Tasmanian politics turned on its head

June 24, 2011
June 16, Hobart.

Unions Tasmania President Roz Madsen gave the speech below at a large June 16 rally outside the Tasmanian parliament — the day Tasmanian premier Lara Giddings announced a harsh new budget.

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Not so long ago, politicians and political parties were fairly predictable. People entered politics on one side or the other, based on a set of values they held personally and then they pursued outcomes designed to fulfill those values.

Generally speaking, the left of politics — the Labor and Green parties, believed in collective good. They supported the delivery of services on a fair and equitable basis, through a public sector that was funded by all through the tax system.

The Liberals and Nationals were more closely aligned with principles of individualism, where people who wanted services would buy those services in the free market — largely delivered by the private sector.

Politics in Tasmania has turned on its head.

Today, the treasurer of a Labor-Green government will hand down a budget that will slash public sector funding and see jobs and services disappear.

And tomorrow morning that same Treasurer will attend the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI) Budget breakfast and be applauded by big business because she has implemented their agenda.

Last December, the TCCI made a formal submission on the state budget. Their submission was not much different from the submission they have made over a number of years.

They called for four key things:

1. Cuts to the public sector workforce;

2. An end to the government commitment to no forced redundancies;

3. Outsourcing and privatisation, and;

4. Cutting taxes on businesses.

The difference this time was that they knew they would soon have a treasurer who would be receptive to their ideas — a treasurer who had already recruited the former TCCI economist Richard Dowling as her senior adviser.

So let’s go through the TCCI’s wish list:

Cuts to the public sector workforce

We already know that in today’s budget the premier will be delivering on this one. She will be announcing massive cuts to the public sector that could see up to 2300 fulltime equivalent jobs being lost.

This will result in service cuts across agencies, services that Tasmanian families have long relied upon.

An end to the government commitment to no forced redundancies

Another big tick for the TCCI agenda. On June 14, the premier tabled legislation in the House of Assembly to change the State Service Act to allow her to sack public sector workers after just 6 months on the redeployment list.

This was a clear breach of a promise made by the premier before the last election.

Outsourcing and privatisation

While we don’t expect outsourcing and privatisation to be spelled out in the budget today, the government has already given indications this is where it is heading.

In the mid-year financial report, it announced a major review of all government programs and noted it will focus on ceasing programs that “do not align with government policy priorities and government responsibilities under formal agreement such as those with the Australian government”.

This is similar language to that used by the TCCI in its budget submission where they said: “A sustainable government for Tasmania is a limited government, facilitating the private sector meeting most of the needs of the people.”

While the TCCI might not feel they can tick this one off just yet, they will be very pleased with the progress they have made.

Cutting taxes on businesses

It would seem highly unlikely that the government will cut business tax further.

After all, the government delivered massive cuts in state taxation in the 2010-11 budget, including the "biggest cuts in land tax ever in Tasmania".

In all, they cut land tax by a total of $145 million over the period from 2010 – 2014 plus an additional $11 million in administering the reforms. They also cut the tax on betting exchanges by $24 million and cut payroll tax by around $5 million.

In all, they delivered around $185 million in tax cuts and now they want to cut services by about $200 million to repair the budget.

So we have a clear picture about what the TCCI wants and values, but what do union members and the Tasmanian community value? What kind of place do we want Tasmania to be?

I think what we want:

• A place where all of our people are valued and treated with dignity.
• A place where those who are less fortunate are appropriately supported and treated with respect.
• A place where we properly invest in our schools, hospitals and our police force.
• A place where our kids have decent employment opportunities and want to stay here with their families.

To make Tasmania the kind of place we want, we need to stand strong, hold this government accountable and send a loud message. Our message to the premier is, that even in difficult times, there is an alternative way.

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