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Thursday, 23 September 1999
Page: 8863

Senator TCHEN (7:12 PM) —This afternoon under general business the Senate considered a motion by Senator Carr that the Senate notes the result of the Victorian state election. I sat in the chamber and listened to the debate because, as a senator for Victoria, I naturally have an interest both in the election itself and in what people say about it. I particularly note that in the course of the debate Senator Allison made some quite relevant comments and observations about the election. She said basically that there was a protest vote and the result of the election was a judgment by Victorians of the coalition government of Premier Kennett.

She acknowledged that the Kennett government came into government in 1992, at a time when the Victorian economy and the society as a whole was in dire straits. But she said that the government had failed to recognise that it had caused hardship in the course of curing these ills and, therefore, had disappointed certain sections of the community that the good it had done had not been even and had ignored some parts of the community. Given the result of the election, obviously this view is shared by a number of people, particularly those in Victoria.

Senator Conroy —It was 51.5 per cent.

Senator TCHEN —I heard Senator Conroy's comment, but I think he ignored the fact that in this election there has been no winner. Although the coalition has not succeeded in regaining government in a straightforward manner, the result of the election is not yet settled. What is clear is that the Labor Party has not won. In Mildura, for example, which has been held up as one of the areas in which the Kennett government has failed, the Labor candidate polled eight per cent of the vote.

The Kennett government was forced to carry out some quite drastic policies to restore the wealth of Victoria. Yes, it hurt. Surgery always hurts. Quite correctly, Senator Allison pointed out that it was Labor that was responsible for putting Victoria in that situation. But she was not generous enough to recognise the difficulties that the Kennett government had to overcome to put Victoria on its feet again. As I said before, she is obviously not alone in making this mistake. She was wrong to say that what you might call a shortcoming but what I would say was an inability to make sure that everyone recovered at the same rate was not recognised by the Kennett government or by the Liberal Party.

The need to look after the part of Victoria which has not been treated as well in the recovery process is a matter which the Victorian Premier is well aware of. I would like to take this opportunity to read something to the Senate. It is a speech Mr Kennett gave on 5 September when launching the Liberal Party campaign:

. . . I start today by thanking all Victorians for the opportunity and responsibility that you have given my colleagues and I over the past seven years to govern Victoria. . .

This is a task which at times has required a firm but always a fair approach to meet the circumstances in order that we could restore Victoria's financial, economic and social foundations. . .

The singular achievement of this period is that we now have a state and a people that are again confident and proud of our place within the Commonwealth of Australia. . .

This is a state which we have all together created, and of which all I believe we can be truly proud. It is true that not everyone has agreed with everything we have done, or the speed of change, particularly in those early years. But the result is a revitalised and an employed state with great prospects for the future.

He went on to list a number of things that he intends to do if he and his government are re-elected. One reads:

Fourthly, to use the resources generated by Victoria's new found economic strength, to reach out to those who suffer insecurity or feel alienated and hurt.

He said it was necessary to concentrate on those parts of Victoria that have not done as well, in particular rural and regional Victoria. Mr Kennett identified a particular thrust of his new government should he get re-elected, saying he would appoint a senior minister to drive rural and regional strategy with a whole of government focus and give rural towns due priority in terms of business development and employment growth objectives. He would also ensure that government services met the social needs of people in country areas and that there would be the necessary funding. It is not the case that Jeff Kennett or his government were not aware that some parts of Victoria had not done as well as others during the recovery process. I emphasise it is a recovery process. The Premier was well aware of it when he went into the election.

In his speech during the debate, Senator Cooney very correctly pointed out that the focus of our consideration should be characterised, in terms of looking at this election, not by looking at the past but by looking to the future. On this point, I would like to quote the final section of Mr Kennett's speech. He said:

On September the eighteenth we will ask all Victorians not simply to vote for the next government but to vote for Victoria's future for the next ten years.

The election is over and the votes have been cast. We still do not know the result yet but, for the sake of Victoria and for the sake of Australia, I firmly hope that enough Victorians did get the message.