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Words by Derrick Krusche
Illustrations by Kevin Hawkins

Victorians will be heading to the polls on 29 November to decide our next state government, so let’s take a look and see how this election is shaping up.

Unlike last year’s federal election, the race between the Coalition’s Premier Denis Napthine and Labor’s Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews appears to be much closer. The Coalition won office in 2010 with only a slender two-seat majority (including the Speaker). And since troublesome Frankston MP Geoff Shaw resigned from the Liberal Party to become an independent, the government now must rely on Shaw’s vote and that of Speaker Ken Smith.

Shaw has stated he will support the government with his vote. However, because he holds the balance of power he has the potential to stand in the way of the government’s legislative agenda. It is critical for Napthine to sell his message in an election year and he could appear weak if he is unable to control Shaw. Now that charges pertaining to misuse of his government credit card and car have been dropped, Shaw has the chance to exploit his position. The Coalition is determined to show to voters that they are not bound to Shaw. The Coalition is running a member against him in the electorate of Frankston and it is unclear whether he will contest his seat again.

Regardless, health and hospitals remain the most important issues to Victorian voters. Napthine is currently caught in a damaging standoff with the ambulance union over paramedic wages. They want a 30 per cent pay rise over three years but the government has only offered a 12 per cent pay rise so far.

Reports have emerged of worrying levels of stress causing mental health issues and abuse of prescription drugs among paramedics. This could offset the efficiency of ambulance services. Furthermore, the problem of ‘ramping’ at hospitals is ongoing, whereby paramedics are forced to wait hours outside hospitals before their patients are admitted and are consequently late to other calls. The government has failed to deliver on its promise to fund 800 new hospital beds and improve ambulance response times. There have been ongoing technical problems with the emergency dispatch system and the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA)

Another hotly contested area in state politics is education. Many of the early budget decisions of the government included massive cuts to TAFE. In the vocational education sector (VET) a market driven model was introduced, which required public and private operators to compete for government funding against each other. The aim was to resolve skills shortages through increased efficient training. But poorly designed courses and a lack of caps on enrolment have seen some private providers deliver poorer quality training. Alongside the new commercial model, this has led to VET graduates finishing their courses with fewer skills. Napthine said he would reinstate $200 million to TAFE to fix the problem, yet many say it is too late and not enough.

The last time there was a one-term government in Victoria was 1955. Yet Labor currently holds a solid lead in the two-party preferred vote according to Fairfax/Nielsen and Newspoll. This is a promising sign, but if a week is a long time in politics, ten months is an eternity.

The East West link is dividing Melbourne—both figuratively and literally. We asked two students to weigh in on the debate.

FOR

Words by Charles Everist

The Eastern Freeway is pumping enormous volumes of traffic into arterial roads and suburban streets. As traffic bursts at the other end of the pipeline into different channels, the results prove chaotic.

Without a tunnel, Carlton’s streets act like a bottleneck on traffic moving from the eastern suburbs to critical destinations such as the airport, industrial zones and the port of Melbourne. Only the East West Link can solve this specific problem.

Nevertheless, the East West Link will not be the solution to our traffic chaos in and of it self. Certainly, Melbourne needs improvements to its public transport infrastructure. For instance, we still need to extend the city loop to include the University of Melbourne and the Domain interchange.

New roads and new public transport links are not mutually exclusive sets of policies. Transport is not a zero-sum game. Government should have capacity to invest in both. At the present time, however, Victoria’s economy has limited capacity to fund a rail extension under the city, let alone both a road and rail tunnel.

In an election year we must evaluate the policies that have actually been put on the table. The transport policies that State Labor and Daniel Andrews have recently released are unrealistic. Figures from the Public Transport Victoria and the Department of Justice show that Labor’s removal of level crossings will cost double than expected and will take years to complete.

For this reason, unions in Victoria have backed East West Link. Electrical Trades Union state secretary Troy Gray has said “we need to see credible alternatives before we are critical of this project”. Other union officials have come out in support of East West because it will deliver jobs to their members sooner during this unsettling time for the construction industry.

Finally, the East West Link is not just about cars, trucks and trains. Hidden behind the protestors’ chants, the debate on Spring Street, and the words opined in the papers, a human element remains. East West is the difference between employment or the dole queue. It’s the difference between a working mother or father being able to pick their kids up from school on time.

Melbourne still has a long way to go before its citizens can be proud of their transport system. But building East West is the first step.

AGAINST

Words by Alexander Sheko

I could go on for pages about the negative impacts of the Victorian Government’s proposed East West Link toll road. It will destroy a good part of Royal Park and Moonee Ponds Creek, increase traffic volumes and congestion in suburbs like Flemington, displace residents of over a hundred homes, and relegate thousands of others to five years of drilling, blasting, trucks, noise, and contaminated soil.

However, the reality is that these impacts are local in scale. While devastating to those that experience them, they—from a utilitarian perspective—pale in comparison to the project’s effect on Melbourne and Victoria. The East West Link represents a phenomenal expenditure that provides disproportionately small benefits to a disproportionately small proportion of the state’s population. It will consume a generation’s worth of infrastructure funding, ensuring our transport system remains firmly fixed in the last century—to say nothing of the opportunity cost to our health and education systems.

Proponents of the road claim it will relieve congestion along Alexandra Parade and the Eastern Freeway. How can this be the case when the majority of the freeway’s traffic is headed for the CBD (not west) and its traffic volumes are, by the government’s own modelling, projected to significantly increase once the road is constructed? It is claimed that the road will take traffic off local, inner suburban roads. How could this possibly be true when the likely cost to use the road will simply encourage more of the same ‘rat-running’?

Whatever one’s political bent, it can be agreed that wasting public money is bad. Owing to the commercial failure of similar toll roads in Sydney and Brisbane, the private sector is now demanding that the government assume the revenue risk for projects such as the East West Link. This means that if traffic volumes and therefore toll revenues are less than expected, it is the Victorian taxpayer who bears the cost.

Ultimately, the East West Link means a huge amount of money spent for political reasons, rather than for public gain. This is money that could be better spent expanding the frequency and reach of our rail and bus networks, so as to ensure that people, wherever they live, have access to an efficient and reliable public transport system. Only when we focus on getting people—not cars—around can we move Melbourne’s transportation system into the twenty-first century.

Every month, For & Against will tackle a different issue—some serious, some not so serious. If you have a debate you want to see resolved in Farrago, email us at farragomagazine2014[at]gmail.com