In late March the Liberal National Party (LNP) in Queensland, led by Campbell Newman, won a huge majority in the State election. The previous Labor government suffered a massive 16% swing against it and were reduced to a mere seven seat rump in the parliament.
The rising cost of living, the privatisation of electricity and the resulting high utility prices were the key issues in the election campaign. Queenslanders punished Labor for implementing a string of unpopular neoliberal policies. They hoped that a change of government might offer them some relief from the pro big business agenda but instead the LNP have just picked up where Labor left off.
Among other things Newman is now taking the axe to public sector jobs. This will not only mean an increase in unemployment across the state but it will mean a reduction in public services. Regional areas are expected to suffer the most.
Despite the fact that infrastructure like schools, hospitals, roads and public transport is inadequate, the LNP claim that spending has been ‘out of control’ and that there is a need to reduce the state’s debt. In order to satisfy the financial markets and big business interests Newman has pledged deep spending cuts to return the budget to surplus by 2014-15.
To facilitate this process Newman appointed the former Liberal federal treasurer Peter Costello as the head of a financial audit committee. Costello himself is a well known representative of big business. Newman has used Costello’s biased report as the justification for implementing deep cuts and to put the idea of further privatisations back on the table.
The aim of all this is to protect the profits of big business. The only ways for governments to raise money is to either tax those who work and reduce spending on the public sector or to tax employers. In the case of the major parties in Australia, who represent the interests of business, they prefer to do the former.
To this end plans are being put in place to cut an astonishing 20,000 permanent public sector jobs. At the same time 30,000 temporary workers will not have their contracts renewed. The government has announced a 3% cap on public sector wage rises – far less than real inflation – but some sectors are being offered even less.
On top of this the government is slashing funding for nearly 100 services including programs for women, Aboriginal and LGBTI people and the disabled. Almost 60 other projects are currently being ‘reviewed’.
The government claims that the public sector has ‘ballooned’ over the past decade but even Costello’s report says that, with the exception of the health sector, the growth of all other sectors is “broadly in line with population growth”. The health sector itself has been in crisis for many years and still requires much more funding.
The truth is that massive amounts of wealth exist in Queensland and there is no need for any government to be implementing cuts. The state’s economy grew by nearly 9% last year thanks to the mining boom but the problem has been that none of this wealth has found its way to ordinary people. Rather it has been pocketed by a handful of mining moguls.
This wealth should be used to create jobs and expand public services. Increasing state government mining royalties could alone raise hundreds of millions of dollars.
The mining giants, many of whom funded Newman’s election campaign, have made it clear that they will not accept an increase in royalties. Newman has been so keen to serve their interests his government has even joined a High Court challenge to the federal government’s extremely modest minerals resource rent tax.
Ordinary people in Queensland need a government that represents their interests and not those of a super rich minority. Newman’s plan to slaughter public sector jobs and services needs to be opposed. If the public sector is further undermined it will mean that more people will be at the whim of the private profit making sector for basic services.
Clearly the Labor Party is no ally in this fight. They too are wedded to cuts, privatisation and to serving big business just like the LNP. The only force potentially capable of beating the LNP back is a united movement of working people. All workers, students and the unemployed have a joint interest in maintaining the public sector.
Such a movement would need to use the trade unions as a vehicle to drive a political and industrial campaign. For the campaign to be successful it would need to be much bolder and go much further than what the current trade union leaders are proposing.
While some good rallies have been organised the unions need to step up the campaign by announcing plans for a 24 hour public sector strike. Such a strike would send a strong message to the government. This should be built for via mass meetings in workplaces and aim to march on State parliament.
The campaign should demand not one job loss, no reductions in services and for pay rises of at least 5% in order to keep up with inflation. The public sector unions should also call on workers in the private sector to join the fight. If the government refuses to back down then joint public and private sector strikes should be organised.
The industrial struggle should be linked to the need to build a political alternative to the LNP/Labor duopoly. Rather than just taxing big business we should go further and fight to bring all of the major sectors of the economy into public hands. In this way the wealth could be shared democratically.
On the basis of public ownership and democratic control of major industry we could begin to use Queensland’s wealth to improve the lives of ordinary people. A sustainable plan of production could be developed to ensure that jobs and the environment were protected, services were increased and schools, hospitals, roads and public transport was built to serve people’s needs.
Campbell Newman and the big business elite he represents are a minority. If the majority of working people stand up and fight together the Newman government can be defeated and a different type of society can be achieved.
By Anthony Main