Mr Privatisation has Transformed Victoria
When the NSW Liberals fell in an ignominious heap at the recent NSW State election after having offered their patched-together 'cash in hand' electricity privatisation proposal, there were plenty of commentators saying that it 'proved' that privatisation was on the nose.
So, if, as seems likely, Jeff Kennett---the Mr Privatisation, Mr Economic Rationalism of Australian politics---is re-elected in his third landslide on September 18, what will they say?
The alleged electoral poison of economic rationalism was always a beat-up. The Hawke-Keating Government showed that economic rationalism was perfectly compatible with being the longest-serving federal ALP Government in Australian history, with Bob Hawke taking the honours as the second-longest-serving PM.
Kennett is one of the most able operators in Australian politics. Kennett the Premier is notably better than Kennett the Opposition Leader, because he needs the extra discipline that being in government provides. And his most shamelessly irresponsible intrusions in the policy debate---trade protection, immigration and foreign affairs---are all in areas which are completely outside the ambit of a State premier.
The transformation of the Victorian public sector which has taken place under Kennett has certainly had its glitches. Nevertheless, given the scale of the changes, one cannot help but be impressed by the professionalism with which the changes were executed. To be sure, a majority in both Houses of Parliament certainly helped, but that could also have been an excuse for sloppiness.
There are many aspects of the success of Kennett and his retiring State Treasurer Alan Stockdale one could focus on.
The point that is not often properly grasped is the importance of well-thought out ideas. Much of the strategy for the transformation of the public sector was originally developed by Project Victoria, an initiative of the Institute of Public Affairs, Tasman Institute and Victorian business. Project Victoria covered water, ports, electricity, public transport and worker's compensation and the Government built on it for roads, hospitals, prisons and schools.
It is precisely because the general direction was clearly and rigorously thought out, that it could be prosecuted and argued for with such success. Making it up as you go along is a recipe for disaster. Failing to articulate a clear and understandable direction is a recipe for being unpersuasive---ultimately fatal in democratic politics.
Kennett has consistently outclassed a Labor Opposition saddled with the 'Guilty Party' image.
Kennett has also played well his enormous advantage of being naturally in favour of working class fun---cars, sport, the Crown Casino---against an ALP Opposition with a fatal penchant for trendy, inner-city wowserism.
The only real public defeat for the Premier was handed out by the social conservatives of the Victorian Liberal Party, who could not stomach his social liberalism on marijuana, though his attempt on the matter certainly did him no harm with young voters.
The Victorian ALP has replaced the 'Guilty Party' individuals and is seeking to become a modern social democratic party.
While this transformation is not far enough advanced to be likely to threaten Kennett in September, that, combined with loss of experience from a rash of ministerial retirements, will make post-September Victorian politics a very different matter.
But as the Blair-transformed British Labour Party is the greatest marker of Margaret Thatcher's triumph, so a Victorian ALP seeking to be a 'party for business' would be Kennett's.