A month after the Labor landslide electoral victory, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has begun to fine-tune her government’s opposition to the sale of public assets.
The sale of public assets caused the demise of both the previous Labor and Liberal-National Party governments. The Palaszczuk Labor government was elected on a platform of halting the proposed sale of state assets, such as electricity and ports.
However, the Campbell Newman government’s asset stripping went beyond these public utilities. It included school closures and the sale of school and TAFE buildings, sporting ovals and other land owned by the Department of Education. It included the transfer of public hospitals to the private sector.
The Newman government had also begun the large-scale sale of public housing assets and transfer of titles to community and private sector management, while implementing policy changes to force public and social housing tenants into the private rental market.
Apart from general statements in support of public education, hospitals and housing, Palaszczuk made no specific commitments during the election campaign to halt the Newman government’s attacks on the public provision of these services.
While ruling out the sale of “strategic assets” such as electricity and ports, Palaszczuk has now indicated that land and property sales are on the drawing board. The leader of the opposition Lawrence Springborg has disingenuously accused the government of back-tracking on its election promises.
Springborg warned that Palaszczuk has opened the door to a fire sale of smaller assets such as buildings and vacant land. He said Labor had fallen into government without a plan to fund its election promises and was now hoping to use minor asset sales to pay the bill.
Deputy Premier and Infrastructure and Planning Minister Jackie Trad has defended the government’s plan to sell some state-owned assets, saying such sales were beneficial to the economy.
She said there was nothing unusual about the decision. “For decades and decades departments like the Department of Public Works and Housing has been selling old public housing stock to buy new public housing stock. That makes business sense.”
“What Labor committed to at the election is not selling Queensland’s strategic assets, not selling our poles and wires, not selling our electricity generators, not selling our ports.
“Labor will not sell the assets that Queensland needs to derive an income to support the services that Queenslanders need going forward.
“What we said was that we would not sell the assets that deliver dividends to the Queensland state budget.
“There won’t be asset sales in Queensland under the Palaszczuk Labor government, but when line agencies want to sell things like public housing stock to buy new public housing stock they will be permitted to do it.”
The tens of thousands who are homeless and on the waiting list for public housing, public and social housing tenants whose housing security is in question, and school communities facing the loss of social amenities will not be assuaged by Trad’s assurances. These sectors mobilised against the austerity imposed by the Newman government and will need to maintain that pressure on this government to call it to account to meet their “strategic” social needs.