Privatisation loses in Queensland election

February 6, 2015
The election defeat of the LNP in Queensland in January is a rejection of the LNP’s severe cuts to the public service.

The Labor Party has enjoyed a remarkable recovery in the recent Queensland elections.

Three years ago, after Labor privatised publicly owned railways, ports and forests, the party was reduced to a 27% primary vote and seven state seats.

At the January 31 election, its primary vote rose to 38% and, with a stronger flow of Greens preferences, it won at least 43 seats with a possible total of 45 — the final result will be determined by further counting. Forty five seats would give the party an absolute majority in state parliament.

If it wins 43 seats, a minority Labor government is expected to be formed with the support of independent Peter Wellington and the two Katter's Australian Party (KAP) MPs.

Wellington and KAP campaigned strongly against the Liberal National Party’s (LNP) proposed asset sales. So they are unlikely to support a minority LNP government. However, KAP has already begun to highlight its stance on environmental issues, in particular its opposition to restrictions on tree-clearing on agricultural land.

The vote was a rejection of the LNP’s arrogant and savage cuts to the public sector. Up to 25,000 jobs had already been cut by the government. Queensland now has the highest rate of unemployment in Australia — regional youth unemployment rates are as high as 20%.

The LNP had said the only “strong choice” was to privatise even more. But Queensland has now voted against such moves in two consecutive elections: tossing out a privatising Labor government and the government of former premier Campbell Newman.

The election campaign was not confined to the political parties fielding candidates in the election. Social movements mobilised in large numbers. Two community campaigns with links to the trade union movement were significant: Not4Sale and Stand for Queensland.

The Not4Sale campaign, led by the Electrical Trades Union, was active during the three years of the LNP government. No regional cabinet meeting took place that was not met by unionists and residents demonstrating against privatisation. It would have been difficult to drive through Brisbane or regional Queensland without seeing the familiar green and black placards held aloft by Not4Sale campaigners.

The campaigns called for voters to number all squares and put the LNP last. This proved most effective in raising the flow of preferences to Labor.

For the previous election in 2012, 27% of minor parties’ preferences went to Labor, 22% to the LNP and 51% were exhausted (no preferences directed). On January 31, 45% of preferences went to Labor and only 15% went to the LNP.

The LNP’s big business mates campaigned for its re-election. Glossy ads by Indian coalmining giant Adani ran on TV.

Labor said during the campaign that it supported coalmine development, but would not proceed with the LNP’s plan to subsidise a rail extension to the Abbot Point coal port. However, the rail line, while key to new mines being developed by various companies including ones owned by Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer, does not depend on government financing to go ahead.

Labor has said it will reverse the LNP’s policy of resurrecting the uranium mining industry, but it is still committed to coal and coal seam gas mining. It does not have a plan to break free of fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy.

Indeed, given the drop in world prices for coal and gas, Labor’s support for coal is leading the government into the economic dead end of basing a state’s whole economy on fossil fuels. Labor’s support for proposed casino resort complexes in Brisbane and Cairns also shows it is tied, in many other ways, to the interests of corporate capitalism.

The Queensland Chamber of Industry said it would not support any reversal of the LNP’s changes to workers’ compensation. It is crucial that the trade union movement continues to mobilise to ensure that a Labor government acts in the interests of the workers who contributed so effectively to its victory at the polls.

Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said after the election that the thousands of public servants sacked by Newman would not automatically be reinstated. This is a blow to those victims of austerity. Their cause, and the repeal of the anti-union laws introduced by the LNP, should be taken up by the trade union movement as a priority.

The Newman experience has shown people can exert power. Any government, even one with a huge majority, can be a one-term wonder. Queenslanders are feeling elated at having demonstrated this at the ballot box.

This feeling of empowerment is welcome and understandable. However, unions and social movements need to maintain their own, independent, mobilisation if Labor is to be held to account for their interests. Already the environment movement is calling on the ALP to ban new coalmines and save the Great Barrier Reef.

Labor’s victory was necessary to halt the sale of public assets. It does not provide a political alternative to the neoliberal project. If the demands of the social movements and the social needs of the community are to be met, an alternative to the ALP/LNP duopoly needs to be forged.

In recent years, huge movements of people mobilising against austerity in Europe and Latin America have turned away from the established parties. A mobilised community, with a renewed sense of its power to effect change can build such alternative for change in Australia.

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