Gimmick Items Dominate Victorian Campaigns

Is this all there is?

The Victorian election this week started with a Monday announcement that the Napthine government would give every government secondary school a 3D printer. There are lots of problems with education. Lack of 3D printers is not one of those problems. Right now 3D printing is just an interesting toy.

On Wednesday Denis Napthine’s team offered $12 million for an “Almond Centre of Excellence” to conduct research into almonds. Yes. It did.

Then came a government promise of free Wi-Fi across Melbourne, Ballarat and Bendigo. Talk about a solution to a problem we don’t have. Citywide Wi-Fi projects were popular about 10 years ago. But now we’ve all got phones with internet access. (“Whatever happened to municipal Wi-Fi?” asked an Economist article last year.)

There are serious things happening in the election. Labor offered $1.3 billion worth of education promises at their launch last weekend. The Coalition wants to boost police powers to search homes in secret. Both are big deals.

But these things get crushed in the conga line of fatuous and unnecessary policies, whose only purpose is to fill campaign days and spend money.

Voters have only so much attention to dedicate to state politics. 3D printers and Wi-Fi cut through. Yet they make state politics look trivial, and the parties which contest it even more so.

For instance, the $2.2 million for 3D printers was announced the same day as a much less silly extra $5.4 million for community language schools. Guess which announcement the Premier led? Guess which got the media focus.

It’s not like the Napthine government lacks a good story. It has a healthy budget – something which cannot be said by its federal colleagues – and has managed to govern reasonably well despite a thin and unstable parliamentary majority.

If Daniel Andrews is premier at the end of the year it won’t be because Napthine has done anything particularly wrong. Nor, indeed, because Andrews has done anything particularly right. He has a taste for gimmick too. (Take Labor’s policy of half-price rego for apprentices, also announced this week. Why not just give apprentices the

money directly?) Andrews could be catapulted into power on ennui alone.

State politics is a pale shadow of what it once was. The federal government has taken control of so many areas of policy that state governments have little room to move, and less in which to innovate. This control has almost always been voluntarily surrendered.

As a result state politics is frivolous and hollow. Everybody involved knows Canberra is where the action is.

Napthine had two wins this week though. First, he lashed out when the Abbott government said it was going to raise the fuel excise. Second, he stood beside the Prime Minister at the announcement of a joint police taskforce into union corruption.

Victorian politics at its best piggybacking on the Commonwealth. That says a lot.