The Bligh State Labor Government in Queensland is set to sell off $15 billion worth of public assets. The Government claims that with most of their trading partners in recession, they need to raise billions of dollars in order to maintain government services and their AAA credit rating.
The vast majority of Queenslanders oppose the plan which would include the sell off of Queensland Rail and the port authorities. In fact a recent poll found that Labor’s support has nosedived from 42.2 per cent in March to 36 per cent now. Despite this public opposition, the Labor Party conference held in early June acknowledged that the asset sales would go ahead.
The Queensland Council of Unions has announced a state-wide campaign against the plan but so far nothing in the way of co-ordinated industrial action or mass rallies has been announced.
Even the Deputy leader of the Opposition, Lawrence Springborg, cast scorn on the trade union leaders for not opposing the sell offs strongly enough. Springborg recently said “The unions at the weekend proved themselves to be a gutless bunch of fairies that wilted like a lemon meringue pie as soon as the pressure went on them. Rank and file union members are disgusted in their gutless union leadership that has absolutely rolled over to the Labor Party and put their own self interests first.”
While those who oppose the privatisation would no doubt agree with Springborg’s comments, it has to be said that the Liberal National Party (LNP) opposition are no better than Labor. The LNP would no doubt maintain and extend any privatisations that Labor carried out as they have in other states.
The rationale that the Bligh Government has put forward for wanting to sell the assets is that with falling revenue, they want to be able to continue to pay for government services and to maintain their AAA credit rating. This argument makes no sense.
Firstly in the context of an economic downturn, the returns from the asset sales are going to be much less than what the assets are actually worth. This means private investors will buy at bargain prices and make a fortune selling back services that the public used to own.
While the sales will lead to a one off cash boost to the budget, the money the state collects from taxes on these private companies will be a fraction of what they could generate in public hands. While it may mean that the states credit rating stays in tact, privatisation will not mean more revenue to be spent on government services.
In fact the Government has already announced that side by side with the sell off they are planning cuts. Once any assets are in private hands profits will be put before all else. This will mean further cuts to services, cuts to maintenance and cuts to jobs, wages and conditions.
It is important that rank and file members of the trade unions put pressure on the union leaders to ensure that an effective mass campaign against the plan is carried out. Privatisations can be stopped but not by simply begging the Labor Party for a better deal. A campaign industrial action must be waged in defence of public ownership.
With the Bligh Government making it clear that they represent interests opposed to the majority of ordinary people, the trade unions also need to reassess their support for the Labor Party. Union member’s money would be much better spent opposing Labor rather than propping up a party that wants to sell off the state.