The austerity agenda of the ruling Liberal National Party (LNP) in Queensland, led by Premier Campbell Newman, is set to enter a new phase.
Last month Treasurer Tim Nicholls unveiled the LNP’s third budget. The centrepiece was a $33.6 billion plan to privatise public assets including state-owned electricity and water companies Stanwell and CS Energy, the major ports of Townsville and Gladstone, and railways including the Mount Isa freight line.
Many Queenslanders, as revealed by the government’s own Strong Choices survey, favoured an increase in state taxes over more cuts. Polling in 2013 revealed that 85% of Queenslanders oppose the privatisation of public assets. 66.5% of people believe they will be negatively impacted by the LNP’s third budget, its last before the 2015 election.
The May/June Reachtel poll also revealed that 47% of people would be less likely to vote for the LNP. Even 22% of traditional LNP supporters would abandon the party because of its privatisation agenda. The Newman government, despite its 65 seat majority in the parliament, is politically weak, and its agenda of cuts can be defeated.
Since the landslide election of the LNP in March 2012, the Newman government has waged a savage attack on ordinary people. A commission of audit, headed by former federal Treasurer Peter Costello, recommended sweeping changes to the public sector.
14,000 public sector jobs, mainly in health and education, have been cut. Funding for over 100 services including programs for women, Aboriginal and LGBTI people and people with disabilities have been slashed. Mass rallies against Newman’s agenda of cuts have taken place throughout the state. Most impressively in September 2012, a rally in Brisbane attracted 10,000 people.
Against the backdrop of further protest action by the trade unions and community groups the LNP has been forced to make some minor concessions. Newman was forced to reverse $223 million of cuts to pension concessions. Cuts of 15% were planned on rebates, including for electricity, water, gas, council rates, public transport and vehicle registration.
The impact, on top of the Abbott government’s changes to the pension, would have been devastating, costing retired workers hundreds of dollars per year. Newman shamelessly declared that the proposed cuts were “not an acceptable outcome for Queenslanders”!
Public pressure has also forced the LNP to partially reverse devastating cuts to health and education. Since 2012 more than $833 million has been ripped from public education resulting in the loss of 405 jobs and the closure of 6 schools.
The Queensland Teachers Union estimates that the LNP’s 7% increase to the sector, including and additional 761 teachers and teacher aides, will be insufficient to keep up with projected enrolment figures, ultimately leading to larger class sizes. Similarly the 6.4% increase to public health needs to be offset against the 2,754 job cuts in the sector since 2012 and $326 million of funding cuts.
The Queensland Council of Trade Unions has vowed to fight the latest phase of LNP’s cuts, however its spokesperson Ros McLennan has declared that “the only thing that will make them listen is the ballot box”.
While polls indicate that if an election was to be held tomorrow the LNP would lose, replacing the LNP with Labor, a party that also supports cuts, is a failed strategy. After all, it was the previous Beattie and Bligh Labor governments that began the privatisation agenda, selling off $15 billion of public assets resulting in thousands of job losses.
This highlights the urgent need for unions, community groups and ordinary people to withdraw their support from Labor and begin the process of building a new party that genuinely represents their interests. Without a major force to challenge the parties of big business the LNP’s cuts will be felt for generations. The time to act is now.
By Conor Flynn