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Queensland: Robbin’ Peter to pay Paul?

You can't make figs blossom and fruit on barren trees
   - Ernie Lane in Dawn to Dusk, reminiscences of a rebel

Annastacia Palaszczuk, on her first overseas trip as Queensland Premier, took a delegation of Queensland business leaders to the Harvard Business School in the US. The reason she gave was this:

“My trade mission will focus on the promotion and expansion of Queensland’s capabilities in a broad range of fields including … mining and energy and resources and increasing trade and investment into our great state,” she said.

An economy based on dragging dirt to the sea, dumping it in ships so that it can be burnt in smelters to provide steel for cars manufactured offshore and to be sold back to us is no economy at all. Nor is the provision of services and commodities to ourselves.

Economics
Economist & blogger, John Quiggin, says that what Treasurer, Curtis Pitt, did in the 2015 Queensland Budget was ‘fiscally responsible’. Professor Quiggin says this because Labor has used revenue from public assets (GOCs* & Superannuation) to help pay down government debt. The professor adds that the alternative:

“Privatisation also makes no difference to the net position, assuming assets are sold at their value in continued public ownership, and the proceeds are used to pay down debt.”

The problem is (no doubt recognised by Prof Quiggin) that if you sell public assets you lose assets that provide revenue to pay debt. Unless you raise taxes, that is. Preferably by taxing rich land owners.

The Queensland government has chosen not to do this. The status quo left by the last government and the one before that … prevails.

Politics
Nor has it chosen to reverse the deranged decision by Curtis Pitt’s predecessors – to sell Queensland Rail whose royalties could have earned the government revenue to pay down more debt.

What I am getting here is this very mindset … it does not matter who people elect to government or who governments pick as ministers and senior bureaucrats; you always get the same market driven good-old-boys and good-old-girls.

Reluctance to recognise damage created by existing energy, water and environmental policies.

Half the 2015 budget goes on roads carrying private trucks and cars. Public transport barely gets a mention. Queensland Rail has been sold. No solutions on that front either.

Caught in the same old financial mire of the market that is producing greater unemployment and reducing the quality of life.

Old people are stuck inside private facilities to look at screens all day, when unemployed people could be employed to look after them in their homes. No, we have to concentrate on the needs of the market, not people.

An international example, it didn’t matter who the people picked to govern in Greece … the troika has forced Syriza to sell $75B (50B Euros) in public assets … SHOCK DOCTRINE a la Naomi Klein. Everyone knows it is wrong … educated Greeks who invented democrarcy, and were made slaves by imperial Rome and now slaves to the troika (IMF & Central Banks).

capital expenditure_Page_3

One quarter of the Queensland capital expense goes on Energy & Water expenditure, nearly half goes on roads.

Q: But who gets it?

Queensland Treasurer, Curtis Pitt:

“The energy and water sector will make capital purchases of $2.423 billion (in 2015) over a range of initiatives to support the Government to deliver cost effective, safe, secure and reliable energy and water supply.”

Public Service
Do Senior Public Servants look at the public interest when they advise government? Where are ministers getting their advice? Who gives it and why?

At the initiative of the Paluszczuk Labor government the Queensland public service is hiring executives direct from the ranks of the biggest beneficiaries of these decisions … e.g. AGL and Tourism sector (AGL is the second oldest company listed on the ASX and one of its second rung executives has been made Director General of Department of Energy & Water).

What are the ethics of advice given to government when previous ministers have ordered these department heads to sack 14,000 public servants? Further politicisation and corporatism in the public service through so-called ‘independent’ selection processes where frank and fearless advice is impossible.

Coal
Are they acting as public servants (cost effective, safe, secure and reliable services to the public) or are they ‘acting’ as company directors (to maximise profit in the private sector) to sell more coal and minerals offshore?

The Queensland government is transferring $10B of debt (liability)** to state owned energy companies (Ergon, Energex and PowerLink) and to public servant superannuation entitlements. Will this hurt those energy companies? will come back to bite the taxpayers in the end … is it robbing Peter to pay Paul?

Or is it the only feasible way to pay down interest debt using a regulated source of income (one of the few not already privatised)?

Clarke & Dawe shed some  light on this question:

Unions
Did the Queensland government get its advice from elsewhere? Did it seek out the unions involved in Labor’s victory? The former leader of the electrical trades union, Dick Williams, is the president of the Labor party in Queensland. Did they ask Dick? United Voice and Together (7) boast many Labor members, did they ask them? I’m sure they will have a whisper in Anastacia’s ear at some point. Not to forget Australia’s Worst Union (AWU).  And, of course, the CFMEU whose members construct the city towers where the CEOs of the corporations and banks make all the real decisions about Queensland’s economy. The parliament reduced to an historical curiosity.

So what is the answer for ordinary people? Go on strike? It is time unions started striking when Labor governments are in control of an economy where unemployment is on the rise and real wages and conditions are falling. Who knows, we might even win a better future!

Here’s another approach:

“… industrial disputes that spread outside the workplace and generalise into a broader form of class struggle; and struggles that emerge outside of the workplace proper and that attempt to block the circulation of capital.” See Dancing in the Dark: social strikes and directional demands, some comments on a debate.

The idea is to make capital irrelevant and to make human labour, in its many forms, more important, more relevant!

Ian Curr
July 2015

* Government owned coroporations … in the example given: Energon and Energex.

** See ‘The Workers Audit‘ to find out where the debt came from.

References

Qld 2015 Budget papers

Balancing the books @ http://johnquiggin.com/2015/07/10/balancing-the-books/#resp

Dancing in the Dark: social strikes and directional demands, some comments on a debate.

Dawn to Dusk by Ernie Lane

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