If elections were held in Queensland tomorrow, Premier Campbell Newman would lose his own seat. After trouncing Labor only a few months ago, millions of Queenslanders are now realising that the Liberal National Party’s agenda is to take the state back to the days of the notoriously corrupt, authoritarian and enthusiastically pro-business Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
The scale of Newman’s cuts is astonishing. Along with 20,000 public servants facing the axe, thousands more will not have their contracts renewed. Brisbane Times columnist The Watcher described the mood, “Staff in some areas are waiting to be called in for ‘the talk’. Others are waiting for ‘the letter’. Positions and entire services and units have disappeared over night.”
The government has demonstrated its nastiness by deregulating BreastScreen, defunding a School Band Competition, Fanfare, and tearing up the Wild Rivers legislation. This is on top of cuts to tenancy services, HIV services, job search providers, environment organisations, prisoner advocacy organisations and too many more to mention.
In NSW, Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell is cutting 15,000 public service jobs, has attacked Workers’ Compensation, privatised the ferries, and wants to sell off the ports and power generators. In Victoria, Liberal Ted Baillieu is cutting 1000 jobs, attacking TAFE and de-funding services like homelessness prevention.
Tony Abbott will be watching what happens in Queensland, NSW and Victoria closely. If his mates can get away with trouncing the unions, attacking jobs and promoting bigotry, he’ll be more than ready to do the same if he rides to power in 2013.
But there are promising signs that the state LNP government face a fight (see below).
Ruling for The Boss
Labor federally could be using the state Liberals’ savagery to expose what Abbott really stands for. But Labor, both state and federal, agree with too much of what the Liberals are doing. The recently defeated state Labor governments in Victoria, NSW and Queensland were just as committed to AAA credit ratings, public sector pay limits and privatisation as the Liberals. And Julia Gillard’s public service “efficiency dividend” relentlessly cuts public service jobs.
The announcement of a trial for a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NIDS) is one of the few areas where Labor has managed to land a blow against the Liberals, who aren’t happy about spending the money needed. But it’s far from clear how Labor will fund the scheme, given its commitment to the budget surplus and cutting corporate tax (see page 10).
Wayne Swan’s lecture tribute to Bruce Springsteen continued his bluster against Gina Rinehart and the mining billionaires. But Labor remains unwilling to impose a mining tax that would actually cost the billionaires something substantial.
Economist Andrew Leigh released research showing that 2009-10 was a fantastic year for Australia’s one per cent. They declared 8.9 per cent of all taxable income in Australia, almost twice their share from 30 years ago, pocketing a minimum of $194,365 each. Where is Labor’s talk of taxing the rich to get any of it back?
Labor has continued its attacks on The Greens, racing Abbott to the bottom to denounce The Greens’ opposition to offshore processing of refugees.
Determined to maintain her conservative credentials, Gillard is also refusing to rule out a constitutional challenge to the Tasmanian state Labor-Green government’s plan to legalise same-sex marriage.
A fightback against the state Liberals could help turn the political tide. It is Queensland that holds the most immediate chance of giving the Liberals a serious kick.
The unions have begun calling meetings and rallies, and ballots for strike action are underway or set to begin (see page 8).
In each state, the teachers’ unions are crucial to turning the tide around. In Queensland, Newman is offering the teachers an insulting 2.7 per cent in exchange for scrapping every single one of their hard fought for conditions.
There are teachers’ strikes in the pipeline in three states. A concerted fight can give the lead to others and help push for the more general strike activity that will be needed to stop the Liberals’ cuts.
But in each state, union leaders are talking about a “long campaign”, aimed at no more than electing Labor back into power. With Labor reduced to just seven MPs in Queensland and not much more elsewhere, that would be a very long campaign indeed—and no guarantee that Labor would reverse the damage the Liberals will have done by then.
Campbell Newman has called Queensland the “Spain of Australia.” But the other side of Spain’s debt crisis is growing resistance to austerity and cutbacks.
Just a little bit of that spirit can wipe the smile off Newman’s, and Abbott’s, faces.