The Bligh Era – ‘we are all economic rationalists now!’

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” — Muhammad Ali

In Queensland, a state with the first elected woman premier, the government does not have a women’s honour roll but does acknowledge women in hard hats.

Victoria won’t elect a woman as premier — Joan Kirner (sic) — but the Victorian Labor government does acknowledge women with an honour roll.

A difference between Labor politics as practiced North and South?

Peter Beattie’s succession plan worked. However the lineage that produced Bligh goes back to the socialist Left faction founded by George Georges during the Street March era.  A combination of this faction and the women’s movement put Anne Warner into the Goss ministry – the first woman in cabinet in Qld. When Warner retired Anna Bligh took her seat and was soon in the Beattie cabinet. And so it went, only thing was, the faction ditched the word socialist. Socialists had put her there, but no need to keep the name if it did not fit, which it didn’t. Anna Bligh’s chief of staff Mike Kaiser is from the right wing Australian Workers Union (AWU) faction, just to give you an idea of how meaningful factional titles are.

Bligh Cabinet 2009The newspaper reads:

“QUEENSLAND Premier Anna Bligh has made a new member of her Labor team responsible for law and order and expects him to also keep the union movement under control.” — New MP Cameron Dick gets big billing in reshuffle The Australian

Anna Bligh has won the 2009 election on the back of worker’s fears they would lose their jobs under the LNP.

In the wash-up from Saturday’s election Ms Bligh has appointed an inexperienced none-too-bright cabinet, many of whom will make mistakes in the coming months.  I’m talking policy here, not personal failings that the media likes so much (Karen Struthers [sic]).


I took a train ride from the eastern suburbs yesterday to the city and out to Goodna, in other words right across town from East to West, a distance of about 20 kilometres at most. I did not get a seat till I reached Darra which is only a couple of stations prior to my destination. We were packed in all the way from the city. It was supposed to take an hour from Cooparoo station in the East to Goodna in the West with a connection at Roma Street station. As I stood hunched in the carriage with my head touching the ceiling, my back pressed against the belly of a police inspector, a woman under me couched on a low chair normally reserved for disabled people the South East Qld infrastructure plan leapt out at me from a wall poster. It said that CityTrain was trying to ‘connect Queenslanders’  and ‘had great plans’ with new tracks and new trains on the way. ‘We’ just had to be patient. But the horse had bolted, there were simply too many passengers for too few carriages on too few trains. But as I looked out the window past the arm of the young woman with dreadlocks hidden under a woolen beanie I could see that to brave the traffic would have been murder.

Bligh’s best move was to place her rival Paul Lucas in the Health portfolio where the government was vulnerable. Paul Lucas will be a busy man if he is to fix Health.

The police department’s representative in cabinet, Judy Spence, has gone as has another rival John Mickel.

The election was supposed to be a close one, but in the end Springborg and the Lib-National Party (LNP) ran a poor campaign even though they had overcome the obstacle of an optional preferential system by merging the two conservative parties.

This did not matter because Springborg denied the financial crisis from the outset of the campaign and threatened public sector jobs.

It was enough to scare people to cast a legal vote!

Springborg’s opportunism came through when he focused on the oil spill off Moreton Island. As if the Nationals were ever going to do anything about the environment! They spent the entire Bjelke-Petersen era destroying it with mining leases all over the state.

Pauline Hanson, a creation of the Howard era, ran a populist campaign in Beaudesert, without any racism in her handouts,  and got 22 % of the vote.  Hanson needed to get about 700 more votes to get past the Labor candidate and have a chance of beating the LNP.

Perhaps, in a socially conservative electorate, the nude photos of her in the Sunday papers before the election may have hurt her, even though they turned out to be fakes. But everyone has a past, her opponents should have concentrated on her politics not her personal life. The Fassifern Guardian editorial concentrated on making its readers feel sorry for Pauline, it didn’t seem to work, she only got 40% of the vote in Boonah booths when she needed 50% to have a chance, and even then she could not win because Labor were never going to preference her. So Labor came second and the LNP won the seat handsomely.

While some of their preferences helped Labor, the Greens remain a marginal force in Queensland as elsewhere. They do not have clear economic and jobs policies which are the core issues effecting people. Nevertheless Greg Kane did well in South Brisbane (17%) and Larissa Waters polled 22% against the Treasurer Andrew Fraser in Mt Cootha. If only … there mighten be as many job cuts if Fraser was dumped. His amalgamation of the  shire councils in the last term lost vital jobs and deskilled councils  in regional Qld. What does all the so called efficiency mean now, how was this brand of economic rationalism any different to that of Howard’s WorkChoices?

So the popular ‘Anna’ came through with the Beattie strategy, backed by the campaign director, Kaiser, who ran a negative campaign against the opposition and concentrated on the economy and jobs. Everything else was superfluous to labor, winning was all. They called it ‘rope a dope’ but the campaign lacked the finesse of Muhammed Ali and was not nearly as witty. Kaiser did not have to be a genius to work out the winning line was: “You can’t trust the inexperienced LNP in these tough times.”

Anna Bligh said that she called the election because of the need for stability during  the ‘global financial crisis’. As jobs melt away in the real economy, only the debt driven infrastructure plan stands between workers and unemployment. It may come anyway.

It started in the Qld University student union, in the labor club, they worked their way into the movement, they stood on the sidelines for years, emerging in bizarre costumes behind people who wanted change, some even got arrested so history would record their presence, socialism was a slogan, and then they discovered how to work the numbers, firstly from the back of the room, they arranged ‘the stack’ (stacking of meetings), and then, step by step they came closer to the front, nearer the podium, but not on it, talking about playing it smart, hanging back, delete even the name socialist from one of their factions, working their way in, anywhere to get leverage, even join the AWU faction, a few electoral rorts, join any faction so long as it led to the light, not the one on the hill, but towards power, democracy, capitalism, sprinkled with a social conscience by admitting mistakes,  like the meeting in the back paddock with Joh, a brief flirtation with populism, a truck load of contacts in the world of the movers and shakers, embracing the new economics, efficient, rational, a little profit here and then the big time, talking direct to mining, finance, the odd trip to China, finally emerging into the light at just the right time, ready to save the profiteers with public money, there they all are, mates together … only then do they hear a whisper from the back of the room: ‘ But, but … what about the workers?

At a time when the workers are quiet, solidarity scarce, and no mention of the working class, the leader steps forward from the shadows into the full glare of public opinion to proclaim:

“We are are all economic rationalists now!”

Ian Curr
March 2009

One thought on “The Bligh Era – ‘we are all economic rationalists now!’

  1. Postscript says:

    Within a week of winning the election, the leader merged 23 government departments into 13 new mega departments, for example the environment protection agency was merged with natural resources and so on…making the senior executive service very nervous, at least for a while.

    Meanwhile regional water boards were disbanded with ‘savings’ of two jobs — the admin. workers who received documents, sent out election notices and papers and reported on water board activities…

    Expenditure continued unabated by newly constituted bodies thus reproducing the economic rationalist model, so often condemned while in opposition.

    Bryan Dawe interviews the Hon. Kim Beazley, leader of the opposition (John Clark):

    So who are you opposing?

    We’re opposing the government.

    How do you do that if you’re not really opposed to what they’re doing?

    Well you say you’re opposed to what they’re doing.

    Can you give me an example?

    Yes, you say, ‘We’re opposed to all this economic rationalism.’

    Because it has tossed hundreds of thousands of people out of work?

    Yes, it exports jobs. Shifts control of the economy outside the country.

    Removes the checks and balances?

    It does. And it forces society to cannibalise itself.

    You say all those things?


    But your policies don’t depart much from economic rationalism.

    No, they can’t afford to.

    Why not?

    The people who run things might get annoyed.

    Would they say so?

    Oh, yes. You’d know all about it.


    The dollar would get a shagging. You wouldn’t be able to afford a fridge or a lawnmower.

    Society would fall apart.

    It would be the end of the Westinghouse system.

    Westminster system.

    I beg your pardon. I used to know all this stuff.

    You think we are seeing the collapse of the Westminster system?

    I think under the Howard Miracle, you won’t even be able to get the parts…

    Thanks for your time.

    …But don’t tell anyone I said that.

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