Costello audit plans sale of QLD assets

Peter Costello and Queensland treasurer Tim Nicholls.

Former Coalition government treasurer Peter Costello envisions Queensland as a privatised, “small government” state in the final report he has written for the state government.

A huge sell-off of remaining public assets was recommended in the 32-page executive summary released on March 1. The full report in excess of 1000 pages has been withheld until after the May budget.

The report recommends all government-owned corporations in the energy and transport sector be sold off. This covers all energy generation and transmission, what remains of Queensland Rail after the Anna Bligh government’s privatisations, as well as ports in North Queensland.

It also foreshadowed the privatisation and outsourcing of all services currently undertaken by the public service, excluding police and court services.

Qld Treasurer Tim Nicholls is a strong advocate of asset sales but said it was unlikely during the current parliamentary term, given the government’s electoral promise not to proceed without an electoral mandate.

He said that improvement in the operations of the corporations was necessary.

Electrical Trades Union state secretary Peter Simpson, said: “While the full extent of the Costello audit remains elusive the executive summary confirms the wholesale sell off of Queensland’s public owned assets: electricity, ports, Q Rail and water are all up for grabs according to the Costello report.

“[Premier Campbell] Newman, Nicholls and the LNP are attempting to hoodwink Queenslanders in a rush to sell public-owned assets while using the debt bogeyman as an excuse to sell off the family silver. Taxpayers have contributed for decades to build up this infrastructure and the LNP intend to sell it with no actual return going to the public who paid for it.”

“It is a proven fact that privatisation of essential services fails the community in three fundamental ways: prices go up, jobs are lost, particularly in regional areas, and the focus moves from providing a public service to the blind pursuit of profit.”

Privitisation is one of the major reasons for the defeat of the Bligh government, which had embarked on a program of privatisation immediately after the 2009 election, without mentioning it in the election campaign.

This is why the Newman government says it will not proceed with asset sales without an electoral mandate.

However, privatisation is already under way. Since last June there have been massive cuts to public sector jobs and a shift to contracting out essential community services.

In the health department alone 3000 jobs have already been abolished — 400 of which are frontline nursing and midwifery positions.

Beth Mohle of the Queensland Nurses Union told Green Left Weekly: “I never thought nurses and midwives would face job loss. However our campaign, which focuses on campaigning with communities directly affected, as well as online petitions, [and] rallies is having some limited results. For example, the decision to abolish the tuberculosis unit has been reversed.

“The current industrial relations climate means we have to rely on community support, and we have a focus on educating communities about the impact of the cuts to services in their areas. We are monitoring the job and service cuts on a daily basis, and our website details these as well as the impact on communities.”

Given the wholesale assault on the public sector the Costello report represents, a statewide response involving the wider union movement with community support is needed.

This should include a coordinated campaign of industrial action across all unions, as well as mass rallies, statewide days of action, local community actions, petitions and lobbying.

It would be a mistake to direct the community support for defending the public ownership of assets and of public services into a campaign to re-elect Labor in the future.

[The Queensland Council of Unions has called a statewide cross union delegates meeting for March 20.]

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