Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Three Cheers for Richard Wynne!

Finally, three months after I wrote to him, Richard Wynne has today replied to my email of 10 April regarding the Roberts Street Northcote housing redevelopment and the relocation of the current tenants. That is, I think it was a reply from Wynne. It certainly appears to have been written from his point of view ('I announced on 22 February...' etc.), but is signed by some housing bureaucrat and not even on behalf of Wynne himself.

Naturally, the letter either fails to answer my questions, or provides answers I have found out myself in the three-month lapse since I first wrote to the minister. Naturally the letter also glibly states a commitment to appropriate consultation and invites participation in a committee that meets at a time when most people are working.

While I've already said what I think of the process in an earlier post, a good example of the standard of consultation on this matter is the Office of Housing's own website. Despite the project being announced on 22 February, and despite a web presence for other redevelopment projects, there is nothing on the Office of Housing site regarding the Roberts Street redevelopment – no terms of reference, no minutes of meetings, no media releases – nothing. This despite a luke-warm reassurance given at the June public forum.

Well, I read in the Northcote Leader today that the Roberts Street tenants have begun to move out, first among them a tenant who'd been active speaking up for his neighbours in the flats. You can draw your own conclusions about that, and while you're at it hope for the best for the other tenants to be relocated within a public housing system stressed to the limit through government neglect.

My advice to Wynne is that if he can't provide timely and meaningful answers to questions asked in the public interest, he should ideally resign, or, at the very least, not waste the government's resources sending late, meaningless replies destined for the recycle bin.

Three cheers for Richard! I guess it's just another of those 'Wynne results' touted on his personal blog – a 'Wynne win' you might say, but not if you were a Roberts Street tenant.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Take a look at Hansard on nuke plebiscite

As I suspected, Hansard disproves the propaganda being put out by the ALP regarding the Greens vote against the plebiscite on nuclear power in Victoria (see original post). In support of the Bill, the Greens moved two amendments to provide a clearer trigger for when the plebiscite would be called, and to ensure a say for Parliament in the framing of the plebiscite question. Those amendments were rejected by the ALP in the Upper House, and the Greens voted the Bill down.

Their rejection of the Bill should be seen in the context that nuclear activities are already prohibited by Victorian legislation, and the plebiscite would not have been binding on the State or the Commonwealth in any case – that is to say, it would have had little impact beyond taking the pulse of public opinion on the issue. That being the case, the Greens were committed to an appropriate process to deliver a question framed by Parliament and not the State Resources Minister of the day – a commitment not matched by the ALP.

The Hansard coverage is also notable for highlighting the hypocrisy of the State Labor Government in criticising moves to amend the Bill given their own pro-uranium Fedral position. It makes interesting reading, but few people have the time to wade through the pages of Hansard, and so some of the ALP's messages unfortunately stick.

So where does that leave the ALP's Gotcha campaign? The website's masthead leaves little doubt that it is claiming complicity between the Liberals and the Greens in a pro-nuclear position – it includes an image of a nuclear smoke-stack with the Greens and Liberals logo. Yet anyone who reads Greg Barber's Upper House speeches in Hansard can be left in no doubt of the Greens' oposition to nuclear power in Australia, or anywhere for that matter.

The problem is that the ALP needs to be held to account within the timeframe in which voters make their electoral decisions. That didn't happen in the State election with regard to the Liberals misinformation campaign in Northcote and elsewhere, and the question is whether it will happen in time for the Federal election. Yes, I want Howard out and Rudd in, but Labor has to be better, not just relatively better than the Liberals. And if Rudd's power is checked by Greens and principled independents, that's fine by me.

Labor at it again with Greens 'deal' campaign

There's an interesting article by Simon Kidd in today's edition of The Melbourne Times. It describes the ALP's accusations of a deal between the Greens and the Liberal Party that first surfaced in the lead-up to last November's State election. The campaign has hotted up with the election of three Upper House Greens MPs – Colleen Hartland, Greg Barber and Sue Pennicuik – and, of course, with the approaching Federal election.

Among the issues currently contested is the Greens Upper House vote against a Bill supporting a plebiscite should the Federal Government attempt to foist a nuclear power station on Victorians. TMT reports the Greens response as rejecting the plebiscite Bill because the Resources Minister and not the Parliament would have the final say on the wording of the question put to voters about whether they wanted nuclear power in their State.

My view is that we should look carefully at the ALP's allegations on this and other issues, asking whether they are accurate in terms of how the Greens have argued in the Upper House and, secondly, whether the allegations sit sensibly with what we know are the fundamental principles and stated policies of the Greens.

I haven't got to Hansard on the plebiscite Bill as yet, but the insinuation of the ALP's charge is that the Greens are somehow closet supporters of nuclear power. This has as much credibility as Martin Ferguson's claim (letters, same issue of the TMT) that he isn't pro-nuclear, despite being his party's most ardent supporter of the expansion of uranium mining and the change of the Labor Party's three-mines policy at last April's ALP National Conference.

The challenge for the Greens is to squarely meet the ALP's claims, showing why parliamentary disagreements with the ALP are principled, and do not amount to collusion with the enemy.

At the last State election, while the Greens addressed Labor's misinformation about a preference deal with the Liberals, they were unable to do so with sufficient vigour in the short time available before polling day. Running as an independent in Northcote, I saw the number of people on election day who approached the Greens campaigners quizzing them about the deal. The ALP's strategy hit home, but the Greens should have challenged the Northcote result in court because the ALP's victory was built on misleading campaign material that arguably influenced the outcome.

Whatever the prospects of success of such a challenge on legal grounds, such a move would have ensured a clear airing of the issues and a thorough testing of the ALP's claims. The risk is that the current ALP campaign will gain impetus from the Greens' inadequate response.

Back in November, some of (now Northcote MLA) Fiona Richardson's ALP-branded campaign material was authorised by the same person who authorised unbranded and otherwise unattributed material alleging a preference deal between the Liberals and the Greens. One such item was authorised by Stephen Newnham, Richardson's husband. Newnham also authorised the letter to Northcote constituents from Peter Garrett, again alleging the deal.

Now he is authorising the website set up to promote the ALP's so-called 'Gotcha' campaign, which criticises how the Greens vote in the Victorian Upper House and suggests an ongoing relationship with the Liberals.

Instead of peddling propaganda, Labor would do better to heed principled disagreements with its policies; it will otherwise continue the drift away from its own core values and weaken its chances of removing John Howard at the Federal election. On the other hand, working with progressives will only strengthen its electoral fortunes among voters who have not forgotten the Left.