Business demands austerity in Tasmania


By Tony Iltis

HOBART — A government-commissioned report has delivered a big business wish list for the state budget. The report, by senior National Party member Peter Nixon, recommends large scale privatisation of public assets, cuts to public services and handouts to business. The report claims this will create jobs and save Tasmania's ailing economy.

Nixon's report was received with great fanfare by the local media. The Mercury, in particular, has trumpeted the report as the blueprint for Tasmania's salvation. This newspaper seems to have adopted Goebbels' theory that if an absurdity is repeated often enough it becomes plausible.The absurdity in this case is that shedding jobs creates jobs.

The report recommends selling off the Hydro-Electricity Corporation, public bus services, the Melbourne-Tasmania passenger ferry, the state's four major ports, the government tourist office, the Motor Accident Insurance Board, the Bruny Island ferry and the civil construction service.

It also calls for slashing the public service from 13 to seven departments. Health and hospital services, community services, the ambulance service, housing, occupational health and safety, multicultural and ethnic affairs, youth affairs, the status of women, Aboriginal affairs and sport and recreation would all come under a single Ministry of Human Resources. Local councils would be reduced from 29 to 10 and compulsory competitive tendering for council services introduced.

Other proposals include:

  • slashing workers' compensation entitlements;

  • cutting the TAFE budget and focusing TAFE and secondary education on the needs of business — the "core customers of educational institutions";

  • reallocating 300,000 cubic metres of high quality sawlogs from small, labour-intensive licensed sawmills to job-shedding multinational woodchipping operations;

  • giving infrastructure handouts to business (such as a proposed "food industry park");

  • cutting taxes for the corporate sector, including payroll tax and land tax, and setting land tax at a flat rate regardless of the size of the holding;

  • creating a single parliament of 27 members elected from nine electorates, making parliament less representative. According to Nixon, this would bring Tasmania into line with US states that have "an institutional framework that allows leaders to lead".

The only sweeteners offered to ordinary people are vague "bread and circuses" proposals for subsidising visiting rock bands and establishing a Tasmanian AFL team.

The state Liberal government points out that many of the report's recommendations are already in the government's "New Directions" policy statement released in April. Nixon's suggestions will be incorporated into the budget, it indicated.

While both the ALP and the Greens have rejected the report, all parties in parliament accept the logic that giving money to business will create jobs and benefit everyone. The Greens argue that handouts to business should be conditional on being invested in clean, sustainable, job-creating development.

Democratic Socialist Party spokesperson Iggy Kim said that Australian big business was already enjoying rising profits and that the government should not give them further handouts. "To provide jobs and benefit the community, public transport, health, education, power and environmentally sustainable land management should be expanded under public ownership and financed by a tax on profits", he said.