ACT horror budget likely


By Tim Gooden and James Vassilopoulos
Canberra — The ACT budget, due on September 19, promises public sector cuts, corporatisation, job losses and privatisation. Immediately after the minority Liberal government was sworn in, two senior advisers to Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett were brought in to examine potentials for budget cuts. The budget deficit was reported to have ballooned from $81 million to $120 million, providing a rationalisation for big cuts. However, deputy opposition leader Wayne Berry puts the deficit at $67 million.
The September budget, this government's first, will probably be severe in the hope that three years down the track people will have forgotten and can again be won over with some sweeteners.
Rumoured to be included are $15 million cut from health, with 400 job redundancies; up to 1100 other ACT public service redundancies; corporatisation of the bus service; closure of Sterling College; transfer of control of Kaleen Youth Shelter from the ACT government to the private charity group Barnados; and axing of the Streetlink youth program.
The ACT Greens announced that they would take part in the ACT budget process on the same day that the WA Greens announced they were withdrawing from federal budget negotiations.
Already the Liberals have corporatised ACT Electricity and Water, with Trades and Labour Council (TLC) approval. They have also announced a job freeze on ACT public servants; workers on temporary contracts are to be terminated on expiry of the contract.
The Liberals have privatised Jindalee Nursing Home, with approval from MLA Michael Moore and the two Green MLAs. A letter in the September 1 Canberra Times said, "I am disgusted at the Assembly vote in favour of privatising Jindalee Nursing Home. The Liberals want to flog it off to stick to their copy-cat Kennett agenda; ... and as for the Greens, they are all too keen to hug an old tree, but just can't seem to be bothered caring about old people."
Although Labor has been opposing the cuts, it was responsible, when in government, for the closure of the Royal Canberra Hospital, attempts to cut 80 teacher positions in 1993 and the loss of over 2000 public servant positions.
On August 31 the TLC convened an ACT public service delegates' meeting to discuss privatisation plans. Some 60 delegates and organisers from more than 10 unions attended. Delegates raised, from the floor, the issue of extending the campaign to defend the public service. A lunchtime rally has been called for September 14.
No motions or decisions were voted on at the meeting, and it seems that the TLC executive will be running this campaign with little rank and file involvement in decision making.