The popularity of Queensland’s Bligh Labor government remains at rock bottom. Not only has Bligh alienated working class voters with her decision to privatise $15 billion worth of public assets, but there is a real stench of corruption around the government.
One former minister, Gordon Nuttall, was recently jailed for seven years after receiving 35 unexplained payments totaling nearly $300,000 from coal magnate Ken Talbot.
This conviction prompted the renowned anti Bjelke-Petersen corruption fighter Tony Fitzgerald to warn that Queensland was returning to its “dark past” where access can “be purchased” and where “retired politicians exploit their connections to obtain ‘success fees.’”
Fitzgerald was referring to the likes of former Deputy Premier Jim Elder who now heads a lobbing company Enhance which boasts it “assists clients to align their commercial and business objectives with Government priorities and policy.”
One of Enhance’s clients recently received a windfall when their land was rezoned to be included into the development area described by the Southeast Queensland Regional Plan—even though it had been excluded in an earlier draft.
Other former ministers with questionable relationships with the corporate sector are Terry Mackenroth and Keith De Lacy, while the former MP Mike Kaiser—who was forced to resign after being implicated in branch stacking and electoral fraud—is now back working on Anna Bligh’s staff.
Bligh’s dispute with Queensland’s teachers, too, isn’t making her popular (see report p27). They are demanding wage increases that would give them parity with teachers in other states, but Bligh has gone so far to use Industrial Relations Commission to outlaw their industrial action.
It was only in March that Bligh scored a convincing win in the state election. Her slide in the polls adds to the woes for Labor at a state level, having lost the WA election last year and looking seriously in trouble in NSW.
This is a far cry from the situation in 2007—when Labor had a stranglehold on power in every state and territory. Bligh’s troubles show that if Labor continues to pursue pro-business policies like privatisation and public sector austerity its slide will continue.
While unions at times have been openly critical of Bligh and prepared to mobilise, at other times they pull their punches.
If a consistent left alternative isn’t built, it will be the conservatives who benefit from her demise.
By Mark Gillespie