The Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett has obviously been taking lessons from federal Industry Minister Kim ‘IL’ Carr recently. Like Carr, Mr Bartlett seems to think that governments have a duty to spend scarce taxpayers dollars propping up unviable operations of rich multinational companies, in this case, Brazilian meat processor JBS Swift, which last week closed its King Island abattoir and put 98 people out of work.

Bartlett hot footed it up to the island, had the obligatory beer with the workers in the pub — so he could be seen by one and all as the workers friend against the evil bosses — then twice this week, including yesterday, desperately announced that the abattoir would reopen today because he was giving JBS Swift an “appropriate level of financial assistance” while the company undertook a two month review of its King Island operation.

In short, the Tasmanian Premier has handed over taxpayers funds — he won’t say how much — to a company that has made so much money in recent years it is now the biggest meat processer on the planet. And there is no guarantee that the abattoir will remain open for any substantial period of time. In fact, despite a promise it made to Mr Bartlett re-open the abattoir earlier this week it failed to do, forcing the Premier on Wednesday to issue an “egg on your face” media release lamenting the company’s failure to act on its commitment.

A large multinational corporation like JBS Swift does not need the money the Tasmanian government has blithely doled out this week. It has simply done what companies do to Senator Carr with depressing regularity these days — threaten to close a plant, or sack workers — and then run off to the jolly bearded Senator from Victoria and demand some cash to reverse course.

Let’s face it, it’s simply a form bribery on the part of corporations and governments are too gullible, opportunist or desperate to resist playing with such scams.

By the way let’s not think it’s just Labor governments that are suckered into the bribery game. The Liberal Party is just as guilty on this front. The Tasmanian Liberal Leader Will Hodgman thinks what Mr Bartlett is doing is fine.

As is the case with so many of these government bailout deals, the losers in the end are the workers and their families. When the government bailouts run out, the factories close. Just look at Pacific Brands. It was on the government teat for millions of dollars over the years, but in the end the inevitable happened and market reality forced plant closures. The same will happen with the King Island Abattoir.

One hopes the 98 King Island workers who got their jobs back courtesy of the Tasmanian taxpayer this week will keep them in the long term. But history and common sense suggests that they won’t. The chill winds of market forces will dictate their future, and no amount of government assistance can or should change that fact.

Mr Bartlett should spend his community’s money on those who deserve it, and that doesn’t include business.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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