On Monday morning two days after the Victorian state election the ALP had 51 seats, the LNC 24, the Greens 1, other independents 1, with 11 still in doubt, but the outcome of which will not affect the Labor Party’s massive majority. No doubt there will be considerable speculation as to the causes of this landslide. Even at this early stage we can ask whether it represents a general skepticism about the impression the Murdoch press has been trying to create about the lawless state of Victoria and the corruption of its Labor politicians.
Whilst the three polls conducted just before the election day were unanimous about a slight Labor victory in the lower house, they did not foreshadow such a massive victory as has seemed to have occurred. The Herald-Sun, in particular, was covering the campaign with zest. Both it and The Age had pontificated much over the preceding months about the so-called red-shirts scandal. Here the ALP had used some hundreds of thousands of dollars allocated to office and staff expenses for election campaigning in the 2014 election, which was referred to police for investigation. For the media and the Liberals this was a sign of endemic corruption in the Labor party, even though it is likely other parties had been engaging in the same practice. But this apparently had no effect on the voters at all. It was only of concern to the apparatchiks and some journalists.
Equally, in February and March the Murdoch press and the commercial television stations were making as much noise as they could about so-called African gangs wreaking havoc in the northwestern and southeastern suburbs of Melbourne. There was a racist element in the reporting of the crimes and home invasions, and even such luminaries as Peter Dutton offered the observation that Melbournians were too frightened to venture out at night.
In contrast, the police spokesmen took a very responsible line and played down the likelihood of marauding African gangs. To some extent this must have put a large hole in the campaign by the Liberal party, aided by the Murdoch press and the commercial electronic media, to create the conditions for a long Law and Order campaign that would be one of the fundamental themes in their onward march into government. This fed into the Liberal Party’s slogan of “Get Back in Control.” Yet the general public did not buy it, despite the extravagance of the imagery employed by the media.
Leading up to the campaign Daniel Andrews created a vision of massive infrastructure spending over the next few decades. This would include a ninety kilometer underground ring rail around the outer suburbs of Melbourne, the completion of the North East Link connecting two freeways and a rail link to the airport, plus lesser projects involving building new schools and improving hospitals. This was a vision that would only be completed over time and with the help of commonwealth money, which may not have been forthcoming if the federal government was hostile.
However, and this seems to have been and continues to be a crucial point. When it was elected in November 2014 the Labor government had promised to progressively remove fifty railway level crossings, with the intention of dramatically improving vehicular traffic flow. To date twenty-eight such crossings have been removed with the train tracks often being raised above ground, allowing cars to travel underneath them. The resulting activity has been highly visible because 1) it has been advertised continuously on television, 2) many people have directly witnessed the construction process, 3) many others have been inconvenienced by having to travel by buses or alternative forms of transport whilst the train line has been altered in order to remove the level crossing. In short, this activity has been directly witnessed and has provided incontrovertible proof that the Andrew’s Labor government will carry through its infrastructure projects and not just spruik them. There is a strong acceptance that what the government says they will do, they will do.
But there is still more. The government has promised to subsidize putting solar panels on 600, 000 homes and has a target to move to fifty percent renewable energy target by 2030. Whilst the Greens have pushed for a much higher percentage, this is nonetheless significant, and has been seen by the average voter as being realistic and desirable. Despite the presence of a strong rump of climate change deniers in the federal LNP government and the Murdoch press, the general public is increasingly accepting the validity of climate science. In addition, the acquisition of solar panels on houses is seen as not only making electricity for the individual householder much cheaper, but also contributing to less carbon in the atmosphere.
It is another question whether this considerable ALP victory–based in part on an acceptance of substantially increased government expenditure funded by debt, with a definite increase in government activity–should be seen as a repudiation of neoliberalism. Most voters would barely recognize what the term neoliberalism means, yet they seem to have become fully aware of the exaggeration of the Murdoch press in its tabloid newspapers and the fear-mongering of the commercial electronic media in relation to specific issues. If this awareness continues it will soon morph into a widespread acceptance of an increased government role in the economy and society generally, and a skepticism of the corporate welfare which is one of the main elements of neoliberalism.
(Thanks to me daughter for alerting me to the positive effects of visible infrastructure)
Dr. Greg Bailey is an Honorary Researcher,College of the Arts,Social Sciences and Commerce, Latrobe University.