Meet the Small Parties: Voice for the West

Voice for the West wants you to know that “it’s time for the people in the West to create our own voice and elect our own representatives to Parliament.”

The West has been without a political voice for a long time. In the western suburbs, Labor takes the region for granted, and the Liberals are focused on the other side of town. Elections come and go, and usually nothing changes.

Enough is enough. It’s time for people in the West to create our own Voice, and elect our own representatives to parliament.

Already I like this group, because they are saying what I’ve been saying for years.  The ALP ignores us because we’re hardly going to vote Liberal, and the Liberal party also ignores us, because… we’re hardly going to vote Liberal.  And so we don’t get the infrastructure and other presents.  It’s very sad.  (Also, it makes voting completely boring, because in the Lower House we all know who will win – hence my fascination with the Upper House.)

Also, I just want to highlight the use of “It’s time” in the slogan and the preamble on this site.  This is a phrase which has quite a bit of resonance for traditional Labor voters, and I’d be curious to know whether this was a deliberate echo of Whitlam’s slogan or whether it’s just seeped so far into the collective consciousness of the Labor-voting, Western and Northern suburbs public that it just comes out whenever any of us think of politics.

(And yes, you’ll notice that they already have me on-side here with the whole Western and Northern suburbs solidarity thing.  We’ll see how long this lasts…)

(Also, I shouldn’t have linked to that song, because now it’s going to be in my head all week.)

Voice for the West is doing its best to place itself as a community movement.  There is the usual call to action, encouragement to become a member, and solicitation for donations (phrased “Donate: Support the community of Melbourne’s West”).  Their vision is “An Australia which is inclusive of all its people, in society, the economy, and politics.”

And their goals?

1. To develop a team of candidates for the Victorian state election in November 2014.
2. To develop a team of candidates for the NSW state election in March 2015.
3. To develop a team of candidates for the Victorian and NSW local government elections in 2016.
4. To develop a team of candidates for the next Federal election in 2016.

Um.  Yes, we know that you would like to survive as a party and grow.  But… as a set of political goals, this does rather lack something.

Like the Vote 1 Local Jobs candidates, the Voice for the West are not trying to get a majority.  They are just after the balance of power, and they think that with good preferences and primary vote of 10-15% in the west, they might be able to do it.

They are placing themselves very much as a grass-roots, middle ground party:

We want a team of team of outstanding community leaders from the West to put themselves forward for election to state parliamentary seats in the lower and upper house. We want a team of thousands of ordinary people to support them.

The leaders we want will be:

1. Grounded in their communities.
2. Good listeners and facilitators.
3. Independent thinkers and ethical in their behavior.
4. Committed to grassroots initiatives and local solutions.
6. Not Left or Right but positioned in the broad centre of politics.

We want ordinary citizens and community leaders from the West to come together and create a political movement capable of winning seats in state and federal parliaments.

So far, so good.  I’m a little disappointed by those goals, but maybe their policies will impress me.  Meanwhile, let’s have a look at their Group Voting Tickets.

Voice for the West is running in the Western Victoria, Western Metropolitan and Northern Metropolitan Regions, and they are preferencing differently in every seat.

In Western Victoria, they preference the Greens, People Power, Vote 1 Local Jobs, the DLP and the LDP, and put Labor last, with the Coalition only just above them.  In the Northern Metropolitan Region, they preference Peter Allan’s Independents, People Power, Animal Justice, Family First and Voluntary Euthanasia, and put Liberal at the bottom of their ticket, with Labor and then the Greens just above them.  And in the Western Metropolitan region, it’s DLP, People Power, LDP, Country Alliance and Family First, with Liberal at the bottom and Labor and Greens just ahead of them again.

From this, I think we can conclude that… they want to be elected.  They don’t seem to have any particularly strong loyalties to any party apart, possibly, from People Power (why?), though they do seem to prefer the Greens to Labor and Liberal.  As for Labor and Liberal themselves, they evidently don’t like either of them.

On to the policy pages!  They start with the following slightly alarming preamble:

This is a comprehensive policy platform. We don’t expect Voice for the West candidates to support every single point here, because we do believe it is important for candidates and members of parliament to be independent thinkers and people of conscience.

Nevertheless, this platform provides a broad overview of the direction we will take if the West holds the balance of power in parliament.

So… if we elect a Voice for the West candidate, we don’t actually know what policies they will support.  Oh, Voice for the West, I want to like you, truly I do, but you are losing me…

They do have a nice statement of principles, which include person-centred arrangements, empowerment of individuals and families, choice, subsidiarity, dispersal of ownership, inclusion, transparency, sustainability, and protection of civil society.  Rather nice stuff, actually.  And they conclude by informing us that:

We are neither Left nor Right, but ‘bottom up’. The terms Left and Right belong to an era of top-down, centralised politics when power was concentrated in small groups of people. In the 21st century, this model of politics is redundant. It is giving way to a new era of connectivity, decentralization, self-determination, choice and localised community.

We are for the direct representation of grassroots communities, families and small businesses in the Victorian parliament.

OK, they are winning me over again.  I really like this, especially combined with the person-centred focus.

On to the policies themselves.

Social Policies

Under Health and Community Services, they rightly complain about disconnection between service providers and institutions.  Their solution? To replace the DHS by the end of 2016 with a new Department “committed to personalised consumer-centred care, de-institutionalised service provision, and integrated, holistic solutions to disadvantage and adversity.”

Wow.

This new department will integrate support systems, establish self-directed care packages, and emphasise early intervention, prevention and continuity of care.  They also want consumer-centred and controlled information systems, and better supported accommodation and independent living options for people with disabilities.

This would include services for mental health and aged care, as well as disability.  They also want advocacy vouchers and a human services ombudsman.

Finally, they want to redesign the child protection and domestic violence systems “to place an emphasis on early prevention, the repair of relationships, and the building of peer and community supports for vulnerable and at-risk individuals”.  The bit about repairing relationships makes me a little dubious in this context, but it’s the only flaw in an otherwise very interesting package.

Voice for the West is very much about support systems that strengthen “the natural supports of families friends and social networks”, which is a good thing generally, but I do want to note here that people who are vulnerable for whatever reason should also not necessarily have to rely on such networks.  A paid care provider is a care provider to whom one does not have to have a sense of obligation, and this can be important for maintaining autonomy and dignity.

On drugs and alcohol, Voice for the West is impressed neither by the war on drugs nor by harm minimisation.  They want to focus on intensive support and rehab for illicit drug users, and introduce ‘peer and family-based circles of support as the basis for intervention and rehabilitation…’.  Again, it’s good to have this support, but it’s also good not to have to rely on friends and family, who may have other pressures in their lives.  This sort of one-way support can be very unhealthy for relationships.

Voice for the West wants to limit opening hours for alcohol retailers, wind back alcohol advertising, and have tougher penalties for drink driving.  I’m with them on this one.

On Crime, Voice for the West wants reform!  They want to reduce numbers of people in prison by introducing more community-based sentences for low-level, non-violent offenses (but want to have set minimums for violent offenses), and they want to overhaul the post-prison release process to strengthen social and employment support for ex-offenders – this would hopefully cut the recidivism rates, by making it easier for them to integrate into society.

They want a new specialist facility for offenders with mental illnesses, and they want to introduce innovations in restorative justice “to introduce elements of public restitution to victims by offenders, and the re-establishment of appropriate social relationships with offenders as the primary consideration in sentencing for low-level non-violent offenders”.

This is interesting, and I want to like it, but I’m wondering what sort of burden this might place on victims of crime – especially if an offense has become low-level and non-violent for lack of good evidence or after being plea-bargained down.

Then there’s this:

Abolish the costs associated with lodging civil actions in the courts, abolish the technical rules of evidence in civil matters, and prohibit lawyers from representing parties in these matters.

I’m not actually sure what this one means.  Any lawyers out there who want to comment? (Paging my little brother…)

Infrastructure and Services

We love us some infrastructure in the West, or we would if anyone would let us have some!  Voice for the West has an epic Transport policy, with highlights including the inevitable opposition to East-West link, a Melbourne Airport Rail Loop, development of a number of light rail connections, rail links and freight links, elimination of level crossings, and establishment of an integrated transport planning authority.

I love their idea of issuing Melbourne Transport Investment Bonds.  Oh my, and they want not just to abolish Myki, but to make public transport free!  They reckon this would cost $600 million (per year?  Not too sure about that).

They also want community buses, and volunteer tram conductors.

Voice for the West wants to return planning powers to local communities and maintain the Urban Growth Boundary and Green Wedge areas.  In general, they want planning regulations to be more transparent.

Voice for the West really doesn’t like current services, feeling that they are not user-focused.

Not-for-profit organizations in the West deliver services in many areas including family services, childrens’ services, disability, mental health, primary care, hospitals, aged care, education and vocational training, employment services, housing, migrant and refugee services, and community development. These organisations are supposed to be responsive to the community and accountable to it. This often doesn’t happen.

They want a License to Operate in the West, with an obligation to make sure local people and communities are involved in planning, design, evaluation and assessment, and governance.  I can’t tell whether this is a good idea or a bad one, but I am wondering why one doesn’t need a License to Operate in the East.

They also want an audit on service delivery, and they want vouchers for everything (education, maternity care, mental illness, homelessness services) to ensure individualised service.

I like this idea in theory, but wonder how it would work in practice.  Once again, I think one would run into problems because one would lose the economies of scale.

Jobs

The West would like some.  They see the LPV’s elimination of payroll tax, and raise it one elimination of land tax for firms in the west, and one elimination of stamp duty for new home purchases in the west.

They have a kind of cool idea about offering a capital grant of $10,000 for every worker made unemployed specifically for the establishment of a small business.  They would also like a $20,000 subsidy for firms in the West who engage a long-term unemployed person for at least 12 months.

Economics

I’m not entirely sure that Voice for the West is good at economics, but since I am also not good at economics, I should probably leave this alone.  Still, I like their ideas about Regional Investment Bonds, Public Benefit Bonds and of course the Transport Bonds, to fund all sorts of awesome things from transport to investment in foster care.

They want to remove public subsidies from things like the Grand Prix (today is evidently Bash the Grand Prix day), they want better consumer choice for utilities, and they want to remove commercial in confidence clauses from contracts involving taxpayer money.

Politics

Some great stuff here.  They want an independent speaker, no more taxpayer funding of political parties, and a five year period before retiring ministers may engage in lobbying.  They also want a maximum of four terms for MPs, which I think is a brilliant idea – we have way too many politicians who have never worked in an area other than  politics.

They also want a Citizens’ Jury within the VEC to adjudicate on:

a. approval or rejection of government advertising to ensure it is free of party political content;
b. approval or rejection of party political appointments to government posts;
c. approval or rejection of remuneration and expense claims by politicians;
d. approval or rejection of pork-barrelling claims in government expenditures.

Which is interesting, but do Victorians really want more jury service?  I don’t think this one will fly…

Housing

Some interesting stuff here, including a functioning market in social housing, security of tenure for renters, and a vacancy levy $100 per bedroom per week levy for houses not used as primary residences and left vacant for longer than 6 weeks per year.  I actually really rather like this – one reason housing got so unaffordable a few years back was investment property owners who preferred declaring a tax loss on an empty property to lowering their rent so that someone could afford to live in it.  Access to housing is, I think, a fundamental right, and we should not be creating laws  that make it more economical to leave a house empty when there are plenty of prospective renters available.

Education

Voice for the West wants much more individualised schooling.  They are excited about independent schools such as the UK ‘Free Schools‘. I can see both advantages and disadvantages to this problem – I’m especially concerned about schools setting their own curricula, because aside from the fact that this is absolutely horrendous if you shift schools, I think there are certain things that every child should have the opportunity to learn.  Also, I’m a bit concerned about schools being freer to push strongly ideological curricula.

On the more positive side, they want every student to have a portable Individual Learning Plan, which sounds like an interesting idea.  They also want school vouchers, or rather, Student-Centred Funding Allocations “with a weighting for educational and socio-economic disadvantage, rural and remote location, and disability or developmental challenges, so that parents may use their SCFA as leverage in selecting an appropriate school for their unique child and in negotiating with schools and other education providers for individually-tailored learning plans.”

They want much, much more parental oversight – including annual financial reports, the ability to negotiate with and enter into agreements with schools regarding educational philosophies, culture and pedagogy that best fits their child’s learning.

This honestly sounds like a recipe for every teacher’s worst nightmare – with over-involved parents worrying that their special snowflake’s needs are not being met – and those  children whose parents are less involved missing out.  I’m also wondering how, if you are teaching a class of 20 children, you can tailor your pedagogy and educational philosophy to each individual child.

Finally, the Voice for the West wants fifteen new specialist schools for children with social and behavioural difficulties, to provide intensive personalised support with a view to returning each child to the mainstream system when they are ready.

Environment

Voice for the West thinks that this has all become way too political, and wants community-based innovations in sustainable living and working.  In theory, they are in favour of environmental protection and renewable energies, but I don’t think putting the responsibility (and cost) all back onto the community is the way to do it, and that’s how these policies look to me.

 

And that’s about it.  I’m honestly not sure about this lot.  They do have some lovely policies about things like public transport and crime, and I love their person-centred focus when dealing with disability and aged care.  I also like their grass-roots, community-driven approach to politics.

But I do fear that their reliance on community-driven initiatives to fix the environment, or on family and social supports – even ones which are getting extra help from the government – to look after people who need care is a weakness.  Community-driven initiatives are not always the right tool for the job, and mingling personal relationships with a professional caring role is likely to be destructive for both the carer and the person being cared for.

I think their hearts are in the right place, but they need a bit more maturity, or time, or something, before they are ready to be the balance of power in the Upper House.

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