In the wake of the unnecessary firesale of state assets, the Bligh government has continued down its merry path of trashing Labor policy.
Last week we had the refusal to take any action over the charges laid against a 19 year old Cairns woman for “procuring an abortion” by using RU486. Now, it seems, we’re going to see Bligh “muscle up” and take on the public sector unions by reneging on a promise made for pay increases of 4.5%, 4% and 4% over the next three years of enterprise bargaining agreements. The government has already been slashing casual and short term employment across departments and state agencies. Tomorrow’s budget is rumoured to contain cuts to public sector superannuation entitlements and we know that it will place a cap of 2.5% on pay increases.
The state election campaign was a shambolic affair, and it was almost lost. Despite an inept performance, Labor was re-elected primarily because the “jobs” theme and the promise to continue to invest in public infrastructure despite the economic crisis touched a chord with voters. Anna Bligh made much of standing up to credit rating agencies.
So why the turnaround? A couple of factors are at work. The first is Bligh’s inability to set her own direction, adopting rather the path of least resistance recommended by right wing apparatchiks in her office. Let one grumpy voter in a focus group whine about debt, and, well, forget the election promises. Secondly, there’s the misplaced obsession with “strength”, driven by the same advisers. This apparently means tossing Labor policy out the window and pursuing supposedly popular brawls with unions.
This mob have an inability to understand that Labor governments always need to pursue a direction contrary to that favoured by the big end of town to be a success. Talk of “reforms” in the context of short-sighted privatisations is quite risible in this context.
Nor is Bligh apparently capable of learning from the past. Wayne Goss’ government was defeated not by the “Koala road”, but in large part because years of managerialist lunacy alienated the public sector vote. Similarly, the slashing of services in outer suburban and regional areas and decisions such as the one to close down the QR workshops in Ipswich in the midst of a recession and deep structural economic change had a lot more to do with the rise of One Nation than some innate Queensland redneckism.
Peter Beattie knew all this.
The irony — or rather, one of the many ironies — is that the government and top bureaucrats have recently been pontificating about the need for public sector spending to create demand in a sluggish economy. That seems — insofar as it means anything — only to apply to bricks and mortar and roads and bridges and to completely eschew people’s livelihoods. All “Bligh the Builder” is paving the way for at the moment is her own defeat.