Gas reserves and four-day week included in leaked Labor policy document

Labor would reserve gas for local use, examine the merits of a four-day working week and push the federal government to deliver universal dental care, under policies floated for its third term in government.

The Victorian party’s draft platform for the November election, which is not yet public but has been obtained by The Age, outlines a suite of the policies the party hopes to enact next term, but the manifesto has been mired in controversy after unions and rank-and-file members reacted angrily about how the document was crafted.

The Premier celebrates after his re-election in 2018.Credit:Joe Armao

Labor’s Victorian branch usually holds forums of unions and party delegates to debate policies and create an election platform.

But with the party dissolved after a branch-stacking scandal, advisers in Premier Daniel Andrews’ office and ministerial offices led the drafting of the manifesto, frustrating stakeholders across the party who wanted a more open process. The recriminations over a lack of consultation and time to provide feedback led to months-long delay in finalising the draft.

Details of the party’s manifesto came as the state government prepared to announce a plan to spend $120 million to plant 16 million trees in a new estate as part of its plan to phase out native forest logging by 2030.

In the document, which forms a set of guiding principles for the Labor Party but does not always materialise in government policy, Labor says it will ensure Victoria’s “gas production directly serves the interests of Victorian households and businesses, including consideration of a reservation policy”.

Although Andrews has previously advocated for a domestic reserve, in the midst of this year’s national energy crisis he rebuffed calls to follow Western Australia’s policy, which mandates producers hold 15 per cent of gas production for domestic use. Andrews said he favoured a national scheme.

Other policies outlined in the document include:

  • Considering the social and gender equity benefits of a reduced working week with no loss of income;
  • Investigating establishing Christmas Eve after 6pm as a public holiday, and considering reinstating the Workers Family Picnic Day;
  • Working with the federal government to deliver the Outer Metropolitan Ring Rail Line, a proposed freeway connecting the Hume Freeway at Kalkallo north of Melbourne to the Princes Freeway south-west of Werribee. Infrastructure Victoria has identified the project as a priority to improve freight connectivity and reduce congestion on the roads;
  • Advocating to the federal government for a national social housing agreement, as well as taking steps towards universal dental care; and
  • Ensuring 15 per cent of total parking spaces remain free for fast-food and retail workers.

On Friday, September 16, the draft platform was emailed to rank-and-file members, who were given 10 days to provide their feedback. The platform is expected to be finalised in October.

The arguments over the document’s creation have angered unions involved in major Left and Right factions.

The United Firefighters Union and some right-wing unions out of favour with the dominant factional groupings were not consulted even though they pay affiliation fees to Labor to have a stake in its policies.

Mem Suleyman, secretary of the powerful right-wing Transport Workers Union, wrote to Labor officials on Thursday, saying: “The Labor Party is the democratic sum of its membership and its affiliated unions. Its policy platform should not be written by faceless advisers who clearly have little regard for union members.”

In an email obtained by The Age, he claimed a “ministerial adviser hiding behind Spring Street towers continues to remove” a policy to establish a transport safety tribunal.

The document also claims Labor will maintain ownership of public assets and consider the benefits of returning privatised assets into the hands of the state. But the Australian Services Union secretary Lisa Darmanin lashed Labor over its decision to sell off the licensing and registration division of VicRoads.

Australian Services Union secretary Lisa Darmanin criticised the Andrews government for privatising parts of VicRoads. Credit:Luis Ascui

State Labor has also privatised the Port of Melbourne and the Land Title’s Office since it came to power. The Victorian government disputes the licensing and registration division is fully privatised, but Darmanin described it as “weasel words”.

“It’s a privatisation of a public asset that hasn’t been done in any other state,” she said. “We take the platform seriously and when the government makes decisions that don’t fit with its platform it is highly disappointing.”

The United Firefighters Union, who campaigned heavily for Andrews in the 2014 election, criticised the process of drafting the platform as well as the contents of the document, which union secretary Peter Marshall described as “scant”.

In a letter to Labor state secretary Chris Ford, obtained by The Age, Marshall accused the party of ignoring paid firefighters by not committing to ensuring the Fire Services Property Levy collected in growth areas goes directly to resourcing professional fire services.

“The UFU was not contacted, and was not provided an opportunity to comment, on the draft that was released – despite the UFU being affiliated to the Labor Party since the 1930s,” Marshall told The Age.

“This demonstrates the hypocrisy of the ALP. If the ALP wants something, they won’t hesitate knocking on your door. Yet, despite being Labor-affiliated, the door allowing the UFU to be consulted as an affiliate was shut tight.”

A government spokesperson said the ALP Platform Committee, chaired by Corrections Minister Sonya Kilkenny, “works with the ALP policy committees and ministers in a collaborative process to develop the draft platform”.

Labor’s $120 million forestry scheme is part of an agreement with private plantation company, Hancock Victorian Plantations, which will almost match the government’s investment.

The plan would drive the growth of softwood plantations. Credit:Andrew Quilty

The company will lease and manage the estate of more than 14,000 hectares of softwood plantation.

The government said the plantation would “underpin” 2000 new and existing jobs in regional Victoria with the plantation area to cover the equivalent of 7000 MCGs. The plantings are expected to begin next year.

In 2019, the Andrews government announced native forest logging would be phased out in Victoria by 2030 and the logging of old-growth forests would cease immediately.

But conservationists are concerned that areas of the state’s forests that don’t qualify as old-growth but are still mature and provide valuable habitat, could be logged in the coming decade.

The embattled state-owned logging agency, VicForests, recorded a $4.7 million loss in the last financial year, which it attributed to an unprecedented number of court challenges from community environment groups and the destruction of timber in the Black Summer bushfires.

With Benjamin Preiss and Miki Perkins

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