Sale of coal, rail, forests, roads and ports is an industrial issue

Sale of Queensland’s coal, rail, forests, roads and ports is an industrial issue.

It determines who will be in control of the workplace.

When Federal Labor and Liberal governments sold Telstra thousands of worthwhile productive jobs were lost. The American CEOs stripped the company of its heart and soul, the workers that provided communications across this country, by mail with the PMG and by copper wire with Telecom and then by optic fibre with Telstra. They were sold out by governments that did not recognise that it was their responsibility to manage Telstra and, in doing so, to provide services to people. This is the role of government.

The Electrical Trades Union in Qld, recognising this, has threatened strikes to stop the sale of Queensland Rail and the Port of Brisbane and Abbotts point and the roads and the forests. But hardly anyone else has joined them. This must change.

“The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) State Executive has this morning, 15 February, expelled two State Labor MPs from the ETU because of their support for the State Government’s asset sale policy, which contravenes ETU policy on the issue…The expulsion ofMr Roberts and Mr O’Brien follows the recent resignations from the ETU of Member for Townsville, Mandy Johnstone, and Member for Barron River, Steve Wettenhall, over the same issue.”— from ETU Press Release 15 February 2010

Nationally, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) has said that it would go on strike if Ark Tribe is jailed by the Australian Building and Construction Comission next week. Good.

But we have heard nothing from Andrew Dettmer (AMWU Qld and state president of the ALP) or Ron Monaghan (Secretary, Qld Council of Unions, QCU) about taking industrial action to stop the sale of Queensland Rail.

This is what Dettmer has to say :

“As part of the Government’s privatisation plans, many rail employees have started to receive offers of employment with QR Passenger Pty Ltd…

Whilst the unions are keen to support their members who want to stay in the public sector, we consider that you need answers to some important questions before you can accept the offers made. ” See

No strikes, no action.

Meanwhile Peter Simpson (ETU State Sec) faces expulsion from the ALP. No public support from Andrew Dettmer, but he has from a lifelong ALP member who says:

“As a lifelong ALP supporter I am ashamed that the party can contemplate expelling a union official from the party for the crime of opposing privatisation… This party was established to provide a political voice for unions & workers. To attempt to silence an official for standing up for workers is a bloody disgrace. Good on you Peter Simpson, you have not forgotten where you have come from, pity I cant say the same for the other gutless sellouts”

It is the Treasurer, Andrew Fraser, and Premier, Anna Bligh, who should be expelled by the Labor Party, they have no mandate from anyone.

  • They told no one of their sellout plans until after the 2009 election
  • Their sell off is against ALP policy
  • They are advised by a bad bunch of economists in Treasury who support outdated and inefficient economics discredited by the global financial crisis.
  • The ALP QLD branch is populated by apparatchiks who do not support worker control.

Two economists, Bob and Betty Con Walker, who made rational arguments against sale of public assets had this to say when NSW Labor tried to sell power stations in 2008:

…electricity assets represent around 21 % of the State’s infrastructure, accumulated by past generations. It’s outrageous that they be sold off without detailed and extensive public debate, and without proper transparent financial analysis -just to provide a war-chest for the next election.”

Their book, ‘Privatisation – sell off or sell out’, was pulped by the ABC – my partner got it at a remainders sale a couple of years ago. This is part of what it says:

“The book’s new introduction points out that proceeds of Australian privatisations over the last 20 years have exceeded $120 billion, of which around $68 billion went to the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Treasury has costed pre-election commitments of the Howard Government at around $64 billion, mainly through tax cuts. In other words, the proceeds of the sale of iconic Commonwealth assets were dissipated in just one election campaign.”

Political Response

The government has got away with murder. The Queensland Council of Unions says that Andrew Fraser began planning the sell off prior to the last election. It began before that. When did they split up Queensland Rail? When did they corporatise QR into profit making freight services and loss making passenger services. They planned to sell the revenue making coal freight services and to keep the loss making passenger and other freight services in public hands. It is not the role of government to privatise profits and socialise losses. Did the Liberals complain? No. Did the Nationals complain? No.

If there was a union backed campaign in railway and working class centre to elect candidates who oppose the sell off the government could lose as many as seven 7 seats to those candidates (in T’vlle, Bowen, Mackay, Rockhampton, Collingwood Park, Brisbane). To those who say that the assets will be sold by then. This is not true because the government is only selling the first tranche of QR National shares in this term. Such a campaign is designed to prevent further sellout.
During the campaign there would have to be an economic argument put along the lines of the attached links (See Queensland Privatisation: Fraser’s Folly and Queensland Asset Sell Offs, Budget Black Holes, Borrowings and Credit Ratings)
The loss of 7 seats to such ‘independent labour’ (putting the ‘u’ back in Labor) candidates would stop the government’s privatisation.
And, till now at least, the union people have lacked the political ability to mount such a campaign.

Ian Curr
October 2010

In whose hands – public or private?
Queensland Rail — in the Public Debt

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