By Dave Riley
BRISBANE — Within an hour of bringing down the state budget, Premier Wayne Goss dissolved parliament and called an election for September 19. The surprise short campaign was calculated to throw both parliamentary and community opposition into disarray — and to have the election safely past before Victorian Labor gets its expected thrashing on October 3.
When it won office in December 1989, many expected the Labor government to be one of significant reforms after the long hard years of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and the Nationals. But much of its grassroots support has been dissipated by Queensland Labor's conservative agenda.
Even its pledge to clean up endemic corruption in the state has been judged cosmetic by some of the most hopeful of Labor's initial supporters in academia.
A few short jail terms for Bjelke-Petersen cronies caught in the act and a farcical mistrial for Sir Joh himself will not scare present or future politicians into forgoing the spoils of office. The moral high ground of "Gossnost" was cut down to the usual Labor pragmatism as ministers McElligott and Mackenroth were forced to resign from cabinet after rorting their travel subsidies.
The highly politicised police force continues to exercise an independent influence and oppose any suggestions of more far-reaching reform.
Whereas the last gasp of the Queensland National Party in office was its pledge to follow the Fitzgerald recommendations "lock, stock and barrel", the Goss government has equivocated on every major recommendation.
The Criminal Justice Commission — aimed at police reform — and the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission — a supervisory mechanism for public administration — have been duly processed, tabled and discussed — as a way of avoiding any major changes. Contentious subjects are left on the doorsteps of committees of parliament or the bureaucracy while the government pretends it somehow has no responsibility for the resultant recommendations.
A case in point was the long-running dispute over the logging of Fraser Island. Goss' election pledge was to stop the felling of rainforest timbers and to support the island's inclusion in the World Heritage list. The ALP candidate for the region took the exact opposite position. With loggers and the Australian Workers Union on one side and environmentalists on the other, the government recycled Stephen Fitzgerald through yet another special investigation to assess the merits of the opposing positions.
In the meantime, the government reneged on other key environmental
Green Challenge, an umbrella environmental group, recently estimated that Labor had failed to deliver adequately on 75% of a log of claims signed by Goss before the 1989 election.
One of the most blatant turnarounds was on the commitment that the party had made prior to disallow sand mining in the Byfield region of the central Queensland coast. Labor took the local seat through Green preferences after the assurance had been made.
For Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, hopes ran high that the end of the Joh era would lead to a better deal on land rights. However, the legislation, drafted after only minimal consultation with community leaders, excludes the two-thirds of the indigenous population who live in urban areas. Black frustration boiled over into an angry march on parliament which ended in a near riot as the gates were torn down. In the 15 months since the acts were proclaimed, no land has been handed over to the Aboriginal or Islander people.
The recent overhaul of the Queensland Criminal Code totally ignored abortion. Many feminists expected at least a discussion on the issue, but the party machine has been sidestepping the reform affirmed by a whole succession of ALP state conferences.
After the latest budget, in areas such as social services, education and health, Queensland still spends per head of population 10-25% less than the national average. Unemployment, at 11.2%, is hardly a guarantee of longevity in office.
With the Electoral Act of 1992, the ALP disenfranchised all parties not currently represented in the Queensland parliament. Outside Liberal, Labor and National, all other candidates are forced to stand as independents regardless of their affiliations.
Nonetheless, the Democratic Socialists, Queensland Greens and the Australian Democrats will be fielding candidates at the election. As well, Brisbane Aborigines plan to mobilise the more than 4000 of their number who live in Goss' electorate behind an independent black campaign.