Labor Party puts more of Queensland up for sale

image“You can’t make figs grow on barren trees” — Ernie Lane speaking about the ALP in Dawn to Dusk-reminiscences of a rebel.

About 500 unionists and community members attended a rally outside the ALP State conference at the Convention centre in Brisbane today (7 June 2009).

The President of the ALP, Andrew Dettmer, was booed by the crowd when he suggested that nothing would be solved by people leaving the ALP.

“The Labor Party does not get better by people leaving it.” he stated. The reply from the union members present: “Whose side are you on Andrew. Are you with the union or are you with them. Go on get back to your mates (in the ALP).”

Attempts at comic relief by a young man dressed as an auctioneer could not dispell the anger of the crowd.

Officials from the Electical Trades Union ETU (Peter Simpson), Maritime Union of Australia MUA (Mick Carr), Qld Public Sector Union QPSU, Manufacturing union AMWU (Andrew Dettmer) spoke out against privatisation of Ports, Rail and Electricity infrastructure currently in public hands.

Rally against State Governments selling off of Public assetts. Brisbane Convention Centre 7 June...Thanks to Ted RethMuller
Rally against State Government's selling off of Public assets. Brisbane Convention Centre 7 June...Thanks to Ted RiethMuller for the photos.

The new leader of the ETU, Peter Simpson, stepped up today to take on the ALP government in a baptism of fire for a new union leader. He declared that his union had disaffiliated from all political factions in the ALP and that he would return to the industrial arena. The union is an independent group inside the ALP. Whether it will stay there remains to be seen.

Peter Simpson has just two weeks ago taken over from the retired Dick Williams whose team rebuilt the union after its demise in the 1980’s after the bitter SEQEB dispute. That was the dispute where the leader of the opposition, Nev Warbuton ( a former ETU official), declared that he was pleased to announce that he was turning on the lights after unions had turned them off in support of the 1002 sacked SEQEB linesmen.

In 1985 the ALP capitulated to the government of the day led by Bjleke-Petersen. The only undertaking they won from the government was the right to make the announcement to the people of Qld that the lights were going back on, effectively selling out the SEQEB workers. The ALP leadership was duped by the National Party government and big business and many people lost their jobs and, for some, their lives were destroyed. The same is true today. Only disappointment awaits those who put their trust in the Labor Party.

It was an brave effort by members of the ETU, given its history, with members bused in to the rally from QRail at Redbank Plains. Peter Simpson told the assembled unionists:

“I was asked this morning if I was a proud ALP member and I replied I was an proud ETU member.”

” ETU, ETU, ETU!”  was the response from the unionists.

“I take my hat off to those blokes like Mick Carr from the MUA who say ‘we’ll stand shoulder to shoulder’ cos we will bloody need it.

(If) we sell rail, we sell power, we sell ports, so what do we have left in the bank?

That is the argument that we made (to the Labor party).You will hear a lot of  arguments and bullshit (from the ALP).

But the union will not sell out.”

lookinglefts photostream from Ted Rethmuller
Click here for LookingLeft's photostream from Ted Riethmuller

Andrew Dettmer said that Queensland Rail QR is the major way the government intervenes in the economy of regional Queensland.

Dettmer said: “Decrease and increases in goods and increases in employment are done through QR.  When I was a union official in Victoria (in the 1980s) the state Labor government decided to close down sections of the rail network in Victoria. Towns like … Stall, Ararat … were closed and this is why we need to fight it (the selling of QR). The AMWU (Dettmer is state secretary), the RTBU are shoulder with the other unions. But there is another thing, the Labor does not get better by having members leave. ”

The reply was shouted out “Get off the fence Andrew, whose side are you on Andrew?”

Are you with the union or are you with them? No reply. “Go back to your mates (inside the ALP conference).”[ALP President, Andrew Dittmer, speaking to the assembled unionists outside the ALP conference in Brisbane ]

Only some ALP officials like Dittmer claim a history of  opposing privatisation but, in the end, their words are tainted by the economic rationalism endemic in ALP governments. They are always on about efficiency and cost. Even Dittmer’s reference to intervention in the economy using QRail was from the perspective of what benefits capitalism not what benefits workers.

Anna Bligh’s Asset sale speech to the conference is at

The ALP conference later voted to support Anna Bligh’s plan to sell-off of public assets with 57% in favour. Her government has already sold Cairns and Mackay airports. Coal terminals Dalrymple Bay and Hay Point are in private hands. The retail sector of the power industry has been sold.

Now the ALP government has decided to sell parts of QRail and more ports. The motion passed by conference included an empty promise to consult with unions. The vote was 209 to 158.

At best, Nev Warburton, ALP leader during the SEQEB dispute, could claim that he was duped when he announced that the lights were to be turned back on in 1985. He did no service to members of his former union by accepting a deal where all he got from government was the right to announce the sell-out on the 6 O’clock news. The Municipal Officiers Association agreed to switch the lights back on and the rest is history.

In future, the ALP conference cannott say they were duped. They have accepted Anna Bligh’s continued sale of public assets in the full knowledge of the consequences outlined at the meeting on the steps of the convention centre yesterday. Also I have the admission of Anna Bligh on the role of Labor governments in selling off public assets. Bligh told the conference the following:

“In 1915 under Premier Ryan, the State owned and ran butchers, sawmills, a cattle stations, hotels, fisheries and coal mines.
In 1926, Labor Premier William McCormack began a program of selling these entities.
That process continued through to 1929 – and was completed by the incoming conservatives.”  — Anna Bligh speaking to ALP conference 7 June 2009.

The government claim that the ports and QRail are debt laden. Yet government has made no attempt to impose a wealth tax to pay off the debts they allege. The government is mired in economic rationalisations that make no sense. Where is the sense in selling assets at the bottom of the market, unless you want to line the pockets of the wealthy?

Public assets are not the ALP government’s to sell, they were created over generations by workers in Queensland; they were created and built on Aboriginal land that was stolen by the colonisers. In private hands,  they may only serve to make more profits for the rich.

As history shows, only unemployment can come out of the systemic failure capitalism when it privatises public assets.

The following resolution, carried by a Brisbane general meeting of the Queensland branch of the Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) on 27 August 1935, might serve to remind us that other workers have walked this road before us. The resolution was moved by Comrade Origlasso (yes, none other than Comrade Nick, later to become Australia’s best known Trotskyist ironworker and municipal councillor). It can be found in the BL’s records in Fryer Library at University of Queensland:

“That recognising the fundamental cause of unemployment is the private ownership of the means of production by a numerically small class and that consequently the onus of maintaining the unemployed workers rests with this class, we call on the Government to abolish the Unemployment Relief Tax on the workers and to provide the unemployed with a decent standard of living from the revenue raised by imposing a steeply graded tax on incomes over 500 [pounds] per year (including bondholders interest).”

So who will look after the unemployed when government is bankrupted by selling off its rich cash cows like QRail and the ports?

It certainly won’t be the wealthy.

Ian Curr
June 2009

Notes & References

Dawn to Dusk – reminiscences of a rebel by Ernie Lane was first published in 1939 and reprinted by LeftPress in 1992.

AMWU = Australian Manufacturing Workers Union

RTBU = Rail, Tram & Bus Union

Click here to download & listen to the ALP President, Andrew Dittmer, speaking to the assembled unionists outside the ALP conference in Brisbane

More photos at Looking Left from Ted Riethmuller.

Queensland Building Worker, 1934-1938; Members register; cash book, 1911-1930; contribution book, 1910-c1924; Executive minutes, 1928-1970; history of the Building Trades Award (State), 1919-?. Thanks to Jeff Rickett for the quote from the BLF minutes of 1935. These records are held in the Fryer library at University of Qld St Lucia.

Queensland Building Worker, 1934-1938; Members register; cash book, 1911-1930; contribution book, 1910-c1924; Executive minutes, 1928-1970; history of the Building Trades Award (State), 1919-?.

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