On January 5, with most of the country still in holiday mode, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman called on the acting governor (even the governor was still on holidays) to issue writs for a state election on January 31.
The Liberal National Party (LNP) won government three years ago in a landslide against the Labor government’s privatisation of public assets, reducing the ALP to a rump of seven seats (now increased to nine after two byelection victories).
In calling the early election, Newman said there was a degree of urgency for the sake of the state and the economy. However, Newman’s timing is more akin to a punter deciding when to place a bet as odds shorten.
To some extent it looks like the gamble is paying off for Newman. Polls in the weeks before Christmas showed LNP and ALP neck and neck, with an ALP victory, or at best an LNP victory with Newman losing his seat of Ashgrove. Since calling the election, the opinion polls have eased and an ALP victory seems less likely.
The election timing also enabled the embattled Newman to quash rumours of a leadership challenge and temporarily paper over the cracks of disunity in the LNP.
It also ensured that the election would be over before the Report of the Select Committee into Certain Aspects of Queensland Government Administration of Commonwealth Government Affairs, is released on March 27.
This inquiry was the result of a motion introduced in the Senate by Palmer United Party Senators. Submissions are being received until February 26. To date submissions from the ACTU, Electrical Trades Union (ETU), teachers unions and environmental and civil liberties groups provide damaging evidence of the corruption of the LNP during its first term.
The two main campaign issues are assets sales and jobs.
Assets sales have been on the political agenda since March 2013 when the Commission of Audit (chaired by John Howard-era treasurer Peter Costello) recommended selling all government assets. The LNP government accepted the recommendations but stated that no sell-offs would occur without an electoral mandate.
The LNP is committed to “leasing” public assets to generate $37 billion. From this, $25 billion will go towards repaying the debt (currently standing at $80 billion); $8.6 billion will go to community infrastructure over a six-year period to fund roads, hospitals and schools; and $3.4 billion will be allocated for a cost of living fund.
The ALP has not announced its economic policy. "Our economic strategy is ready," Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said. "We will announce it at a timing of our own choosing.” Once again the question is of “timing”.
Palaszczuk said the plan would not involve the lease or sale of public assets or borrowing more money, but she did not elaborate.
In an interview with Radio National she apologised for the decision by the previous Labor government to privatise.
MINOR PARTIES' RESPONSE
Queensland's seven crossbenchers have signed an accord to fight state asset privatisation. Katter's Australian Party MPs Rob Katter, Shane Knuth and Ray Hopper lined up with independents Liz Cunningham, Peter Wellington, Carl Judge and Alex Douglas to oppose the state government's asset leasing plan.
The Greens are also firmly opposed to asset sales and have good prospects in one or two Brisbane seats.
Asset sales (or leasing) is a key issue in the election, but voters are already seeing through the Newman government’s “leasing is not asset sales” spin. Whether it is an ALP or LNP victory, minor parties and independents could be the key to keeping public assets in public hands.
The Newman government has axed 14,000 public service jobs and 1300 TAFE jobs, as well as 1750 jobs in the energy sector. The ripple effect of these job losses (particularly in regional centres) has resulted in Queensland now equaling Tasmania as the state with the highest unemployment, at almost 7%.
The LNP is campaigning on a plan to create 209,000 jobs over six years. They will do this through sleight of hand manipulation of employment statistics and a dubious expansion of the resources sector, with new coalmines opening up in the Galilee basin and the development of the Abbot Point coal export facility.
About 26,000 of the jobs rely on the government's privatisation plan to fund infrastructure projects. A further 8000 will come from its cost of living relief fund.
Opposition to asset sales has been widespread in the community. A community campaign, “Not4Sale”, has dogged the government from the outset. With support from unions (in particular the ETU) activists from Not4Sale have held protests outside community cabinet meetings in regional centres; set up billboards on key transport routes; distributed information on the implications of assets sales, including research by University of Queensland economist John Quiggen contained in a report Electricity Privatisation in Australia: A Record of Failure; and campaigned at two byelections that were won convincingly by the ALP with massive swings against the LNP.
A state-wide action took place on October 18 opposing asset sales and calling on voters to put the LNP last. The Not4Sale campaign has intensified during the election campaign period.
The Queensland Council of Unions (QCU) has consistently opposed asset sales and cuts to services. It plans to campaign in key marginal seats, such as Brisbane Central and Newman’s seat of Ashgrove (where current polling has him set to lose) and in regional seats where the asset leasing program will have the most impact.
While not overtly campaigning for the ALP, by calling for voters to put the LNP last in key seats the QCU is in effect calling for the election of an ALP government.
This is just a few years after the defeat of the previous ALP government, which had presided over a swathe of asset sales, paving the way for the current LNP attacks.
The weekend before the election will see demonstrations around the state. On January 24, a rally and march against Newman has been organised in Brisbane to protest against the government’s attacks on workers, environment, community services and civil liberties.
On January 25, as part of a nationwide day of action, there will be rallies for the Great Barrier Reef in Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast and other regional centres.
On January 26 there will be a rally outside Parliament House marching to Musgrave Park to mark Invasion Day.
Socialist Alliance will not be standing candidates in the election but will actively participate in the community campaigns and rallies, as well as campaigning on election day.