Education policies tilt us to say Labor

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The Age Editorial: Education policies tilt us to say Labor. November 23, 2014

The past four years in the life of Victoria’s Parliament were rent with such behaviour as to make its service to the people all but dysfunctional. Its consignment to the rubbish bin of history is unlamented.

Next Saturday, Victorians will go the ballot booths with every right to feel ambivalent.

The election is a particular challenge for both Denis Napthine and Daniel Andrews.

Dr Napthine is facing the people for the first time as Premier, and Mr Andrews the first time as Opposition Leader.

In 2010, Ted Baillieu defeated John Brumby, only to resign from the position in 2013, his time marked in the public mind by inertia.

Dr Napthine inherited chaos. The member for Frankston, Geoff Shaw, abandoned the Liberal Party, became an independent, and held the balance of power in his fickle hands. He wreaked havoc. He toyed with blocking supply. He rorted his parliamentary entitlements.

We have sympathy for the government in those circumstances. Dr Napthine deserves credit in providing a steady hand on the tiller. He not only has had to deal with the inaction of the Baillieu years, but the X factor of Mr Shaw. Nonetheless, there is reason to be concerned by his government’s decisions.

Top of the list is the speed with which the government embraced the East West Link and – primarily – the lack of transparency in the project, estimated, in some quarters, to cost $18 billion.

The Sunday Age believes that given the magnitude of the project it should have been tested at the polling booth. As it is, contracts have been signed. The rush to do something – and to be seen to be doing something – by the Napthine government may well cost Victoria dearly.

The public has the right to know how their money is spent and what the long-term consequences of that spending will be. The merits or otherwise of this project have not been duly prosecuted as the details remain largely hidden from public scrutiny.

Labor’s position on the link is, at best, slippery. While Daniel Andrews gave a firm “Yes” when asked if he could guarantee that the road would not be built under any circumstance, some uncertainty still surrounds the legal manoeuvring.

He also didn’t rule out a similar project if Infrastructure Victoria recommended it, although he promised transparency of the process.

In this paper last week, Auditor-General John Doyle and his three predecessors warned that proper scrutiny of public private partnerships would no longer be possible without increased powers. Transparency must be a pillar of good governance – and the powers to investigate public spending, one of its foundations. The warning from the auditors-general must be heeded.

Labor’s commitment to overhauling freedom-of-information laws is a step in the right direction – but the electorate is justified in feeling sceptical. Promises have been made in the past and abandoned.

On the economy, there is no doubt Victoria faces a difficult future. When car manufacturing ends, for example, 33,000 jobs will go and Victoria’s unemployment rate already stands at 6.8 per cent. Both sides are promising to create jobs, lots of them, but the reality is that the impact of state governments on job creation is less than they suggest.

What is important is helping those out of work and planning for the next generation and this is where Labor’s greater commitment to education and reinvigorating TAFE sets it apart.

But Labor is not without its vulnerable spots and the highly questionable influence of the militant CFMEU must be curtailed.

Closer to this newspaper is the disgraceful episode of the theft of the dictaphone of our state political editor, Farrah Tomazin. The Office of Public Prosecutions is still deciding whether to lay charges against a senior Labor figure.

With little enthusiasm, and much reservation, The Sunday Age believes Labor is better able to lead Victoria.

Has the Coalition done anything monstrously wrong to be kicked out? No. Labor, however, if it buries its arrogance, is offering a slightly broader vision in areas that this paper believes need to be addressed.

Whichever party wins next weekend is not entitled to think the electorate has delivered a ringing endorsement of its recent behaviour. There are no grounds for triumphalism.

After the past four tawdry years, Victorians have become deeply disengaged.

It is incumbent on the next government to show some humility and work hard to restore faith in the political process.

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