“People are easy to, you know, people easily dismiss the public sector but in Queensland at least, and I’m sure it’s probably very similar in New South Wales, it is the largest employer. And people without jobs are not going to restaurants. They’re not buying as much petrol. They’re not, you know, going on holidays. They’re not buying clothes. They’re not consuming in the economy.

“And if you’re trying to get the economy up and running and out of a sluggish period then these sorts of things, I think, will have just a terrible human impact. Unemployment is a terrible scourge.”

That was vanquished Queensland premier Anna Bligh on ABC Radio’s Sunday Profile yesterday. She would say that, wouldn’t she? But the point is well made.

According to one understandably anonymous contributor to Crikey‘s Tips and Rumours column today, some public sector workers facing the chop have been put on a kind of suicide watch by some of their colleagues. A terrible scourge, indeed.

The purge of bureaucrats is, perhaps, unprecedented. Thousands of jobs have gone; another 2750 from Queensland Health last Friday, a portfolio of particular sensitivity given the reform undertaken following the Jayant Patel scandal in 2005.

Campbell Newman had a thumping, great big mandate to do with what he chose in a state that wasn’t exactly on firm economic footing. But nobody expected the savagery of these cuts.

Economists doubt the dire outlook painted by Newman, and voters are telling him he’s gone too far. If he can pump up the economy he might get away with it. But if the austerity in front-line services such as health and education begins to bite families — and enough unemployed public servants close their wallets — then the warnings from Bligh and others could prove more dire.