QUEENSLAND: by Ron MunnNews Weekly
Anna Bligh's Labor Government on the skids
, August 22, 2009
The Queensland Labor Government, under Premier Anna Bligh, is fast digging a hole for itself that will be too deep and steep to get out of. With the polls showing a major swing against the state government - and against the premier personally - Ms Bligh has gone into damage control to try to retrieve her standing.
Anna Bligh succeeded Labor's Peter Beattie as Queensland premier in September 2007. Earlier this year, she decided to seek a mandate in her own right by calling an election for March 21. But her decision to do so was the start of her slide out of grace with Queensland voters. For six months previously, she had categorically denied rumours leaking from her party that she was planning an early poll, even after she was confronted with evidence that her party was in the process of doing so.
Voters were prepared to believe that she needed a mandate to govern in her own right and were conned into following her by Labor's masterful campaign of smoke and mirrors. With handouts from the Rudd Government's stimulus package timed to coincide with the state election, Anna Bligh campaigned on the promise of "Jobs! Jobs! Jobs" - 100,000 of them - all without cutting jobs in government departments. She denounced the state Opposition's policy to curb over-spending by government departments as a bid to slash jobs in the public sector.
The electorate grew suspicious and delivered a 5 to 7 per cent swing against the Bligh Government.
Events since the March election have confirmed how much Labor relied on smoke and mirrors to hide the truth. The state's triple-A credit-rating has fallen to a double-A rating.
The Queensland economy is in real trouble, and now the Premier Bligh and state Treasurer Andrew Fraser have hit Queenslanders with a double whammy. They are selling off prized assets of the state, such as Queensland Rail's coal-haulage business, coal ports and facilities, and the Port of Brisbane, and simultaneously cutting the 8 cents-a-litre fuel subsidy that Queensland voters have enjoyed for the past 13 years.
Major reviews by the auditor-general of the departments of health, education and other services, have been damning of their poor performances, which are a measure of the real performance of the Bligh/Beattie Labor governments.
The Labor rank-and-file are starting to revolt. The left-wing Electrical Trades Union (ETU), a pillar of support for the Premier Bligh's left faction, has withdrawn its support from the government and has even gone so far as to disaffiliate from Labor. It has scathingly denounced the fire sale of assets and warned of inevitable major job loses under Bligh's privatisation program.
The ETU commissioned a poll by one of Labor's favoured polling companies, UMR Research, into the voting intentions of voters in five key safe Labor seats - Townsville, Burleigh, Mount Coot-tha, Rockhampton and Ipswich. The poll revealed major anti-Labor swings right in Labor's heartland - 15 per cent in the seat of Rockhampton, 10 per cent in Ipswich and 9 per cent in Townsville.
Significantly, in all of these electorates, many thousands of workers rely for their jobs on meat works, Queensland Rail and ancillary activities. They will not look lightly on the government's plans to close western rail branch lines, which have a negative impact on both rail cartage and the meat works. Nor will they sympathise with the Queensland Government's efforts to halt the clearing of re-growth on cattle properties throughout the state, merely to appease the Greens but with little thought for the unionists who rely on continued work in the beef industry.
The anti-Labor swing in the predominantly middle-class electorates of Mount Coot-tha and Burleigh are even more significant, as the voters in these regions are not as directly affected by the sell-off of government assets. Queensland voters in all walks of life are concerned about the Bligh Government's unwillingness to be truthful and to govern the state in a manner that delivers clear, affordable outcomes for Queensland, within budget forecasts.
If that wasn't enough bad news for the Queensland ALP, then what has happened over the past few weeks since Tony Fitzgerald QC delivered his address to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his report on government corruption has Labor reeling.Secrecy
In part, Tony Fitzgerald said of the Labor Government: "Ethics are always tested by incumbency. Secrecy was re-established by sham claims that voluminous documents were 'Cabinet-in-confidence'. Access can now be purchased, patronage is dispensed, mates and supporters are appointed and retired politicians exploit their political connections to obtain 'success fees' for deals between business and government."
Six-figure "success fees", ranging from $100,000 to $400,000, are reported to have been paid to former Government ministers as payment for lobbying to have large parcels of land included in the South East Queensland Regional Plan. The final decision on the plan lies fairly and squarely with the state government, as with all regional plans throughout Queensland.
Local governments have been excluded from decision-making. It is now a great deal easier for ministers to influence Government decisions and not only corruptly fill their pockets, but also to sideline funds for election campaigns.
The "Cabinet-in-confidence" trick of hiding so-called confidential information on highly diverse developments and legislation needs to be cleared up.
The Heiner Affair still raises its ugly head for Labor and will continue to do so until given a just hearing by an instrument such as a royal commission with wide enough terms of reference.
Mr Justice Barry O'Keefe, a former NSW Supreme Court justice who was commissioner of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption from 1994 to 1999, said to a packed audience at a public sector conference on July 29 that much work needs to be done.
He told a crowd of 250 or more (including representatives from the Crime and Misconduct Commission of Queensland): "Here in Queensland, there is of course the involvement of what was formerly the Criminal Justice Commission, now the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC), in the Heiner Affair in which, by direction of Cabinet, documents relevant to an inquiry and to possible criminal and other proceedings were destroyed.
"The opinion has been expressed by a former chief justice of the High Court of Australia, the now late Sir Harry Gibbs, that these activities involved in prima facie a criminal offence.
"A like view has been expressed by a leading silk in Queensland and a recent and lengthy submission by David Rofe QC, a very senior practitioner at the NSW Bar, has raised serious questions as to the actions involved in the destruction of the documents in question.
"Regrettably, this matter does not appear to have been taken up by the anti-corruption body to which it has been referred, notwithstanding the eminent opinions that have been expressed and a writing of a letter by a number of former judges (of which I was one) and eminent practitioners seeking to have the matter made the subject of an investigation and the appointment of an independent special prosecutor in order to restore public confidence in the administration of justice, especially in Queensland."
According to the opinion polls, the Anna Bligh score-card at present is:
• 62 per cent dissatisfied with how she is doing her job.
• 64 per cent dissatisfied with how Labor is managing the economy.
• 68 per cent agree with Tony Fitzgerald's view of the ALP Government.
• 65 per cent believe corruption is widespread in the State Government.
• 86 per cent are against the Government's plan to sell state-owned assets.
Premier Bligh points to the fact that politicians have been brought to account by the CMC, charged and jailed under the present system. On that premise it is claimed that the system is working.
It is painfully obvious that we are witnessing only the tip of the iceberg and that anti-corruption bodies in Queensland, such as the Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Commission (PCMC) and the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC), need to be overhauled, with no linkages to the past, and made truly bipartisan.Ron Munn is Queensland president of the National Civic Council.