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‘I want to keep Indian community safe’

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With the Victoria elections just round the corner, the race for the premier’s post is one Matthew Guy has been preparing for. But Guy is no stranger to controversies and he has reacted to his critics saying it is part of grubby politics. He maintains confidence of winning. We caught up with Guy at his office, where he spoke at length about his election focus and why the Indian community should vote for his party. Excerpts.

Traffic and transport issues are one of your key election focuses. Residents in areas such as Tarneit and Point Cook are facing problems, how will these problems be addressed?
I guess it is two things: Firstly, Melbourne’s population is booming and we have got to manage the population better than we are doing it now. That is why we have got a policy to decentralise so as to give people an incentive to either create jobs or live outside of Melbourne – whether it is Geelong or La Trobe Valley places. Nowadays we are not giving new migrants opportunities outside of Melbourne. And yet this is a better standard of living and an easier lifestyle which we could offer but we are not doing it. So we got to have a policy to decentralise.
Daniel Andrews is about the North-East link, but we are not talking about our arterial roads. In the western suburbs in particular, it takes longer to go down Leakes Road than it does when you are on the freeway to get to the city. That’s why we have got the policy to remove 55 of those arterial road intersections so that the roads are dipped, more underpasses constructed and traffic light technology upgraded. In many parts of the world now, particularly North America, they have computerised management traffic that assesses how much traffic or how many cars are waiting through computer sensors and then they will let the lights run longer. In Australia and in Victoria, we still have analogue systems where they just time 30 seconds on the right arrow, 25 seconds on the left arrow, a minute and half to run on the green light. It’s very antiquated. We have to do business more efficiently. That’s what we are going to do with traffic.

Health services have become a lot more challenging. What are your plans on that?
There are a few things we are on trial. One is in-home health. There is a lot of care that is administered in hospitals that requires few, regular treatments from a nurse or a doctor. One of the things that have been tried successfully is ‘care at home’ where the doctor will come by three times a day. It is more efficient for us to do that than have somebody in a hospital bed. They are trialling this in Europe and America very successfully and we want to trial in-home care here too but obviously not for serious operations. We do want to find different ways of running the health service which is more helpful to people in places where they want to be. We are committed to rebuilding the Warrnambool Hospital and the Warringal Hospital and there will be a number of announcements where we really need to invest in our health service.

Do you have any specific plans to tackle youth crime?
A lot of people deny but there is a rise in gang violence particularly the youth gang violence. There are a number of communities that are over-represented in that such as the African communities. I don’t think that is a long term issue. I think we can solve that through two ways. One is tidying up the criminal justice system, I don’t care if someone has been in Australia for two years or their families for 200 years, if you break the law, you break the law. And the law has to be applied to everyone with the same strength. We need to have a stronger parole system, stronger sentencing and toughen up our bail laws. But also it’s not just about punishment, it is about prevention. We want to bring back a program called ‘Police in Schools’ where police would interact with kids in schools, talk to them and have a relationship with them. So, say, if Craigieburn North Primary School had a large population of Sikh kids, we would deliberately send police officers and those with a cultural background that might be Sikh so that the kids’ first engagement with the police officer at the school is a respectful one. It’s an approachable one, particularly, if they are from the same background and faith. It becomes a mutual relationship. And we have got plenty of police from the African background and we should use them to talk to these kids. That is why it is so important to have an engaging, respectful relationship. Having said that if people do break the law, we need to punish them far more effectively than what is being done at the moment.

Do we have a resource problem when it comes to disciplining?
We do in in some respects, not throughout the system. We don’t have many holding cells as we need. We have fallen short of prison beds. The last prison we opened was one that the previous Coalition government built at Ravenhall, so we are going to need to have extra prison beds, extra holding cells, and greater number of police in stations to be able to deal with some of the issues. That’s why the Liberal Party has talked about reopening of a number of police stations or extending some stations such as Caroline Springs Station to a 16 or 24-hour operation.

There is a concern about gambling but none of the parties seem to care?
There is an issue with gambling. In this country, we gamble more than most countries in the world. When we were in government last time, we put a number of restrictions and programs to assist people with gambling problems. And my view is we should expand on that, we need gambling operators to work with us. We need to have more proactive marketing campaign around the issue of problem gambling and not just leave it to the operators to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to advertising their problem.

How do you plan to beat Labor?
I don’t think it will be very easy. I don’t like my opponent but I respect their political campaign ability and I respect that are no way an easy beat. But the state has a number of problems they haven’t addressed in four years. Victoria has never been less safe than it is today, bills have never been harder to pay than they are today, roads have never been congested than they are today. The government can hardly claim after four years, knowing all these problems, that they are a worthy government to be re-elected. It is fine for the Premier to promise a tunnel that will be built conceivably in 55 years’ time but that does not help the problems of today. The problems of today are paying your bills, staying safe, getting around — and those issues are real.

Is there a special message for the Indian community?
I see the Indian community as very similar to how I see those post World War II migrants. Indians are coming to Australia with their families for a better life, they work very hard, and faith, community, business and family are important to them. So my message is: get involved – whether it is community groups, political party etc., because you are the future of this country. There is a lot of admiration for the work Indian Australians are doing. What that says is, there is this whole group of people who are coming to our country, who want to make a go of it. And that is really impressive. That’s what transformed Australia, that attitude from post-World War II European migrations to Indians who are coming here with the same values, and that’s what made Australia a great country. I think the Indian community has lots to offer. We are very lucky that they choose to come in huge numbers because they are fundamentally value adding to Victoria in a positive way.

One reason why the Indian community should vote for you?
I know a lot of Indians who have come to Australia because they want their family to live in safety and peace. And Melbourne is not as safe as it was four years ago. But I will make this city a safer city through my bail plans, parole reforms, mandatory sentencing, reopening police stations and building new police stations. I will keep them safe. I want them to come to Australia, I want their kids to stay in Australia but I want them to know that this is a safe country. My opponents had four years to do that and they failed. I won’t fail if I am given a chance.

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