was sworn in as Premier of Victoria
on the 20th of October 1999
following his party's surprise victory over Jeff Kennett
's Liberal Party
. A member of the Australian Labor Party
and a former schoolteacher, Bracks was born on the 15th of October 1954
, a city of some 50,000 people north of Melbourne
. He currently lives in his electorate of Williamstown
, an inner suburb of Melbourne
Bracks was a a virtual unknown outside the Victorian branch of the ALP until he replaced current treasurer John Brumby as State leader of the opposition in March 1999. Six months later Steve Bracks went on to lead his party to victory in one of the biggest electoral shocks in the State's history. Jeff Kennett's Liberal Party had been in power since 1992, but the surprise loss of three Liberal/National Party seats to independent candidates - Susan Davies, Craig Ingram and Russell Savage - as well as strong Labor gains across the State led to the following results:
- ALP: 45.52% of the (distributed) vote; 41 seats
- Liberal/National coalition: 47.08%; 43 seats
- Independents: 3 seats
Voters were apparently tired of the Kennett's economic rationalism
, as even the comfortable middle classes were beginning to feel the pinch of the sale of gas, electiricity, public transport, and even water to private corporations, combined with the closure of hundreds of schools and hospitals and the usual erosion of civil and workers' rights. Bracks seemed more than Brumby like a man who could match the charismatic Liberal leader both on the floor and in the media, offering a real alternative to Kennett's punishing "get out of debt quick" measures.
Over the weeks following the election both major parties were involved in daily negotiations with the independents in the hope of convincing them to form a minority government. Having been elected on a platform opposing Kennett's harsh fiscal policies and the effects of economic rationalism on the bush, they did not need much convincing to side with Labor.*
Although Bracks is the leader of a Labor government, his behaviour over the last few years might lead one to question he and his party's commitment to even the mildest form of socialism. In part, his conservative performance during his time in office can be excused by the fact that the Upper House (Legislative Council) is as always dominated by the Liberal Party. Since all legislation must be passed by the LC, Bracks will have to compromise until (possibly) after the next election.
However in matters not related to legislation Bracks has proven that he is a true social and economic conservative. Every Victorian knows that the previous State government made much of the so-called "black hole" left by the John Cain/Joan Kirner Labor governments during the 1980s, even going so far as to run an ad campaign portraying key Labor figures as "Guilty!" members of the "Guilty Party" who had made Victoria the "economic laughingstock of Australia". Bracks is highly sensitive to criticisms of this nature and under his leadership Labor's fiscal policies have moved sharply to the right. The most recent State budget (07 May 2002) did go some way towards alleviating the problems in health and education caused by Kennett's harsh funding cuts, but still maintained a so-called "healthy surplus". Steve Bracks is a member of the Right-wing Unity faction of his party, which in some regards could be considred as right-wing as the Liberals. Under Bracks, Labor has acted as a caretaker Liberal government, conservative and highly nervous of an electoral backlash if they are seen as spending too much money.
Victorian Labor's swing to the right under Bracks is was illustrated most clearly during the protests against the World Economic Forum in September 2001. Tens of thousands of protestors, most of whom would have voted for Bracks, were charged and savagely beaten by riot police on several seperate occasions over the three day event. Rather than defend the right of Victorian citizens to peacefully demonstrate, Bracks declared that the "un-Australian" protestors "deserved all they got", much to the pleasure of the mass media, particularly Rupert Murdoch's reactionary Herald Sun, a tabolid which is normally opposed to the ALP but since S11 generally uncritical. In 2001, Bracks' government proposed a bill which would effectively make protests such as S11, which had been succesful in stopping many WEF delegates from entering the convention, illegal. However widespread community opposition led to a backdown.
On the 30th of November 2002 Steve Bracks' ALP was re-elected with an enormous majority - 60 seats out of 87.
*Since the election, the appointment of a Liberal MLA as Speaker and a by-election resulting the transfer of a Liberal seat to Labor mean that Bracks now needs the support of only a single independant in order to govern.
Steve Bracks' homepage is available at http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/ for as long as he remains Premier. His state-sanctioned biography is at ministers/bio.asp
Full results from the election of 1999: http://www.vec.vic.gov.au/Elections/WP_ResultsByParty_D_%7B568A4B6B-6A03-11D2-A86F-006094E377E1%7D.htm
The following is an article I wrote in mid 2001 for a zine I co-produced. It discusses Bracks' role in the events surrounding the Melbourne meeting of the World Economic Forum on September 11, 12 and 13 2000, commonly known as S11, a massive anti-capitalist demonstration which was notable for police brutality and the manner in which it opened the eyes of many a naive young Australian. I personally don't think the article is all that great and as I reread it ask myself questions (what is my point, where is my evidence?) but feel it would be somehow dishonest to change it. I continue, however, to hold the views it expresses and am including it as a matter of historical interest.
Betrayed by the bastard Bracks
"They deserved everything they got".
- Steve Bracks, 13-11-2000
I am sure we all recall this remark by our wonderful Premier regarding the S11
rally last year. Of course he was right - foolish trouble makers that we are, we refused to learn the ways of the world and had to be taught somehow - and I sincerely hope that next time I attend a rally I am soundly beaten. This of course is more likely to happen than ever before thanks to the Victorian Government
's amendments to the Peaceful Assemblies Bill 1958
. However, I do expect that this principle will be applied to ALL protestor
s who get funny ideas about changing the world, and not just unwashed hippy anarchist fascist druggie un-Australian commie
s like myself.
At S11 / 12 / 13, the justification for letting loose the Blue Army was the protestors were behaving violently, or at least planning to. Items such as marbles and condoms filled with "urine" were produced as evidence of the violent intent of these ratbag tree-hugging anarcho-nazis. The majority of protestors were punished for the alleged violent intent of a few. All well and good so far - why arrest people when you can much more easily beat them? The general public, at least seen through the mainstream media, seemed to agree - though most had no idea what really went on. An amazing and (ironically) revealing media cover-up ensured this.
Now I know that really I am not saying anything new here. Most of us know that something is seriously wrong with the world when violence by a government against its people is the order of the day in supposedly "free" country, and when these savage attacks by police can be so easily transformed by the mainstream media into a violent riot by the "lunatic fringe" of leftists. But I think that a comparison with the events at the East Melbourne abortion clinic on July 16 of this year illustrates just how desperate governments and corporations are to ensure that their program of freeing up global capital and reducing us all to the status of serfs should proceed without any significant interference.
Outside this clinic, and many other similar clinics, hundreds of people gather daily to abuse and vilify women and their families who are attending the clinic, harassing them on their way into the building. Why? Not because they want to change the world for the better of humanity, but because they believe in a supernatural entity who does not like abortion. They feel that these women who are aborting their foetuses should suffer here on earth in order to enjoy the next life they so feverently believe in.
A man wielding a gun, sharing the beliefs of these protestors, kills a security guard. All the evidence points to the fact that he planned to shoot many more people. Why? Because he was angered by the clinic's "murder" of foetuses. THIS is violence - I don't think that anyone can argue with me here. So is there a regular police presence at this daily protest? And did Bracks call out his Blue Army to exercise their right to break arms after the shooting occurred?
Of course not. These anti-abortion protestors truly do behave violently. They are righteous moralisers, entirely sure of their beliefs and willing to commit any crime if they believe it would be the will of their God. In fact, anti-abortion groups have for years imported experts in intimidation from the United States to improve their tactics. They hurl abuse at women who are already suffering great trauma, who have in most cases agonised over the decision whether or not to abort. Women who have been raped. Women who are victims of incest. Young girls. But these protestors do not pose a threat to the World Order. They can be dismissed as harmless - and any issue which diverts peoples attention from the big issues affecting the world as a whole is a good thing anyhow.
I am of no more in favour of using violence against these protesters than I am of using it against those of us who were at S11, but believe me, had someone at the S11 demonstration (other than a cop) brought along a gun we would never have heard the end of it. Public stonings would be the order of the day in this primitive hellhole, and there'd be no more pro-democracy rallies in Melbourne without massive army presence - which the Federal Government passed a bill allowing just before S11 - if at all. The events at Genoa (where armed police ignored people dressed as Anarchists while they burned and looted and instead attacked innocent bystanders, blaming them for the damage) teach us that we must become more aware of undercover police as well as the uniformed kind. A gun-wielding protestor would be the perfect excuse for a major crackdown on the "anti-globalisation" movement.
Anyhow, what especially disgusts me about Bracks is that naïve types like myself (I would say almost everyone who voted for or who generally supports the ALP, in fact) expected a Labor Government to be significantly different to a Liberal one, to repair the damage done by Jeff Kennett. My friends and I literally danced in the streets when, on election night, we switched on the ABC to see Bracks delivering what seemed like a victory speech (We returned inside to discover that the election was still undecided, but we had expected an easy Liberal re-election, and a month later he actually won, so it was still good). In fact, Bracks has done next to nothing to undo the damage done by Kennett. And he will not, because those in power do not want him to, and because the nature of the capitalist system does not allow for it.
On a personal level, it is obvious that Bracks cares not about the people but solely about staying in power, and he knows he cannot stay in power without the support (financial, in the media etc) of lovers of the status quo, who evidently hold the real power in any system. They loved Kennett, but Kennett went too far and became unpopular. In Bracks they have the perfect puppet - well liked, charismatic, and able to sell policies to people which would never be accepted were they proposed by the Liberals, simply because people believe the ALP's rhetoric. It is frightening and depressing is that despite all evidence to the contrary the majority of people in this State perceive Bracks to be some kind of saviour, a white knight. But you need only look at this Labor government's track record to see that they have behaved not as saviours but as simple administrators, faithfully carrying out the agenda of the previous government, keeping the surplus high and the people low in order to satisfy foreign capitalists. Bracks was embarrassed at the fact that delegates were having trouble getting in to the Forum, and frightened that future conferences would not be held in Melbourne, that Melbourne would not be seen as a good place to do business. Hence his comments declaring the protestors to be "un-Australian" and "fascist". Hence the release of the paramilitary Force Response Unit on peaceful and unarmed protestors.
People defend Bracks saying: "he's doing all he can do". Bollocks. It is important to remember one fundamental thing: the government is supposed to represent the people, and reflect the desires of the people. The State has the power to do anything the people wish it to do (resources permitting of course). The leaders of the Victorian ALP are not "true believers" in their party's ideology, nor in the policies which people voted for at the last election, for if they were they would have made moves towards undoing the damage of the previous government. They have not, and thanks to the nature of this system no government can, irrespective of the wishes of the people. As long as we live under this system, the powerful will continue to use the State as a means to suppress the powerless and further their agenda, despite the "good intentions" of those supposedly in charge.