We want a coherent plan for Victoria

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The Age Editorial: We want a coherent plan for Victoria. November 3, 2014

As millions of Australians revel in the running of the Melbourne Cup today, another race begins in this state, one that carries the prize of power. The term of the 57th Parliament formally ends this evening, clearing the way for an election on November 29, when Victorians will decide who will lead their state for the next four years.

What The Age wants to see from all the major political parties is a coherent and fully formed plan for Victoria’s future economic growth and social development. It must be a plan that addresses the long-term demands of the state, not just the political goals of short-term opportunists. A plan that is not piecemeal in its approach nor fashioned around expensive trophy projects to the exclusion of a more cogent, state-wide strategy. It must encompass significant investment in both public transport and road networks, and provide for the development and enhancement of our schools and education system, our hospitals, health networks and community support services for future decades.

The state’s population has increased 23 per cent in the past 14 years to 5.82 million. About 4.25 million live in Melbourne, 600,000 of whom arrived in the past decade. The city’s population is forecast to hit 7.7 million by 2050. That rapid growth has already placed significant pressure on transport, health and hospital systems, schools and vital community services. It will only get worse if nothing is done soon.

In 2010, The Age called on the new premier, Ted Baillieu, to articulate a vision for Victoria. Mr Baillieu failed to meet the challenge. After he stepped aside in 2013, his successor, Denis Napthine, injected some energy into government and, to his credit, committed to push ahead with some important infrastructure projects, including construction of the $5.3 billion East West Link. Much remains to be done, though, if Victoria is to meet existing demand, let alone that of future generations. Fixing the public transport system will require far more than a few extra trains, trams or buses on existing routes. Generational change is needed, an investment to bring the system to world-best standards.

With such a strong increase in population, the economy should be powering ahead. Many people have gravitated to this state believing it is the place to raise future generations. There should be swelling confidence and a sense of dynamism. Yet Victoria has languished. Thousands of jobs have been lost in the manufacturing and construction industries and more will go in the next few years as the major car makers close.

Offsetting this has been the addition of tens of thousands of jobs in service sectors – healthcare, retailing, education and training. Victoria, though, has the second-highest unemployment rate in Australia: 6.7 per cent, compared with 5.8 per cent in NSW and 7.4 per cent in Tasmania. The jobs policies of both major parties may be packed with numbers, but we want cogent strategies that will put more people into satisfying, long-term careers.

Early polling suggests the Coalition is headed for defeat, although the 56-44 per cent margin reflected in the Fairfax Ipsos poll will tighten as voters absorb the details of health, education and jobs policies, or come to their own decisions about volatile issues such as public transport versus roads funding, management of the environment or the economy.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has suggested the East West Link will be the single biggest issue of the election. It is sure to be a flashpoint, but voters deserve richer and more diverse debate about our future needs. They certainly deserve more than policy offered in bits and pieces, or random promises of projects that might be delivered years from now. We want to see compelling visions of Victoria’s future, and the parties must demonstrate that they have the courage, managerial competence and discipline to implement those plans.

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