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The Queensland Election: the prospect of a Labor loss surprizes no one

by Dave Riley

Except for a two year blip in 1996/1998, the Australian Labor Party has ruled Queensland for the past twenty years. After thirty two years of successive conservative Coalition governments, Labor was elected in the landslide of 1989.

But at the state election on March 21st Labor may again find itself in opposition.

This prospect surprises no one. While the merger between the Liberal and National Parties in July last year has given the opposition the appearance of a united front, the newly formed Liberal National Party is offering the electorate budget cuts and job shedding. That the LNP could win government with such a platform promise, suggests the level of cynicism Labor has earnt over the past 20 years.

Arrogant, committed to doing as little as possible, and allowing state infrastructure to run down in the name of balanced budgets, Labor’s collapsing fortunes were registered by the broad opposition to the Traveston Crossing Dam.

One of its parliamentarians, Ronan Lee, even left the party over the issue and is now standing as a Greens candidate.

But Traviston -- on the Mary River near Maryborough, south of Fraser Island -- was one issue of a broader crisis that was engulfing the state. Labor’s twenty years in government coincided with a massive rise in Queensland’s population, driven primarily by interstate migration. While the flow north is currently running at around 25,000 a year, it has been 50,000 and higher some years with most of this migration settling in the South East corner.

Labor’s complaint has always been that this ‘invasion’ was over-stressing state resources, but seldom were there concerted efforts made to plan for or fund the restructuring required. Private development was always encouraged in preference to government run projects . The real estate market and building industry boomed. A corporate agenda was pursued as successive government sectors primed their activities for privatisation. In 2007 retail of electricity and gas in south-east Queensland was opened up to free market competition. Even major road building projects such as the Gateway Bridge across the mouth of the Brisbane River, the Gateway and the Logan Motorways are owned and managed by a public company, Queensland Motorways, set up by the state government.

But when the 2003 drought failed to lift and urban areas in the south east began to run out of water , building a shallow dam on the Mary River and water recycling were the government’s preferred quick fixes.

While Labor’s neoliberal preferences in Queensland match the ALP’s agenda in other states, electoral opposition from the left has always been muted. Partly because there is only one chamber in state parliament, the Queensland Greens did not gain representation there until Lee joined them in October last year.

Nonetheless, One Nation -- the right wing populist party formed around Pauline Hansen -- won 22.7% of the vote and 11 of the 89 seats at the 1998 state election. One Nation’s phenomenal growth reflected not only a distaste for Labor in the regions, but a general dissatisfaction with the National and Liberal parties as well. The recent formation of the LNP is an indication that the dissipated One Nation vote which had later gone to Labor, may now be harnessed to sponsor a conservative resurgence buoyed up by a general backlash against the ALP.

This is why Anna Bligh, the state premier, has called the election early. The driving force behind the Queensland economy has for decades been the mining sector. The state is the largest exporter of coal in the world and the crash in global steel production is punishing Queensland hard as it flows on to components such as metallurgical coal, nickel and zinc.

But since 3,000 Queensland based mining jobs have been axed already in 2009 it was clear that the world wide recession had descended on the state and the longer Bligh waited to go to the polls the worse the news would become. Two weeks after the election was called the Bank of Queensland announced it was sacking 10 percent of its workforce.

While the Greens are fielding over eighty candidates, their overwhelming focus is on the seat of Indooroopilly which is currently held by Ronan Lee. They have agreed to give preferences to Labor in 14 seats, in return for support for Lee. The Socialist Alliance is standing in two seats. Mike Crook in Sandgate and Sam Watson in South Brisbane. In both seats the Alliance is preferencing the Greens ahead of the ALP. You can volunteer to help the Socialist Alliance campaign by phoning 3831 2644/ 0401 234610 or by visiting www.socialist-alliance.org/queensland.

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