Queensland Updated By Aggie McCallum – Australia

10/04/2013 by socialistfight

Queenslanders have been under Campbell Newman’s conservative Liberal-National Government for thirteen months now. The party took power in March 2012 and their victory gave them a staggering 78 parliamentary seats – it was unprecedented in Australian political history. Now that it is a year out from the election it is a fair question to ask – what is the current political landscape in Queensland?

Aside from Premier Newman’s immediate massive public service job cuts, and withdrawing funding from or not renewing funding to organizations and shutting down departments is there any sign on the horizon of the voters’ expectation for positive change? Well – the short answer is no – not yet. The Newman government is still busy scurrying around ferreting out and cutting ‘excessive spending’ – or as their die hard supporters have been heard to say somewhat churlishly that “the government is cutting the fat”.

The following is a snap shot of the year and I’ll let the events speak for themselves.
The initial goal of the government was to put Queensland back into surplus and regain its AAA credit rating. In the midst of axing thousands of public service jobs, former Federal Liberal Treasurer Peter Costello was appointed to produce the Commission of Audit report. Costello’s report contained 155 recommendations and it’s no surprise that it largely recommends outsourcing to the private sector. Queensland’s top newspaper revealed that education, health, housing, community support, transport and energy are to be sold off or contracted out. The report also recommends that Queensland let full private sector competition into electricity generation, transmission and distribution.

This latest cost cutting drive has put the government on a collision course with unions and President of the Council of Unions Mr John Battams has pledged a long fight to stop further asset sales. Mr Battams said union polls showed strong community opposition to “selling off the farm” and he went on to say that the unions will mount a long and effective campaign.

Government confidently announced that a mandate from the people will be obtained prior to selling off other areas such as electricity providers, Energex, C.C. Energy, Ergon, Powerline and Stanwell and the Townsville and Gladstone Ports.

Queensland law reforms have the spotlight on unions and plans are in place to prevent Queensland Health from encouraging union membership among staff. This would be achieved through amendments to the Industrial Relations Act. Together Union Secretary Alex Scott called it a smoke screen. “This attack is purely about the fact that public sector workers are willing to stand up and fight for services they are so proud to deliver – and” he continued, “ the government’s announcement is an attempt to muzzle Together’s 13,000 members in Queensland Health in the fight against Public Services privatization.”

A spokesman for Queensland Unions also believes that the government’s reform is a step to silence unions in their opposition to privatization. To add to this, new laws are coming into place next month which will require union bosses to publicly disclose their wages, gifts and entertainment and how they spend union money. The Office of Fair Trading will have the role of ensuring union information is released to the public. A separate audit office will be set up to pore over union books and the new law will also give members of a union the power to decide how the money will be spent, including how much money would be made as a donation to the ALP (Australian Labor Party).

Over the last twenty to thirty years the labor markets have freed up in Australia, accelerating during the Work Choices years under John Howard’s Federal Government. The gap between rich and poor has been steadily widening with a reported eleven million Australian families living below the poverty line. Many of these families fall into the working-poor category. The ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions) is campaigning for an increase of 5% to the minimum wage which translates to $16.75 per hour in the pay of 1.5 million Australians. It is an increase of a mere 79 cents an hour yet it has sent employers into a spin – they’re calling for such extravagancies to be reigned in during weak economic times. Disgustingly the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) submitted a counter claim – to increase the minimum wage by 1%.

It has been pointed out in several articles that Australia’s minimum wage in the year 2000 was 50% of average weekly earnings – today it is only 43%. One article in Brisbane’s conservative Courier Mail reminded employers that they have done nicely from wage restraint over the past decade and the author added an emotional tone to his article saying he wonders if it is “worth staying here when the hard work of humble honest people is devalued and workers such as childcare workers, cleaners and café staff are relegated to second class citizenship in this country”.

On the subject of wages it is interesting to note that the first campaign to be launched by the conservative rural Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) is to call on the Queensland Government to pay $2.2 million in compensation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people for their unpaid work in the early 20th century. Les Muckan the party’s health spokesman said, “The First Nation people, we’re lost. We’re still struggling and it’s about time this Government wakes up to itself.”

Katter’s Party has an appalling stand on gay marriage and asylum seekers and it is bitter-sweet goodwill felt for them as they vow to follow the unpaid wages issue till it is resolved. The party seems to be aware of the Newman Government’s unfair priorities. KAP’s state leader Ray Hooper said, “We’ve got a (State) government that is going to pay rent on a parliamentary penthouse worth $650 million that doesn’t have to be built – yet they can’t pay $2.2 million that’s owed.” (The $650 million is the controversial William Street development). Their party claims to have much outback/rural support and as I grew up in the outback and still have some personal contact with rural people I must say this party’s claim could be valid. It will be interesting to see what Katter’s Party do with any power they gain in the future election.

The funding cuts show no signs of abating and every paper one picks up some service is going or someone is losing a job. Palm Shire Council Mayor Alf Lacey announced they are set to lose thirty jobs due to funding cuts and that sixteen other indigenous shire councils are “in the same boat”.

Queensland Family Support Package delivers financial support to families with disabled children. These families must now submit a request for departmental approval for every purchase. The government’s level of intent in its dogged cost cutting drive was poignantly highlighted recently when a family was refused money to purchase a medically recommended specialised mattress for their ten year old disabled child. Only after the media contacted the Disabilities department was the money released for the single mattress.

The Aged is always a vulnerable group and the State Chief Health Officer has finally admitted at a recent forum that the State Government will be exiting from Aged Care. This was confirmed by State Health Minister Lawrence Springborg. The Blue Print for better health care in Queensland is available at www.health.qld.gov.au/blueprint/default.asp and although it is a 48 page document aged care is mentioned only once. This one tiny mention leads to 1800 state owned aged care beds in 20 residential facilities throughout Queensland going to private providers and non-government agencies. Families and supporters of the frail and elderly have protested and a petition with 10,000 signatures has been delivered to the Newman Government.

Although job cuts continue in Queensland one area is set to increase employee intake. The State Government announced that in July they will double officers patrolling public trains with further increases planned over the next two years. The stiff fines will not only be issued for fare evasion but also offences ranging from eating on the train, feet on seats, through to alcohol.

Aside from political scandals (and there have been a few) and haggling over juvenile crime and troubled youth, there is now very serious environmental concerns over the impact CSG (Coal Seam Gas) is having on Queensland rivers in rural areas. Farmers could be left with no livelihood as a number of bores have absolutely no water left in them and alarmingly no hope of accessing this water ever again. (ABC Four Corners 1.04.2013).

Awareness of environmental politics in Queensland has increased as the State faced fires, floods even tornadoes this year. It is becoming clear that the cost to recover from these ongoing natural disasters could exceed the cost of implementing technology to reduce emissions. Concerns that the short term profits of the massive mining industry in Queensland could lead to long term environmental damage won’t go away. Such implications have not been lost on high profile activists in other parts of the world and it is of no surprise that Greenpeace has targeted Northern Queensland and is now sailing for the diminishing Great Barrier Reef calling for its protection and preservation.

The relationship between the Newman Government and the people of Queensland has decidedly cooled – yet support remains and the support is strong enough, the polls tell us, to retain power if an election was held today. Nevertheless their power is being eroded by their own policies and actions and the gradual loss of support for the Newman Government is a fair thing. Voters have started to turn with the tide of events and many are already looking for new leadership in Queensland. I will keep you posted.

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