MORE RE­PORTS

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - STEPHEN CONROY COM­MENT

Vic­to­ri­ans could be for­given for think­ing that barely a day has passed in the first weeks of this cam­paign with­out a big-spend­ing an­nounce­ment from one or other party.

Why the del­uge when elec­tion day is a fort­night off? Be­cause early vot­ing starts on Mon­day, and up to half of all Vic­to­ri­ans are ex­pected to cast their votes be­fore polling day.

Both par­ties have front-loaded their cam­paigns, mak­ing im­pres­sive bil­lion-dol­lar an­nounce­ments to catch the early vot­ers’ at­ten­tion.

An­other im­pres­sive set of fig­ures an­nounced this week with some­what less fan­fare was the Vic­to­rian Trea­sury’s pre-elec­tion bud­get up­date.

De­spite a soft­en­ing hous­ing mar­ket, Trea­sury con­firmed that Vic­to­ria was on track for a $2.3 bil­lion sur­plus this fi­nan­cial year, and al­most $10bn in sur­pluses over four years.

Eco­nomic out­put is also ex­pected to con­tinue to grow solidly, while un­em­ploy­ment is fore­cast to fall to just 4.75 per cent in 2018-19. This will be mu­sic to the ears of Pre­mier Daniel An­drews.

Vic­to­ria’s pow­er­house econ­omy has en­abled La­bor to make big in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing a key part of its pitch to vot­ers. An­drews is ask­ing vot­ers to trust him on his record over the past four years of get­ting on with de­liv­er­ing the in­fra­struc­ture Vic­to­ria needs.

An­drews has the runs on the board to back this up, with the level cross­ing re­moval pro­gram, build­ing the West Gate Tun­nel, and widen­ing the Monash and Tul­la­ma­rine free­ways.

Trea­sury’s bud­get up­date con­firmed that a re-elected An­drews govern­ment would in­vest on av­er­age a stag­ger­ing $10.6bn a year into in­fra­struc­ture out to 2021-22.

La­bor’s mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram will con­tribute to an in­crease of $9.3bn in Vic­to­ria’s net debt by mid-2022, with net debt pro­jected to be a mod­est 6 per cent of state gross prod­uct.

Last year’s fed­eral bud­get saw Scott Mor­ri­son as trea­surer en­dors­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween debt for in­fra­struc­ture projects and that for re­cur­rent spend­ing.

This is ex­actly the “good debt” be­ing wisely in­vested that will see a sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic re­turn for Vic­to­ria through in­creased de­mand, job cre­ation and im­proved in­fra­struc­ture.

If Trea­sury’s fore­casts had An­drews see­ing rain­bows, they were about as invit­ing as the thun­der­storms over Flem­ing­ton on Mel­bourne Cup Day for Matthew Guy. Eco­nomic cre­den­tials should be a strong suit for the Coali­tion, but La­bor’s sound eco­nomic man­age­ment has left the Op­po­si­tion Leader with nowhere to go.

Guy bleats about the need to “get back in con­trol”’, while his Trea­sury spokesman is strug­gling to ar­gue that La­bor can­not af­ford its spend­ing com­mit­ments.

But their ar­gu­ments lack any cred­i­bil­ity in the face of al­most $10bn in sur­pluses.

No won­der last week’s Newspoll found La­bor had a com­mand­ing 45-37 lead on who would bet­ter man­age Vic­to­ria’s econ­omy.

Worse still, the cam­paign has ex­posed Guy as a hol­low weath­er­vane politi­cian. Op­po­si­tions can be short­sighted in their day-to-day fight for po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage. Guy spent the bet­ter part of four years try­ing to stymie La­bor’s in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram by block­ing the West Gate Tun­nel project, the route of the North East Link and the re­moval of level cross­ings.

But with an elec­tion in sight Guy flip-flopped, and com­mit­ted to fund­ing these projects — along with his own com­mit­ments to a mod­i­fied East West Link, coun­try roads and an air­port rail link.

Hav­ing op­posed La­bor’s in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram be­fore per­form­ing a last-minute back­flip wor­thy of a gym­nast, Guy now wants vot­ers to be­lieve that pop­u­la­tion growth is out of con­trol and only he has the in­fra­struc­ture plans to solve it.

Try­ing to present your­self as a cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tive while treat­ing vot­ers like mugs with the mem­o­ries of gold­fish is a risky strat­egy.

Dou­bly so when Guy’s cred­i­bil­ity is al­ready in the dumps, with only 31 per cent of Newspoll re­spon­dents sat­is­fied with his per­for­mance and just 29 per cent con­vinced he would make the bet­ter pre­mier.

So what should you ex­pect in the fi­nal two weeks of the cam­paign? La­bor will feel in­creas­ingly con­fi­dent it has the Coali­tion’s mea­sure at the macro level, al­low­ing La­bor to turn its full at­ten­tion to the mar­ginal seats it must hold and those it hopes to win.

But An­drews will need to do more to com­bat the Greens in the in­ner city.

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