There is something rotten in the state of Victoria.
The legacy of secrecy in government reached a high point under Jeff Kennett’s Coalition state government in the 1990s. It continued under the Bracks Labor government and the current John Brumby Labor government.
The main reason for this was widespread privatisation and the policy of funding infrastructure projects through public-private partnerships (PPPs) — a policy begun by the Kennett government and continued by Labor.
Privatisation meant the government avoided responsibility for providing basic services such as public transport and electricity, while the private “public transport” companies pass the buck back to the government when they provide terrible service.
Privatisation and PPPs allow the government to keep information secret from the public, hiding behind commercial-in-confidence agreements.
An example is the Wonthaggi desalination plant. The government has refused to break down the figures and reveal the cost of the plant.
Most Victorians don’t realise that their water bills will increase from about $2000 to $6000 a year over the next few years to pay for the plant.
The state government no longer sees water as a human right that it is obliged to provide.
Other utility bills, such as gas and electricity, are set to increase at a similar rate.
The Socialist Alliance is running four candidates in the November 27 Victorian election.
It calls for public transport and utilities to be put back into public hands. Socialist Alliance candidate for Footscray Margarita Windisch said: “People are hurting. They can’t afford these huge bills. Even if people do their best to save water and electricity, their bills still increase because the supply or service charge keeps increasing.
“The Socialist Alliance believes everyone should have a basic allowance for water, gas and electricity at very cheap rates, with allowances for people with special needs (such as pensioners, people who are sick, large families) and then rising steeply according to use thereafter.
“This means rich people with big mansions who use a disproportionate amount of water and electricity would pay more than poor people who use very little.”
Socialist Alliance’s other candidates are Mitch Cherry for Bellarine, Trent Hawkins for Brunswick and Ron Guy for Melton.
The Socialist Party is standing Yarra councillor Steve Jolly for the seat of Richmond and the Revolutionary Socialist Party is standing Van Rudd in Derrimut.
Jolly’s campaign is backed by the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, the Electrical Trades Union, and the United Firefighters Union.
Guy said the state election should be a referendum on public transport.
“Melbourne’s roads can’t cope with more cars and trucks”, he said. “The Brumby government must shift funding away from roads to public transport and rail freight.
“Areas like Melton in the outer western suburbs are a very neglected for public transport. If you don’t live near a train station, you have no hope of getting around by public transport, and the train service is overcrowded at peak hour.
“The state government had an opportunity to take public transport back into public hands when Connex’s contract ran out.
“Instead, it gave the contract to another private company, Metro, which has run an even worse service than Connex.”
The climate action movement is pressuring the state Labor government to close down the dirty coal-fired power stations, especially Hazelwood. Socialist Alliance supports closing the power stations and replacing them with renewable energy.
Hawkins, a renewable energy researcher, says renewables are already developed enough that Australia could shift to 100% renewable energy in 10 years.
“Socialist Alliance policy recognises it is not the fault of Latrobe Valley workers that they work in coal-fired power stations. The government should guarantee alternative employment and training for workers by putting manufacturing for the renewable energy industry in the valley.”
He said the Socialist Alliance also called for construction of the desalination plant at Wonthaggi to be stopped. “This project is not needed. It will add significantly to Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions, put a private company in control of the state’s water and will massively increase water bills.
“As work has already started on the plant, the workers there need to be guaranteed alternative jobs by the government.”
The Brumby government is feeling public pressure over the disintegrating public transport system, an ambulance service in crisis, increasing hospital waiting lists and its closeness to the big developers.
To divert public attention, it has begun competing with the Liberals over which party can be tougher on crime.
Cherry said: “Anyone looking at the media or listening to the police and the major parties would think that crime rates are increasing. Statistics show that crime rates have decreased.
“But the Victorian police use of capsicum spray is increasing. In one week, the Victorian police used capsicum spray on a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old. They are trialling Tasers, which recently killed a man in New South Wales. Socialist Alliance opposes Victorian police getting Tasers .”
Cherry said the government was “using the ‘law-and-order’ issue in a similar way to how the federal parties use the refugee issue — to distract attention from what they’re not doing”.