Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Victoria: July to December 2004

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Victoria: July to December 2004

Article excerpt

Victoria is in the middle of its electoral cycle, and the state's politics during the second half of 2004 had all the classic characteristics of mid-term inertia: few real scandals (save for a bit of drunk driving by, quixotically enough, Legislative Councillors from both the Liberal and Labor parties), lots of nit-picking over freeway policy, endless talk about improving the state's decrepit public transport system but no actual building of anything yet, some governmental manoeuvring over the criminal code to respond to the surge in underworld criminal activity in the previous six months, and a largely absent opposition. The local debate was further obscured by some external factors of note. In late June, for example, it appeared that Melbourne had won the European soccer championship when 50,000 Melbournians of Greek extraction watched and later celebrated Greece's European soccer championship at an all-night and all-day party on the corner of Russell and Lonsdale streets in the city centre. In September, two interstate Australian Rules football teams, the Brisbane Lions and the Port Power (nee Port Adelaide), rumbled into town to contest the Grand Final--the first all-interstate grand final in the code's history. A snap southerly change and a deluge of rain and hail made the 2004 Melbourne Cup one of the coldest on record. And then it was the turn of the federal election circus to roll into town as federal politicians fell over each other to be photographed at various freeway construction sites. Local politics had trouble competing with all of this external static, although there was little in the demeanour of the government or the premier to suggest that they were in any way concerned about their low key contribution.

Freeway Frolics

The politics of freeways are beginning to loom large over the Victorian debate. With all manner of freeways, by-passes, linkage tunnels and major arterial duplication being advocated by the Melbourne press and the major road-users interest group, the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV), it is the Frankston-Mitcham tolled freeway (formerly known as the Scoresby Freeway) that has been at the centre of political attention. The government's problem with this project relates to its reneging on a commitment made during the 1999 state election campaign that future freeway development would be free of user-pays tolling systems. At that time there was no plan to construct the Scoresby Freeway. However, this project was forced on the Victorian Government amidst a by-election for the federal seat of Aston in 2000.

Having reluctantly committed itself to building the freeway, the government became alarmed at subsequent economic analyses of the project that forecast substantial costs in its construction. At the time the Bracks Government was also committed to the concept of private-public development (PPD) in which the state would co-ordinate the construction of public infrastructure with the assistance of private developers who would be attracted to such projects with promises of revenue from the imposition of user-pays fees. Freeway construction under PPD where user-pays tolls would be applied would allow the government to proceed with an expensive project but without the cost appearing as public sector debt.

In the light of these considerations, and remembering the contribution the perception that a runaway state debt had made to the demise of the Labor Governments of John Cain and Joan Kirner, the Bracks Government announced that the old Scoresby Freeway project had been abandoned. In its place would be a new freeway development that would include extension of the Eastern Freeway through the suburb of Ringwood and linking the outer eastern suburbs with the outer south via the freeway formerly known as Scoresby. The new project would be called the Frankston-Mitcham Freeway and would be built as a PPD project in which the private joint venture partners would be allowed to levy tolls. …

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