Buzz buzz

One of the sillier pieces of conventional wisdom about Victoria is that Melbourne now has a ‘buzz’ thanks to Jeff Kennett, and that Bracks is the beneficiary of this and of Kennett’s policies in general. The same ‘buzz’ was there at the time of the last election and the same commentators were surprised at the outcome and the lack of any apparent nostalgia for Kennett on the part of Victorian electors. In fact, the ‘buzz’ was the reason Kennett lost.

The basic reason is that ‘Melbourne’ in this story means the Melbourne CBD and inner suburbs where most most of these commentators live and work. Kennett’s spending priorities involved cutting basic services for the suburbs and the bush while dispensing bread and circuses in the CBD. His spending cuts were unsustainable and his privatisation program did nothing for the net worth of the public sector, so his only big contribution to the budget surplus was gambling taxes.

It’s true that the Victorian economy has recovered since the 1990s. But the depth of the Victorian recession had very little to do with Cain and Kirner, and a lot to do with Victoria’s reliance on manufacturing. Similarly the recovery has more to do with the cyclical nature of macroeconomic shocks than with any brilliance on Kennett’s part.
Update Shaun Carney agrees, saying

The Liberals refused to accept the ’99 result, and fought that campaign again

and

To people in the suburbs and outlying areas, the biggest project in their lives is to make sure their children are properly educated and that their families will be looked after if they get sick.

Getting schools and hospitals right – these are the major projects of contemporary Victorian politics.

And when it comes to the “inheritance” being spent, that’s what voters chose in 1999 and again on Saturday. They want cautious, steady financial management but they also want services. In good economic times they want their own money back, not politicians’ boasts about massive surpluses or never-never promises of a social dividend.