ACTU President Jennie George argues the Kennett government established its position by utilising all of the resources of government for political purposes and through intimidation and coercion.
This is a really exciting campaign.
This campaign presents us with the best chance in years to put Victorian Labor back on the front foot.
To deliver a decisive blow against a State Government that has established its position through a massive advantage in resources - utilising all of the resources of government for political purposes - and through intimidation and coercion.
It’s been a hard time in opposition - I would like to congratulate John Brumby and his team for their persistence in raising and pursuing issues in the Parliament and in the community.
One senses that at last, after years of hard and often thankless work by Labor that people are finally starting to appreciate that what is at issue is how the Kennett Government has failed Victorians.
Finally people are starting to say enough is enough.
And so they should.
Look at what the Kennett Government has delivered to the people of Victoria:-
Schools crippled by lack of resources and students coping with less access to teachers than in any other State:
- 9,000 teachers have been cut from the education system.
- Victoria has the worst student/teacher ratio in Australia.
- Hospitals and ambulance services in crisis.
- 3,000 nurses have been cut from the hospital system.
- 1,400 hospital beds have been closed.
We don’t have enough ambulances and the system for properly deploying those that we do have has been shown to be tragically inefficient.
Local government services have been decimated through the competitive tendering process which forces workers to bid for their own jobs at reduced wages.
We have seen an unrelenting attack on pay and working conditions.
Our State award system has been abolished. The Government denies State public servants the right to choose to stay on awards and to be collectively represented by unions. If you want a wage increase you have to sign an individual contract - it’s that blatant.
All of these actions have impacted on the people of Mitcham.
While friends of the Premier grow rich, Victoria’s job seekers face a tougher task than any other job seeker in Australia.
Every month since the Kennett Government was elected, Victoria’s unemployment rate has been higher than the national average.
It is time this was contrasted with the seven years of the Cain Labor Government, when Victoria’s unemployment rate was - for that entire period - lower than the national average.
John Howard may be more incompetent and an international embarrassment (and the worst Prime Minister Australia has ever had) but there has never been a more arrogant and self serving political leader in Australia’s history than Jeff Kennett.
In Victoria we have been wary of drawing comparisons between this Government and previous Labor Government but I think it is time perhaps that we started to do so.
John Cain’s personal honesty and probity in government was never questioned.
You would not see John Cain seeking a personal credit card for his wife, Nancy.
Nor for that matter do you see any other State Premier at the moment - only Jeff Kennett.
Labor always insisted on high standards for Government Ministers - Jeff Kennett lets them mislead Parliament with impunity as we saw over the Intergraph affair to mention just one example. He also lets them conduct private businesses on the side while they are purportedly working for the people of Victoria - as we have seen with the Premier’s personal support for Bruce Atkinson.
Labor also championed open government. Labor in government was subjected to impartial scrutiny by journalists. Does anyone remember the time when it was normal for a Premier of this State to conduct weekly news conferences? Jeff Kennett carefully stage manages friendly interviews on 3AW and leaves other questioning to the shambles of doorstops or controlled media events relating to individual issues.
John Cain also championed open government via the mechanism of Freedom of Information legislation and the establishment of an independent Auditor-General.
The principles of Freedom of Information have been extensively undermined by changes to that legislation and its administration.
And now of course the office of the Auditor-General is in the process of being emasculated.
Not only does the Premier carefully restrict any questioning of his performance and that of his Government - he viciously attacks any person who has the temerity to express even the mildest of criticism of any aspect of our current administration.
It’s not just the substantive policy issue that Mr. Kennett attacks. He attacks those in official positions who dare to criticise his policies personally.
He’s done that to Moira Raynor, Justice Fogarty, Bernard Borgiorno, the Auditor-General and he’s also now starting on the Governor-General.
But time is running out for Jeff Kennett.
Victorians are demanding more than publicity stunts and major events in order to put Victoria on the path to long term economic growth and social stability. They want a Premier that treats Victoria as more than just a theme park.
They are demanding quality local government services - rubbish removal, libraries, maternal health services, roads and footpaths.
They are demanding quality education for our children - not schools fundraising to pay for so called “extras” like physical education or music.
They are demanding a quality health system that guarantees quick ambulance response times and hospital beds when you need them and for as long as you need them.
They are demanding protection for the low paid and job security as well as the right to collectively bargain.
The issue that has mobilised thousands of Victorians most recently is one that has been a traditional concern of Labor - both industrially and politically. This is the proposed cuts to workers compensation in this State. The Government knows people are concerned - that is why they are desperately trying to mislead the voters of Mitcham about their impact.
These changes are much worse than most people realise. They discriminate against working people and treat them like second class citizens in this State. It is not just about common law although that is a key feature of the changes.
The extent of the abolition of common law rights is mind boggling.
This means that if you are hurt at work:
- you can’t sue your employer;
- or the manufacturer of faulty equipment that causes an accident;
- or a doctor who is negligent in treating your work injury or illness;
- nor can you sue another driver if you are driving at work even if that other
- driver is drunk or has come through a red light.
As the President of the Law Institute said in The Age yesterday - if you are on a plane as part of your work and it crashes, you are the only passenger not entitled to sue for damages.
But it is not only changes to common law actions that are a problem.
The changes go further and impose a 10% whole body impairment test for any lump sum claim - this will effectively cut out 6,000 or 7,000 claims each year.
And whilst the changes increase weekly payments for the totally incapacitated who earn more than $720 per week for 13 weeks, everybody’s weekly payments will be less after 13 weeks.
Currently the weekly payment is 95% of your wage for 26 weeks up to a limit of $680 then it reduces to 90% if you are seriously injured, or to 70%, or 60% for lesser injuries.
Under the changes you will get 75% of your pre-injury base wage if you have no capacity to work - a much tougher definition than the current one; or 60% for those who have a so-called “current work capacity.”
As the President of the Law Institute said, after 13 weeks injured workers will get less by way of weekly payment than workers injured anywhere else in Australia.
This puts the lie to the government claim that they are taking common law rights away in exchange for continuing generous weekly payments under a no fault scheme.
The much more stringent test for weekly payments means most people will not receive any continuing weekly payments.
The way these changes are being implemented by the Government reflects the autocratic and arrogant way in which issues are dealt with in Victoria.
The changes have been developed in secret and are pushed through Parliament with indecent haste.
Internal Government concerns are swept aside.
No compromise on the initial proposals is countenanced.
There comes a time when people have to say no - enough is enough.
When it comes to issues like health and education Victorians want a serious response from Government.
They want an end to the Premier’s arrogance and smugness.
When it comes to matters of respect for the community and personal probity they want an end to the Premier’s disregard for longstanding principles concerning how you conduct yourself in public office. Especially in terms of conflict of interest and personal gain.
Friends, I think we all can sense that Victorians are starting to listen to Labor again.
We have to continue to work and to work hard to earn their confidence.
We must let them understand that we have the will, the policies and the capacity to govern Victoria better.
We have got three more days to win over more voters in Mitcham. Let’s get Tony Robinson elected on Saturday.
Then on Monday lets get to work on winning over the rest of Victoria.
Mitcham By-election Campaign Dinner, Address By Jennie George President, ACTU. 9 December, 1997.