Continuing in the spirit of Cate Speaks

The Liberal Party

Summary

Website: vic.liberal.org.au
Social Media: FacebookTwitterInstagram
Slogans: Real Solutions for All Victorians
Themes: Some really great ideas undermined by short-sighted and vindictive thinking
Electorates: Upper House: Eastern Victoria, North-East Metropolitan, Northern Metropolitan, Northern Victoria, South-East Metropolitan, Southern Metropolitan, Western Metropolitan, Western Victoria Region
Lower House: Albert Park, Ashwood, Bass, Bellarine, Bendigo East, Bendigo West, Bentleigh, Box Hill, Broadmeadows, Brunswick, Bundoora, Carrum, Clarinda, Cranbourne, Dandenong, Eltham, Essendon, Eureka, Euroa, Footscray, Frankston, Geelong, Greenvale, Hastings, Hawthorn, Ivanhoe, Kalkallo, Kororoit, Lara, Laverton, Macedon, Melbourne, Melton, Mildura, Monbulk, Mordialloc, Mornington, Morwell, Mulgrave, Narracan, Narre Warren North, Nepean, Niddrie, Northcote, Oakleigh, Pakenham, Pascoe Vale, Point Cook, Prahran, Preston, Richmond, Ringwood, Shepparton, South Barwon, St Albans, Sunbury, Sydenham, Tarneit, Thomastown, Wendouree, Werribee, Williamstown, Yan Yean
Preferences: The Coalition are keeping it in-house in the rural Regions with LP preferencing the Nationals candidates, followed up by other Liberals. In the Metropolitan Regions, it’s a grab bag of parties even further to the Right than the LP itself. United Australia, DLP, and Family First get second preferences, followed by a mix of One Nation, Liberal Democrats, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, and the New Democrats. That’s rounded out by Angry Victorians and the Freedom Party.
Previous Reviews: 202220192018 (VIC) — 2014 (VIC) — 20132010

Policies & Commentary

Unless you’ve been lucky enough to live somewhere that has no access to TV, print media, or the internet, you’ll have been thoroughly bombarded by ads from the major parties and are probably sick of it by now. With that in mind, this article on the Liberal Party (hereafter referred to as LP) is only going to focus on a few areas that either haven’t been covered elsewhere, or haven’t been well-explored.

First up is LP’s pledge to fix the health system. It’s been their flagship policy throughout this campaign, with promises to build hospitals, overhaul 000, fund IVF and two million ”mental health appointments”, halve elective surgery waiting time through the use of robots, provide a voucher scheme for high priority dental patients, and to recognise 2000 registered counsellors as ”mental high practitioners” to be deployed in schools.

Obviously, I’m not a doctor and I don’t even play one on TV, but I’m not sure that 9 robots will have as great an impact on surgery waiting times as the LP claim. It’s not just a matter of who holds the knife – surgery requires a team working together to ensure patient safety, and a robot doesn’t replace nurses or anaesthetists. Additionally, robot-assisted procedures require the presence of trained surgeons. LP have promised funding for this, but this would result in surgeons being in the operating room anyway. It’s possible that the actual duration of surgeries could be reduced, but then there’s the question of strain on existing operating theatre teams. There are definite benefits to using robots, but it’s difficult to see how this policy would accomplish what the LP claim it will.

I’m also dubious about the pledge to legitimise “registered counsellors” as mental health practitioners in schools. There is no law in Australia that requires counsellors to have specific training or experience. You could have a Masters in Psychology, 20 years of social work experience, or you could have done a short course in Reiki and Crystal Healing. You could be a religious leader. Or you could have read a few pop psychology books. Literally, I could hang out my shingle tomorrow. Oh but wait, didn’t LP’s policy mention “registered” counsellors? It did, but we’re not talking about the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners here. There are a few organisations out there offering “registration”, but most of those are attached to private colleges who’d like you to do their particular courses. Without stringent guidelines as to what constitutes a counsellor, and limits on what these mental health practitioners would be allowed to do in terms of advice and treatment, this policy has the potential to be very, very dangerous.

There are some great promises in here, though. Dental care funding boosts are long, long overdue (although I’d like to know what constitutes a “high priority” dental patient). We do need to examine how our emergency call system can be improved, because it’s pretty woeful right now, and if nothing else, COVID-19 has taught us how easily our existing hospitals can be overwhelmed.

All of this, apparently, without raising taxes. In fact, they’re going to get rid of taxes! Taxes must go! All up, 9 taxes and fees are destined for either the chopping block or the freezer. A huge amount of revenue would vanish from state coffers, so how can the LP fund even just these health promises? Not to worry, they’re going to pay for this by scrapping the Suburban Rail Link between Cheltenham and Box Hill. That, they claim, will free up $35 billion. Maybe so, but LP’s advertising has hammered Victorian debt hard in this campaign, and there are dozens of other promises that require significant funding, some of which are extremely difficult to justify. Kind of a contradiction in terms, isn’t it? Just how far is this #35 billion supposed to stretch?

Take the promise to give more funding to non-government schools, for instance. This makes no sense whatsoever. Private schools aren’t underfunded. In fact, they’re overfunded, receiving 101.7% of their identified resourcing needs, while government school funding falls far short with only 84.6%. How can LP justify throwing even more money at non-government schools, then, especially given how loudly they’ve railed against ‘wasteful’ spending?

Amusingly, LP appear to have reconsidered some of the policies that they and their federal counterparts have rubbished in the past. This election, they want to set up an app and website that will enable people to find savings on fuel through price comparison. Wait a minute, I hear you say, this sounds awfully familiar. That’s because it’s functionally identical to a policy of the Rudd government, Fuel Watch. Federal Coalition MPs scuppered this initiative when it came before the Parliament in 2008, and boy were they gleeful about it. Barnaby Joyce even described it as a “purposeful burial”. Fourteen years later, it seems they’ve had a change of heart.

And then there is the thorny issue of level crossing removal. Well, I say “thorny”, but really, the Labor government’s program has almost universal public support. We’ve already seen a huge reduction in gridlock, improved safety, and – with the addition of skyrail – areas of parkland and cycling paths in places that were once nothing more than ditches and tracks. That hasn’t stopped the LP complaining about it, though for reasons ranging from wasteful spending to political manoeuvring. They’re not a fan of skyrail, either, as this poster spotted in Parkdale shows:

Interesting that there are no LP logos, and that you have to look really closely to spot who’s responsible for the poster. This is what you get when you blow up that photo:

Curious, then, that their policy specifically includes level crossing removals at Highett, Glen Iris, Tooronga, Kooyong, and Diamond Creek.

The claim is that these are areas “neglected” by Labor, possibly for nefarious political reasons. What LP are not saying, though, is that the Wickham, Highett and Glenferrie Road level crossings are already slated for removal under Labor’s current plan, the latter waiting upon completion of planning. They also haven’t mentioned that the Tooronga crossing is currently the subject of a feasibility study because of the potential impact of removal works on the surrounding shops.

On the issue of transport, LP have promised to extend the 48 tram line to Doncaster, and the 75 to Westfield Knox. I am all for improvements to metropolitan public transport; there are still far too many under-served areas in Greater Melbourne, some in long-established areas. It’s great, then, to see a commitment like this.

But wait. Does this sound familiar, too? That’s because Ted Baillieu pledged to do it as part of his 2006 election campaign, but by 2010, the policy had vanished from the Liberal platform. Now, apparently, it’s back. I’d like to think that this time the LP truly mean it. I’m not holding my breath.

When it comes to LGBTQIA+ folk, the LP have two policies. That’s pretty woeful, but at least they’re positive. Radio station JOY FM would receive $250,000 per year for the next four years in funding, in recognition of their role in being a valuable source of support and information. LP have also promised to establish a specific ”LGBTQ”1Their acronym, not mine.legal service, to be based at the Pride Centre. Which would be great, except… we already have one.

But it’s the thought that counts, right?

Mind you, it would be interesting to know how these positive initiatives sit with some of their candidates. Matthew Guy moved quickly to boot Renee Heath from the party room after her connections with a homophobic and transphobic church were revealed, but she’s still on the ballot. A vote for her will count towards the LP’s total. Then there’s Michael Mastriano, who is a frequent flyer at the Freedom Party’s daily “High Noon @ Noble” stunts. FPV’s anti-queer stance is well known, yet we’ve heard nothing from Guy to suggest that Mastriano should distance himself, nor be removed from the party room.

Even aside from these two, the fact that the Liberals have overwhelmingly preferenced parties with anti-LGBTQIA+ policies casts a shadow over their own purported supportive position, and raises some uncomfortable questions.

Okay. We’ve covered some of LP’s less controversial policies, but now, I’m afraid, we have to leave the realms of rationality. Because now we have to look at their ”Restore Integrity and Accountability in Government” plans, and here’s where LP reveal the extent to which they’re cultivating the votes of the anti-lockdown, anti-mandate, paranoid cooker crowd. You know, the ones who think Dan Andrews is worse than Hitler, Stalin, Franco, and Saddam Hussein put together. If the preferences weren’t a dead giveaway, these policies are.

Let’s start with Freedom of Information (FOI). The system is broken, LP claim. Why, just look at how the Andrews government didn’t release a whole bunch of documents relating to the pandemic. We must ”end the secret state surrounding the Andrews Labor Government”.

I would expect to see this kind of language on the website of one of the anti-Dan Andrews pages, probably accompanied by dark mutterings about the “deep state” and the worldwide agenda to round up “we the people” into camps and make them eat bugs. To see it being used by a major party aiming to govern is, frankly, startling.

It also neatly avoids the point that both major parties are guilty of exploiting an FOI system that allows them to delay, obfuscate, heavily redact, and outright refuse to release documents for what are often flimsy reasons. LP want to fix this system? Fantastic. I support it. But how about a policy that doesn’t distort the facts?2I know, I know. Tell them they’re dreaming.

You probably know some of their future pandemic policy by now, since it’s practically copy-pasted from the minor parties they’re preferencing. Sing along with me – no lockdowns! No mandates! No border closures! No shutdown of schools and business! Let it rip!

It goes further, though. LP’s pandemic management includes enshrining the right to protest. Yes, apparently violating direct health orders and endangering the community is unimportant compared to people’s “right” to gather in large groups and yell about how oppressed they are. Odd, then, that their commitment to “free speech” didn’t extend to Black Lives Matter protesters who, in June 2020, also violated emergency directives, oh no. As far as the LP were concerned, those protests actually endangered the public and worsened the pandemic. One might be forgiven for thinking that “free speech” is only worthy of protection if it’s the right kind of free speech.

There’s also a promise to allow people to challenge any emergency orders in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. While this is clearly aimed at criticising Labor’s pandemic response, the future implications are extremely worrying. Emergency orders exist for a reason – namely, to protect Victorian people and communities. Are the LP seriously suggesting that people be able to ignore evacuation orders in a bushfire, for instance?

To round this off, LP want to amend the Victorian Constitution Act to ensure that no future State of Emergency can last longer than 30 days. If a situation occurred in which the government wanted to extend that, it would require a three-fifths majority in both the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council ”on each occasion”. This is a recycled version of a bill they proposed this year, and which made it to the second reading stage before lapsing with the end of the Parliamentary term. The second reading speech is laden with hysterical claims. That bill had a sunset clause, based on the LP’s belief that the pandemic would well and truly be done with. This new policy does not.

And then there’s LP’s promise (or perhaps “threat” is a better word) of a Royal Commission into Victoria’s pandemic response, which is larded up with all sorts of dramatic phrasing that betrays its motives. Like almost every other call for some kind of inquiry, this isn’t about examining what was done and making recommendations for future improvements. LP’s Royal Commission would start with the assumption that the pandemic response was an ”abject failure”, a ”debacle” to be laid solely at the feet of the Labor government. There’s not even a pretence of objectivity here, and certainly no call for a truly independent inquiry. But it gets worse.

”A Royal Commission will also have the power to recommend any charges for potential criminal actions, including industrial manslaughter.”

This goes far beyond even what’s being called for by the parties LP are preferencing. That may be because these groups aren’t aware that we do have legislation here in Victoria that addresses the matter of workplace deaths as a potential criminal offence. Nonetheless, it’s extraordinary to see this being seriously considered by the LP.

Workplace manslaughter – to use the correct term from the Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and Other Matters) Act 2019) – is defined as referring to a situation in which “a person or employer who or which negligently causes a workplace death faces a fine of up to $16.5 million, in addition to up to 20 years jail for individuals.” It’s designed to prevent workplace deaths, and to place pressure on employers to provide a safe environment without appropriate supervision.

Along with being a doctor, I’m not a lawyer, but how on earth are the LP proposing to make this legislation apply to the Labor government?

The Act states that the offence applies to employers, self-employed people, and “officers” of the employers. “Officer” refers to individuals within an organisation that have the ability and resourcing to improve safety, namely, directors, any person that participates in the decision-making affecting a substantial part of the organisation or “any person that has the capacity to significantly affect the organisation’s financial standing”. (My bold.)

Are the LP suggesting that the Labor govt fits this last definition? That the pandemic measures put in place caused deaths equivalent to someone dying in a construction accident due to negligence of Occupational Health and Safety guidelines? It’s really difficult to see how this could apply – remember, Victoria went through several lockdowns during the period emergency orders were in operation, during which people were not permitted to attend their workplaces, so how could anyone’s death from COVID-19 be considered a workplace death? Perhaps this is supposed to be an underhand reference to death due to mental distress, since the LP have previously claimed an increase of suicides linked to the lockdowns of the past few years, despite evidence to the contrary.

Maybe the LP are suggesting that the entirety of Victoria constitutes a “workplace”, and that the government is our de facto employer? That’s a Gordian knot of jurisdictional and liability consideration right there.

And how would a Royal Commission go about deciding which deaths might be workplace manslaughter, anyway? What sort of evidence could be tendered to show a causal link between an individual’s death and the emergency control measures affecting an entire population? That’s what would be needed – evidence of causality.

Orrrr… is this just tough-guy3Pun not intended, honest. talk from the LP?

I’d hazard a guess most of us have never even heard of workplace manslaughter, let alone have an idea of what it actually is. But what a serious word “manslaughter” is. How weighty is the idea that someone (read: Dan Andrews and his government) could be locked up for 20 years?

When you drill down into this promise, though, it rapidly falls apart. At the very least, there are questions as to whether the Act could be applied. Even if the LP somehow convinced a Royal Commission that it could, gaining evidence to support any given case (assuming there ever could be such evidence) would be so impractical as to be impossible.

Nothing about these proposed criminal penalties makes sense. This is nothing but a thought bubble, the kind of idea a few mates would kick around while they’re getting on the beers. To suggest that the Labor government’s pandemic control measures contributed to workplace deaths is absurd. You might just as easily argue that these measures actually prevented workplace deaths, by shutting down businesses in high-density industries like food production. Note that I’m not making this claim, merely pointing out how – if you accept the LP’s content that workplace manslaughter laws apply – it’s possible to argue for a completely opposite, yet just as absurd, outcome.

No, this is just a tasty little morsel dangled out there to attract the disaffected. And I think it shows astonishing contempt for the people whose votes the LP want to secure, to front up with a policy so ridiculous it can be brought down with just a little research and common sense thinking and say, “Look, see how serious we are about your grievances”.

Overall, then, while the LP have some really excellent policies, especially on Health. Their contention that this can only be accomplished at the cost of scrapping the Suburban Rail Link is dubious at best, and seems largely based on the idea that it’s neither important nor necessary. To which I say, ask a regular public transport user how they feel about it. I’m happy to see some positive LGBTQIA+ policy, even if it boils down to very little once you discount the promise to establish something that’s already in operation. And I’m all for more level crossings gone and better public transport coverage.

But all of this is absolutely undermined by their ongoing attempt to curry favour with some of the most extreme elements in Victoria. They claim that this is for the good of the majority, but on examination, there’s no genuine attempt to investigate and improve government response to emergency situations, only a blanket rejection of everything already done and a pledge to punish Labor. Exactly what the minor parties preferenced by LP want.

As much as the rusted-on cookers would like to think so, however, we’re not a state full of secret Trump-adjacent reactionaries just waiting for their time to shine. If anything, this decision to pander to fringe groups is going to come back to bite the LP. It’s likely to alienate truly conservative voters who are less interested in wild accusations of a “secret state” than they are in concrete promises that align with their political beliefs. It’s an open question how many of these voters will turn away from the LP. What’s not in question, however, is that this strategy is not going to get the LP votes from the groups they’re trying to cultivate. With few exceptions, their preferred parties have not returned the favour.

In deciding where to put the LP on my ballot, I’ve had to weigh up whether the good policies they have outweigh their short-sightedness and vindictiveness on others. In the end, I would place the LP at the beginning of the lower half of my preferences – above the cookers, but well below everyone else.

2 Comments

  1. Benjamin Cronshaw

    If a party is going to make a platform about the debt & deficit, cutting taxes without any other revenue and having greater spending promises than Labor (in some estimates), is not the way to do it. Otherwise, even if I was to make that my priority, not sure the Liberals are better placed to fix it (shrug).

  2. SJ

    The Liberal Party candidates were a very mixed bag – from the sensible John Pesutto in Hawthorn, to Lauren Sherson in Albert Park, who at the first local candidate forum described conversion therapy as ‘disgusting” (both of whom were interviewed on Joy.FM), to Renee Heath, Moira Deeming and for the winner Timothy Dragan, whose despicable opinions on Indigenous rights, reproductive rights and climate change was reported as far away as the UK’s Daily mail. Better not to run a candidate than include these, unless of course you think these views are acceptable.

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