Anna Bligh was hoping that a combination of time and spin would be enough for Queensland workers to get used to her unpopular decision to privatise $15 billion worth of public assets. How wrong she was. In spite of her much publicised “Building for Jobs” hard-hat tour of infrastructure projects in August—supposedly focusing on the benefits of privatisation—the government’s electoral support remains stubbornly low.
A Galaxy poll in September found that Labor’s primary vote was just 35 per cent, a little down from the 36 per cent in June when Bligh first rammed the decision through the state Labor conference. And it’s way down from the 42.2 per cent Labor received during the March election.
The same poll showed there is a consistent 80 per cent or more of the electorate opposed to privatisation.
Bligh’s response to the polls, the union campaign of regional meetings and billboards and growing concerns of nervous backbenchers has been to launch a multi-million dollar publicity campaign to try to convince the skeptical public. The Government is hiring former Reserve Bank governor Bernie Fraser on $2500 a day to mediate with angry unions.
The PR campaign will include every houehold getting a letter. But this campaign will be no more successful than Howard’s expensive TV commercials trying to sell Workchoices. Not even Bligh’s shameless appearance on Celebrity Masterchef will not save the government’s falling popularity.
Bligh’s PR campaign has made the unions even more angry. Electrical Trades Union secretary Peter Simpson said the advertising was an “outrageous” use of taxpayers’ money.
“If we are so broke why are we wasting so much money on consultants for these sales and now we are wasting money on this,” he said.
While the opposition to privatisation is massive, this isn’t necessarily enough to stop it. Bligh is more interested in what the business community are saying and according to the Courier Mail, “with equity markets having recovered…the State government’s advisers, Rothschild, Royal Bank of Scotland and Merrill Lynch, are said to be arguing for a fast decision”.
Meanwhile more union anti-privatisation billboards are going up around the state. But it will take more than just electoral pressure and their own publicity campaign to stop the state Labor government.
Privatisation will hit jobs and conditions. The railways and ports have strong union organisation. Building on this strength, an industrial campaign could stop the sell-off, dead in its tracks.
By Mark Gillespie

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