Queensland Premier Anna Bligh is being unfairly criticised for yesterday’s Budget because it read like a chapter from the Coalition’s manifesto.
In fact, it wasn’t her budget at all. It was imposed on her newly-elected government by the federal Government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the banks.
Two years ago, after Peter Beattie skipped town to live in the United States, Bligh inherited an economy which appeared to be turbo-charged by the resources boom and a property boom. In reality, it was running on empty and going broke.
Facing a major economic meltdown, Bligh took her begging bowl to Canberra and received guarantees for an ambitious stimulus package to fund infrastructure, hospitals and schools.
The funding was given by Brisbane boys, Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan, both mindful that they must take care of their own backyard if they are to hold Labor’s gains and win re-election at the next federal poll.
Meanwhile, the banks were called upon to provide lines of credit to the embattled Queensland economy. They agreed, in return for presenting their own shopping list of micro-reforms.
Squeezed by Canberra and the banks, Bligh was forced to abandon her pre-election pledges as well as Labor’s traditional economic nostrums to introduce wholesale privatization.
In the next four years, her government will flog the Port of Brisbane, Queensland Motorways, Queensland Rail’s haulage business, the Abbott Point Coal Terminal and the State’s forestry plantations to raise an estimated $15 billion.
It is a program that will delight the mining industry and the road transport lobby. At the conclusion of this smash and grab raid, big miners and their partners will own and control the extraction of coal and natural gas, its transport to the coast at Brisbane and Gladstone and its export.
That’s vertical integration with a vengeance — and the vast majority of the profits will go to rich shareholders not Queenslanders.
Bligh has also announced the scrapping of the fuel subsidy from July 1 which will see petrol increase by 9.2 cents a litre, a massive concession to the Treasury, the banks and the oil companies which have been opposing the scheme for years claiming it is “socialistic”.
Attention now switches to next Tuesday’s Budget day in NSW.
Do Rudd and the banks have the same stranglehold on the NSW Budget and, if so, what shock decisions will be unveiled by Treasurer Eric Roozendaal?
If Bligh’s grisly performance is anything to go by, NSW voters will see the State plunged into a roaring deficit to be met by a massive sell-off and hefty increases in charges.
The lesson of the Queensland budget is that the state politicians aren’t controlling their economies anymore — Canberra and the banks are calling all the shots. Call it a variation of practical federalism.