Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Big Ted

Two days ago, Liberal leader Ted Ballieu had his official Victorian Election Campaign launch at the Melbourne Convention Centre.

Meanwhile, across town in Richmond, the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) were letterboxing the neighbourhoood my girlfriend lives in with an information pamphlet highlighting the shortcomings in Victoria's public transport system.

And, at the same time, Felix Lerbier learns there are more links in his brain than atoms in the universe.

What do these seemingly unrelated events have in common? Well, if you exclude the last one, plenty.

We'll start with Big Ted.

Ted 'Law and Order' Baillieu made a lengthy speech at his launch in which he sought to highlight what he saw as the Labor Governments failings. These are familiar to most people who have paid any attention to the recent campaign (or, more accurately, anyone who's been anywhere near Victoria in the past decade). Victoria's problems then, through the eyes of Big Ted:

- Failings in the public transport system.
- Failings and associated scandals in the health system.
- Out of control street violence and rising crime rates.

Big Ted made it clear that these would be the things he’d be banging on about from now until polling day and, from his demeanour, it also appeared that he may think these three issues are enough for voters to tip the Government out.

But this is only one part of the equation for an Opposition leader at election time. Having identified what he felt was wrong with things, it was then up to Big Ted to outline how he’d go about tackling these problems if he were in charge. We return to his speach then, with actions and policies added to the previously outlined problems:

- Failings in the Public Transport System: Nothing
- Failings and associated scandals in the health system: Nothing
- Out of control street violence and rising crime rates: MORE POLICE, MORE JAILS AND LONGER SENTENCES!!!

That last bit said as loudly as possible to try and distract people from the whole lotta nothing in the top half.

So having droned on for some time about the woes of Victoria’s public transport system, and so having got most of his listeners on side, Big Ted then proposed to do sweet fuck all to address the problem. By which I mean, he proposed buying seven new trains in his first term as Premier (and about 14 million more if he’s then re-elected at some distant future time) and building two new train stations. And by doing so he performed the previously unthinkable trick of making the Government’s ludicrously inadequate and much derided transport plan look meaty and visionary.

I mean, seven trains? Sweet Jesus, what on earth was he thinking? A statement from the transport department the following day said that this was about the number of trains that they'd retire in the next Government's four year term, so we’d probably end up with exactly the same number of trains rolling around, if not less.

And this, tragically, is what brings us full circle and back to the PTUA and their well meaning flyers.

The flyers themselves were admirably non partisan in that, after highlighting some of the public transport system’s shortcomings, it went on to ask people to consider public transport as an issue when they were deciding who to vote for. Not to support Labor over Liberal or Liberal over Labor, but to look at each parties policies and work out who would do the most on this neglected issue, Make your vote count! That type of thing.

But admirable though this is, the reality for the people of Victoria is that they’re not being offered much of a choice by any of the prinicpal contenders in this election. Labor are offering up the same expensively advertised but woefully inadequate Transport Plan that they’ve been hawking to no enthusiasm for several years and the Liberal Opposition are offering us 7 fucking trains. And this is not even mentioning the Greens, who have come up with a well meaning but unafforable fantasy land uptopia of undergound light rail and new train stations on every corner.

Is there no way to make any progress on this issue? Other, much larger, cities than Melbourne have much better services and have had them for a long time. Yet here, the Government still seems stunned every summer that their trains and trams don't run so well when it’s hot.

Can we not get some experts in? People that have run successful public transport networks in New York or London or Paris? What about the academics at RMIT who study this stuff for a living and relentlessly criticise the current Government’s lack of foresight? Isn't it time we tried something a little different?

Fresh thinking please.

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