being negotiated with the private sector which the Kirner government claims will generate a further 17,000 jobs. No details are provided on the nature of these projects nor how much the state government will be investing. Melbourne already has a glut of empty office space following the building boom in the mid-'80s.

Similarly, corporations will be provided with relief from stamp duty payments for reconstruction of enterprises. The statement further promised that a bill to permit the introduction of enterprise bargaining in the state system will be presented in the current parliamentary session.

Despite the priority given to roads ahead of public transport, later in the document Kirner promised projects intended to demonstrate a commitment to the environment. Funding of $15 million is being provided in conjunction with the Jobskills program and the ACF to train young people in conservation. The penguin rookery on Philip Island will be one of the main projects.

The Labor government will not need to have fulfilled many of these promises when it goes to the polls towards the end of this year, because most of the projections take effect in 1993.