Qld to sell $15bn of public assets

Citing the dubious need for Queensland to keep its AAA credit rating, on June 2 Premier Anna Bligh announced the state would sell off $15 billion of public assets.

Despite huge opposition from the community, trade unions and within Bligh's own party, her ALP government has made privatisation a cornerstone of the state finances for the next eight years.

This was clear from the state budget handed down on June 16. Treasurer Andrew Fraser said Queensland would face eight years of deficits. But he also stressed that unemployment would rise "relentlessly and remorselessly" from its present 5.2% to a peak in two years of 7.25%, or 175,000 people.

The assets sell-off was presented along with an $18 billion capital works program as a trade-off to protect from higher rises in unemployment.

Queensland's top 10 trading partners are now in deep recession and business is predicted to cut spending by nearly 25%. Bligh told the June 18 Courier Mail that, "the reality is now is not the time for governments to be stepping out of the economy and cutting back on its activities."

But environmentalists, trade unionists and other activists are gearing up to fight Bligh's privatisation agenda.

"We need to fight for the expansion of the public sector to build a sustainable Queensland", Socialist Alliance spokesperson Paul Benedek told Green Left Weekly.

"We need more public, not private, ownership. We must quickly move to renewable energy and massively expand public transport as fast as possible."

The $7.3 billion in funding for transport and road projects is the largest single item in the budget. But much of this spending — such as the Gold Coast light rail project and bus way upgrades across suburban Brisbane — was in the pipeline long before the world economic crisis and the state's funding shortfall kicked in.

The budget's renewable energy package amounts to just $35 million. $9.3 million of this will go to a new geothermal power station at Birdsville in the state's west.

This is a one-off pilot project that will serve only the local community. Elsewhere, Queensland's electricity will still come from burning highly-polluting black coal.

The budget also announced cutbacks in the public service. Despite the government's assurance that jobs will be protected, the Queensland Public Sector Union told the Brisbane Times that the job security of the 25% of state public sector workers on temporary contracts may be at risk.

The mainstream media outlets and the business sector have welcomed the budget. But the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) launched a statewide campaign against the privatisation plan on the day the budget was released.

The ETU's Light on the Hill campaign "will include workplace meetings, rallies, public meetings in regional cities, radio and newspaper advertising and literature drops".

ETU secretary Peter Simpson said the campaign was about stopping the government's fire sale of public assets. He said it was about "putting labour values back into the Labor Party".

"ETU members strongly oppose the sale of public assets such as Queensland Rail and the port authorities,' he said. "We are far from convinced that selling off important public assets is a sensible long-term response to these short-term economic difficulties.

"We also believe that if the state government gets away with this then things such as electricity and water will be next. That would be an even bigger disaster for the people of Queensland."

Simpson will be one of the keynote speakers at a Stop the Sell Off public meeting at 6.30pm on June 30 at the QCU Bldg, 16 Peel St, South Brisbane.

A Light on the Hill anti-privatisation rally will be held at 10am on July 3.