By Bryan Sketchley
If any Victorian trade unionist had an inkling that Bracks and the state ALP would deliver up a half way decent deal for workers, they would, by now be sadly disappointed.
With the current round of enterprise bargaining recently concluded for public servants some unionists have been heard to say that 'at least under Kennett you could expect to get a kicking, and prepare accordingly.' The deal stitched up between CPSU officials and the government has seen pay outcomes that will stay marginally ahead of inflation and a handful of minor improvements in conditions. Every pissant condition wrung out of the government was akin to squeezing blood from a stone, the wage component is dependant on there being no significant interest rate rises over the next 43 months, that will potentially blow away any tiny gain that has been won.
Victorian teachers are facing a similar battle, with Bracks giving no indication of even half way meeting union demands. The state Labor government wants to increase nurse patient ratios before they will concede any pay rise for nurses. This miserly approach by a Labor government to its employees is taking place at the same time that millions of dollars are being poured into Commonwealth games preparations ($26 million on a footbridge that will be used for 10 days) and $1 billion dollar handout over five years to maintain Kennett's vision of a privatised public transport system. That is corporate welfare at the expense of putting more beds in hospitals, more teachers in schools and the provision of decent services for taxpayers.
The Victorian government is in the strongest fiscal position it has been for many years, mostly due to the huge boom in real estate prices and the associated tax windfall. Very little of that unexpected money has found its way into providing increased services for workers or unemployed folks. On the contrary, the Bracks government has being waging a sustained campaign on services to the disabled, state housing tenants, aged care and rural health services. Happily for the corporate sector, tax breaks and investment incentives have been a growth industry under the current state government. Inner city property developers particularly have done very well from the public purse, with little or no transparency where public funds have been handed over. The historic Flinders street station is a case in point. When Kennett privatised the public transport system, the station was thrown in a sweetener with grand promises of renovations and public use of facilities. Five years later, the new owners have let the building run down and Bracks has promised to throw even more money at the company to 'assist' them in maintaining their original promise.
None of this should come as much of a surprise however. What we need to remind ourselves of is that Bracks in opposition five years ago was little different to Latham in opposition now. Rhetorical flourishes about the need for 'an inclusive society', 'new opportunities' and the chance to rid ourselves of a radical right wing extremist seemed to be sufficient reason to believe that Bracks then, as Latham today, might just be different. At the end of the day, Bracks, like Latham, are all about managing capitalism, satisfying 'the markets' and ensuring investment and development proceed unhindered. Any consideration of economic stability over growth, or funding services ahead of credit rating considerations will not be part of any ALP government in power, despite the promises so earnestly given in opposition.