Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has launched an avalanche of cuts and an ideological offensive aimed at moulding the state of Queensland in the neo-liberal image.
The breadth of the cuts is staggering. At least 7000 public servants have been sacked already (maybe more). The community sector is now also in the firing line. Organisations with a record of speaking out for those they represent were the first to go.
Cuts to the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC), with two years to run on its funding agreement, combined with watering down civil unions and the attempt to ban surrogacy for same-sex couples points to who the LNP is targeting.
At least 70 per cent of Indigenous health programs have been cut alongside Sisters Inside and the Tenants Advocacy and Advisory Service (TAAS), which is funded by bond interest not taxes.
There will also be an attempt to sell government owned caravan parks which provide low income housing, mainly to older pensioners pushed out of the rental market.
Even the initially supportive Murdoch tabloid The Courier-Mail has called on Newman to stop appeasing the, “vocal libertarian cheer squad for any regime that delivers smaller government” and focus on how to “deliver services for its constituency.”
Is there a debt crisis?
The short answer is no. The LNP government has repeated over and over that unless action is taken the state will be $100 billion dollars in debt. This figure is the projected debt figure for 2018-19 from the Queensland Commission of Audit’s (QCA) Interim Report.
The report averaged out Labor spending over the last ten years and simply projected the same spending for the next seven years. But this includes funds from the 2008 federal stimulus package and federal grants for rebuilding after the floods and Cyclone Yasi.
Treasury estimates incorporating Labor’s cuts in spending over the last two years (through asset sales and the sacking of 5000 public servants) actually had the budget in operating surplus by 2014-15.
The QCA Interim Report lists actual state debt for the 2010-11 financial year at just over $41 billion compared to total net worth of $171 billion.
In the same year Queensland recorded a small operating deficit of $1.5 billion, in the wake of an economic crisis and natural disasters.
The report, produced by a taskforce headed by former Howard government Treasurer Peter Costello, is a document specifically designed to create an atmosphere of crisis where there is none.
While most financial, government and political commentators assert we must pay down debt, they miss the point of the Commission of Audit and the strategy of the Newman Government.
The attempt by the QCA Interim Report to use ratings agencies to create a sense of crisis is one such example.
The downgrading of Queensland Government bonds to AA+ status by Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s is referred to often in the report and the need to restore a AAA+ rating is central to the objectives of the cuts.
Yet these are the same agencies which until the 2008 crisis graded the US subprime mortgage backed securities as AAA+.
The spectre of ratings agencies also points to the influence of unelected neo-liberal institutions on public finances and the use of their ratings as ideological propaganda to justify cuts to the public sector.
This is being done to pursue a class project to further shift the burden of paying for the services we receive onto the working class, and marks a dramatic escalation of the neo-liberal project in Queensland.