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Russell Savage: Statement in Support of a Minority Labor Government

This is the text of a statement from Russell Savage, independent member for Mildura in the Victorian Legislative Assembly.

Savage was elected as the independent member for Mildura in 1996. He defeated the sitting Liberal member, Craig Bildstein, in what is a traditionally National Party electorate.

Savage and the other independent members, Susan Davies and Craig Ingram, jointly announced their decision to support an ALP minority government led by Steve Bracks.

Statement from Russell Savage, independent member for Mildura.

SavageIt is with some regret that I record my position on whom I am prepared to support to govern Victoria for the next four years.

I find myself in an invidious position, damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I have reflected long and hard on the neglect and contempt shown to this electorate by the Coalition, and specifically the former Premier Jeff Kennett.

His three-and-a-half years of persistent criticisms of the Mildura electorate for electing an independent have been both unconstitutional and unwarranted.

I have reflected on the council amalgamation debacle, the loss of our train and the dud of a hospital that has been forced upon us — contrary to our wishes.

I have considered the one-man band government, the inherent secrecy, the commercial in-confidence.

On the other hand, I am concerned about the issue of whether Labor is ready to govern. I have trust and high regard for the new Premier-elect Steve Bracks and the Deputy Premier John Thwaites.

I reject the notion that this is the same Labor Party that was responsible for the fiscal crisis of the past decade. With the support of the independents, it will be accountable and democratically reflective. Labor’s unanimous and unequivocal endorsement of the Independents Charter has had a significant bearing
on this decision.

In conjunction with Susan Davies, MP, and Craig Ingram, MP, I hereby indicate my support for a minority Labor Government.

My decision has been made on the basis that I have two difficult choices. I believe Labor will listen and act upon our needs, whereas the Coalition has — up until now — been aloof and contemptuous.

Had Jeff Kennett resigned after the state election outcome, I would have supported the Coalition.

The other most significant factor in my decision was the National Party accepting the Ministries that are primarily unrelated to country responsibilities — other than agriculture. In particular, the Nationals should have pushed for the new decentralisation Ministerial position.

The statement by the National Party that, if re-elected, they would use their balance of power to make a difference to rural Victoria, has proved an illusion.

In seven years of Coalition, they have been a silent and acquiescent partner, more interested in the perks of office and a comfortable lifestyle. The great Country/National Party of the past has been eroded and is now a shallow and non-performing waste of space. The real National Party exists in small pockets, like Ken Jasper, the Member for Murray Valley, and Noel Maughan, the Member for Rodney.

I have watched with horror in recent years and seen councils decimated, workers compensation rights removed, crimes compensation removed, a blanket of secrecy enveloping government activity under the guise of commercial confidence, the stripping of the Auditor General’s powers, and the removal of some FOI provisions.

I believe Steve Bracks will provide honest, ethical, transparent government for all Victorians. As an independent, I am prepared to give limited support to a Labor government to achieve that aim.

It will be a government restrained in some ways, and held to account unlike the Kennett Government or any other government in the history of Victoria.

I am very mindful that I was elected as an independent, not to be a member of any party. Circumstances have forced me into this situation.

I am aware that I represent a conservative electorate. My primary role is to achieve the very best outcomes for the Mildura electorate from the government of the day. I have indicated my support for Labor because, after seven years of regional neglect, the Coalition has missed its chance.

I noted that during the recent election campaign there were several prophetic statements by Jeff Kennett and Pat McNamara that they would not deal with independents.

However, my personal difficulties with Mr Kennett are totally unrelated to my decision.

It is too late now to acknowledge the needs of rural Victoria.

I have made this decision because I believe it is in the best interests of the people I serve. Whilst giving the Labor party support to form government and perform necessary government functions, my commitment to providing independent representation for my electorate has not wavered.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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