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.