Peter Beattie has just settled his pay dispute with Queensland police but his action along the way has reminded many observers how Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen used to run the state and it ain’t pretty.

Beattie is currently embroiled in a series of enterprise bargaining battles with public sector unions including the nurses and police.

The wrangling – with Beattie and Treasurer Terry Mackenroth crying poor – has seen nurses marching on Parliament house and mass rallies of Queensland coppers in Townsville last week to co-incide with the sitting of Parliament in that city. Part of the problem is of course that while Queensland prides itself on being Australia’s low-tax state, it is also Australia’s low-pay/low service delivery state as a result.

In the midst of the nurses dispute (which is now in formal arbitration) Beattie announced a review of public sector bargaining as a whole, with the aim of returning to a centralised wage fixing system for public sector workers. Do not adjust your sets, you are now entering the Twilight Zone.

Not surpisingly the unions – particularly the stronger ones such as the Queensland Police Union and the nurses union – are aghast, not just in part because linking future pay rises to CPI will see them unable to ever ‘catch-up’ with pay scales enjoyed by their contemporaries in other states.

The review is being conducted by one RJL Hawke. It and the terms of reference were announced by Beattie without any prior consultation with the unions. But wait, there’s more.

Relations between Beattie and the police union (never the best of friends – remember Mundingburra) have hit an all time low. The union has been busily spending a $1 million fighting fund on full page newspaper ads and prime time television spots pointing out the disparity in pay levels and also highlighting Beattie’s hypocrisy when it comes to his own pay packet vis a vis other state Premiers. Further the union had threatened limited industrial action (not strikes) in the form of work bans such as refusing to process speed camera infringements and the like.

Beattie has now countered by introducing a Bill to State Parliament that makes old Joh’s Essential Services legislation (at the vortex of the 1985 SEQEB dispute) look weak in comparison. Not only does it specifically ban police from striking, it also prohibits work bans or even ‘work to rule’ campaigns! Further, if you read the Bill closely it appears to effectively prevent union meetings. Tony Abbott must be impressed.

Word is that Hawke (himself a former ACTU leader) is appalled at this piece of draconian legislation – which in effect removes all industrial rights of Queensland police – and is considering walking away from the public sector review altogether. This would be a huge slap to Beattie, who according to police union polling, is increasingly perceived by the Queensland electorate as arrogant. Crikey understands the polling is likely to feature in the next salvo of police union television and press advertisements expected to be unleashed in the next few days.

Roll on Joh Bjeattie Petersen.

ends

Is Beattie getting too big for his boots?

Meanwhile, we were struck by a report in The Weekend Australian and this recent editorial in The Courier Mail.

Another day, another huge barney between pugnacious Peter Beattie and the Labor movement in Queensland. Not satisfied with introducing Joh-like legislation to knee-cap striking or potentially striking public sector workers, Beattie is now in open warfare with Brisbane’s long-serving and highly successful Labor Lord Mayor Jim Soorley.

Then again, Soorley wants to appoint the highly controversial best mate of Steve Bracks, Jim Reeves, as his successor without any input from the voters. Reeves is still caught up in an upper house inquiry in Victoria about the $220,000 a year job Bracks tried to give him running Victoria’s Regional and Urban Land Corporation.

It’s hard to know who to back on this one. Factional strongman Bill Ludthug is in there doing deals so it’s got all the elements of what is ugly about the ALP factions, back-scratching and squabbling over the carve up of future preselections and the right to anoint successors. Where is the voter and where is the rank and file member in all of this?

Peter Fray

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