Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Victoria: July to December 2008

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Victoria: July to December 2008

Article excerpt

After yet another dry summer and autumn, rain and snow finally fell in Victoria's water catchment areas. The falls were nowhere near the extent needed to increase Melbourne's reservoir storage to a level that could allow the state government to relax water restrictions, let alone declare that the drought that has gripped the state for almost five years was over. The climatic conditions were of great importance in Victoria because they set the context for a crucial infrastructure policy debate over how future water supplies might be secured. Premier John Brumby's predecessor Steve Bracks had made two important decisions on this matter before he retired: he committed the state to a water pipeline connecting the Goulburn River to Melbourne's Sugarloaf Reservoir, and to a sea-water desalination plant on the south Gippsland coast at Wonthaggi. Having made these decisions, Bracks retired and left the task of building these things to his successor.

Water politics dominated the Victorian debate over much of the review period. So, too, did transport politics although the driving force here was the release of Sir Rod Eddington's report on the state's future transport needs. The Brumby Government's transport plan, released with much fanfare in December, was also tied in with commitments to increasing infrastructure funding by the Commonwealth as part of its response to the international financial crisis. The Liberal Opposition decried the Brumby transport plan as just another re-hash of previously stated policies, while the press began to harp on about the increasing cancellation rate of Melbourne's privately owned suburban railway system. As it was to turn out, late trains were not the only thing to put Brumby under real pressure as the Christmas break loomed.

From Abortion to Transport: the Policy Debate

The winter parliamentary session began with a debate about abortion law reform. The matter of undertaking a review of the state's Crimes Act with a view to clarifying the legal status of those undertaking abortions in Victoria was another one of those issues put on the agenda during Steve Bracks' time as premier. Known to be resistant to the idea of dealing with a proposal to overhaul abortion law that might alienate the strong Catholic conservative element within his party, Bracks had preferred to let this matter rest. John Brumby, however, was more willing to tackle this reform, and a private members bill to decriminalise abortion and clarify the circumstances in which late term abortions might be procured was introduced by the member for Mt Waverley and Minister for Women's Affairs, Maxine Morand, to the Legislative Assembly on 19 August (Age, 20 August 2008). The bill sought to give legislative effect to recommendations for reform outlined by the Victorian Law Reform Commission and provided for abortion to be treated as any other medical procedure where the patient was at twenty-four weeks or less in the gestation period. The bill would also allow terminations after twenty-four weeks provided a woman had the approval of two doctors following consultations in which consideration of the physical and psychological health of the mother would be of primary importance.

Abortion is a very controversial and emotive issue in Victoria, and the passage of the Morand bill was accompanied by vigorous lobbying by pro-choice and antiabortion interest groups. The press was particularly interested in observing the passage of a major piece of legislation through the parliament where all the political parties agreed to allow their members a conscience vote (Herald Sun, 27 August 2008). By mid-September the bill had passed the Legislative Assembly without amendment and with a comfortable majority as a large number of Labor MPs were joined by Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu and some of his colleagues including deputy leader Louise Asher and Nationals front bench MP Jeanette Powell in voting for the bill. Attorney-General Rob Hulls and Sports Minister James Merlino were amongst the MLAs who voted against the bill (Age, 11 September 2008). …

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