QUEENSLAND: After the deluge: Anna Bligh's legacy
by Luke McCormack
News Weekly, March 31, 2012
The March 24 Queensland election saw a swing of almost 16 per cent inflict a crushing defeat on the state Labor government, ringing the warning bells for the federal Labor government in Canberra.
Former Premier Anna Bligh announced her resignation from politics the day after the election, forcing a by-election soon in her seat of South Brisbane.
The Campbell Newman-led Liberal-National Party (LNP) government will have around 77 to 78 seats in the new single-house parliament. The Katter Australian Party will have two to three seats, independents two seats, while Labor has been reduced to a rump of only six to seven seats.
The dark horse in the election was the Katter Australian Party. It won 13.6 per cent of the vote in the 76 electorates it contested. It took more votes from Labor and other parties than from the LNP.
Its strongest vote was in north Queensland, but the KAP also won support in rural areas where coal-seam gas development is threatening farmers. Although the Greens had been active among communities in these areas, the farmers voted KAP, not Greens.
The KAP result could mean that, at a future federal election, the new party wins a Queensland seat in the Senate and possible additional ones in the House of Representatives.
Twenty-years of Labor have left a sorry economic and social legacy in Queensland.
Andrew Fraser, Queensland Treasurer, 2007-12.
The Bligh Labor government ran up a vast state debt that is going to massively constrain the new LNP government’s ability to invest in infrastructure for the state’s rapidly expanding minerals industry. In this year alone the state will run up another $4 billion dollar budget deficit.
The Queensland economy is one-third the combined economies of NSW and Victoria, yet Queensland’s state debt is more than double that of the two big states combined.
In 2010-11, the combined value of the NSW and Victorian economies was about $726 billion, almost three times that of Queensland’s $252 billion.
Last year, Queensland’s government debt was $53 billion — down from $70 billion due largely to the sale of state assets. But it is now expected to blow out to $85 billion over the next three years. In comparison, the combined debt of NSW and Victoria was only $24 billion.
If the debt blows out, as feared, the new government (and Queenslanders) will soon be paying an interest bill of $5.1 billion each year, or nearly $100 million a week.
The election was shaped by concern over Queensland’s debt, the sale of state assets, the rising cost of living (to be made worse by the federal carbon tax), uncertainty over jobs because of the ongoing global financial crisis, and Australia’s two-speed economy (that is, the country’s fast-growing mining industry and the depressed farming and small business sectors).
Ipswich and the surrounding areas, which were inundated by last year’s flood, saw swings of almost 30 per cent against Labor. Nudgee, a long-time safe Labor blue-collar Brisbane seat, was won by the LNP with a 17.7 per cent swing against Labor.
If a federal election were held today, the same voting patterns in Queensland would see the Gillard government fall.
The recent report on the Brisbane floods has once again highlighted Labor’s legacy of failed policy and waste — former Premier Wayne Goss (and his then advisers Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan) scrapping the Wolfdene Dam project in 1989 (see “Flood inquiry reports confusion and delays”, News Weekly, August 20, 2011); the failed Traveston Dam project that cost the state around $500 million; and millions more wasted on desalination projects.
In blatant contempt of Queensland voters, 46 Labor MPs and independent MP Peter Wellington voted, in the final weeks of sitting late last year, to pass controversial new civil union laws.
Just before Christmas in 2009, Labor passed radical new surrogacy laws allowing unattached single people, same-sex couples and others to obtain a child through surrogacy.
Knowing there was no mandate for either piece of legislation, Labor pushed these bills through with no time for public debate and knowing that the issue would “die a natural death” over the Christmas holidays.
To inform Queenslanders and force a debate on these issues, the Australian Family Association ran campaigns against MPs who voted in favour of these laws that violate a child’s right to a mum and a dad.
Also, these laws will set the stage for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (GLBTI) issues to be promoted in primary and secondary schools (see Patrick J. Byrne’s article, “Same-sex marriage set to transform our schools”, in this issue).
The National Civic Council ran similar campaigns to the AFA’s in six other seats, with an additional campaign targeting prominent feminist Labor MP and Emily’s List member, Karen Struthers, who has been pushing to decriminalise abortion to birth.
Emily’s List had 10 identified candidates standing in the state election, seven of them sitting members, including then Premier Anna Bligh.
Following the election, only one member of Emily’s List is left in the state parliament.
News Weekly can also reveal that, in February this year — in the final week of parliament sitting before the election — Premier Bligh allowed one of her female colleagues to ascertain the numbers in preparation for ramming through parliament a last-minute bill to decriminalise abortion.
Word has it that, fortunately, Labor was four votes short and therefore did not proceed with the bill.
To build the state’s infrastructure, Queensland’s incoming government should establish a state infrastructure bank. This will ensure not only the development of the state, but will take the burden of investment off the state budget and protect the government’s credit rating.
The alternative of slashing government spending to reduce debt would also mean limiting the development of new water supplies, power stations, roads, ports and other vital infrastructure.
If the new government is worried about its environmental credentials when considering building new power stations, then it should simultaneously establish a renewable, sugar cane-based ethanol industry, which would cut the state’s dependence on non-renewable, imported fossil fuels.
While economic issues will be the new government’s major concern, high priority must be given to repealing Labor’s civil union and surrogacy laws.
Also, the wild rivers legislation should be repealed.
Luke McCormack is Queensland state president of the National Civic Council. This article is an updated version of the one that appeared in the printed edition of News Weekly.