Meg Hill

Meg Hill

Meg Hill is a student, commencing first year studies of Law/Arts in 2015 in Brisbane, and an aspiring freelance journalist from the Northern Rivers of NSW.
Meg Hill

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Meg Hill


Right now I am caught in a gap, an unfamiliar, vacuum-life period of time that began when I finished high school in the Northern Rivers of NSW and will end, hopefully, when I move interstate to Queensland and start university. I already know I am heading into a new life, one in which my financial security and future is at the mercy of the Federal Government’s university deregulation, as well as their changes to welfare and benefit eligibility for young people, but what kind of state atmosphere am I heading into? The Queensland State Election was announced on January 7th to proceed on January 31st, and despite the fact that I will not be able to vote in this election (not only because I will not have moved interstate by that date but because I will also still be underage), I found myself unnerved at the revelation that I knew quite little about the affairs of a State I would soon reside in. What I knew revolved mostly around issues with The Great Barrier Reef and dredging, draconian sounding laws legislated to combat bikie gangs, privatization and references to Joh Bjelke-Peterson. Not quite the utopian image. So I decided took a deeper look at what the two possible outcomes for the election – Campbell Newman and the LNP or Annastacia Palaszczuk and Labor – might mean for Queensland on these particular issues.

To a startling low level of surprise – none, to be exact – I found that the threat to the natural environment of Queensland did not start, or end, with dredging in The Great Barrier Reef. Other prominent issues include sand mining on Stradbroke Island, the struggle to preserve Queensland’s Northern rainforests, the sprawling Coal Seam Gas industry and the dismantling of Labor’s Wild River Legislation, to name a few. Although I think most people might easily assume that Newman’s policies would worsen the environmental outlook on all these issues, here is a small taste tester: Before being elected Premier, Newman promised voters that he would keep Labor’s Vegetation Management Act unchanged, before then breaking that promise by amending the Act so that it released its protection of around two million hectares of Queensland bush land. In another instance, Newman pointed to his father’s role in ending sand mining on Fraser Island to defend his environmental record (I previously wasn’t aware that we could inherent the good deeds of our ancestors) before gladly taking a $90, 000 political donation from sand-mining company Sibelco and subsequently passing legislation which would allow for an extension of the company’s mining contract on Stradroke Island. Different Island, different issue, right?

As for Labor, on the issue of the Great Barrier Reef, Palaszczuk has just pledged $100m to protect the site, and in November of last year promised to ban the dumping of dredge soil on the reef. So there’s a start, but the opposition leader has had very little to say about the devastation of Stradbroke’s delicate ecosystem, the preservation of Queensland’s dwindling rain forests, the effect of CSG on either the environment, agriculture or land rights, or the ruins of her predecessors legislation.

The deafening silence, or barely discussed acceptance, of Queensland Labor on the Coal Seam Gas industry is particularly hard for me to swallow. My local area, The Northern Rivers of NSW, is one of the most decisively anti-CSG regions of Australia. Lismore, the region’s center, has around an 87{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} disapproval rate of the industry. Other areas of the region, such as Byron Bay, the Channon, Nimbin and Mullumbimby, have disapproval figures from around 97{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} to over 99{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3}. There are more conservative areas, such as Casino and Ballina, but even here there is still a majority disapproval rate. Last year, Coal Seam Gas mining company Metgasco tried to pursuit a drilling opportunity in Bentley, around a 10 minutes drive from Lismore. A blockade manned by a few dedicated protestors sprung up on the property, who’s owner actually resided hundreds of kilometers away and therefore would not have to suffer the potential consequences of the CSG industry on the region. As news spread, and more and more locals became aware of a threat to the water supply and environment so close to the ‘heart’ of their region, the camp grew monumentally, with thousands visiting the make shift tent city each week. After a number of months, the State Government suspended Metgasco’s drilling license on the grounds of insufficient community consultation. Not long after, the local Labor representatives – many of whom had actually visited the camp at Bentley – announced an entirely anti-CSG policy for the elective. After watching my own community fight for their right to reject CSG around their own homes, the prospect of moving into a State increasingly under the thumb of the industry is not on my ‘be-excited-to-move-interstate’ list. Especially so since I’d prefer not have my water supply flammable or radioactive, my electricity supply falsely classed as sustainable, or the largest artesian basin in the world be rendered useless.

Being met with a disappointing outlook on the environment, I looked into the small matter of free association and free speech. The LNP’s anti-bikie legislature introduced last year brought in an array of new laws whilst also adjusting pre-existing ones. These sought to do a number of things, including banning members and ‘associates’ of ‘criminal organisations’ from working in tattoo parlours, banning any recruitment to these criminal organisations, increasing police powers in relation to impoundment of vehicles and the harshening of bail laws for members of said criminal organisations. The laws I find most alarming, however, are those that allow police to search without a warrant (is this not always alarming?) and that classify the assembly of three or more members of a ‘criminal gang’ as a criminal offence. For the latter, for all I can tell, there is very little actually defining of what a ‘criminal gang’ is and the trajectory of these police powers seem almost open to interpretation, at least for the police. And, since Newman’s Government took power in 2011, there are more police around to bang their heads together and (loosely) interpret the law together. In 2012 Campbell promised 1100 additional officers for Queensland’s frontline by 2016.  Extending police powers whilst simultaneously bumping up recruitment seems like a step slightly tinged with totalitarianism if you ask me. In any case, many recent actions of the Queensland police have attracted some unwanted attention, from an exceedingly large presence at the recent schoolies events, a man arrested for wearing a t-shirt, to the physical abuse of a disabled man.

Although Palaszczuk has publicly scrutinised the anti-bikie laws, they have generally received support from Labor and the leader has made no real commitment to repeal or amend the laws if she wins the upcoming election.  I find this disappointing because at the moment no matter which way Queensland votes the over-reaching and unnecessary laws will remain in place. Labor did, however, vow to restore the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) to its previous form. The Commission was responsible for investigating MPs and anonymous complaints until it was stripped of these powers by the Newman government, who also did some tweaking to its level of independence. This is where the comparisons between Newman and Joh Bjelke-Peterson become apparent. Bjelke-Peterson, the former Queensland Premier, had his, and his Government’s, severe level of corruption exposed after a referral to the CCC’s predecessor, the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC)

So far you might be thinking that the election is complicated, and that to make sure your vote ends up where you really want it you might need to do some careful consideration on a few key factors. But, alas, as I noticed the other day when, by chance, I tuned in to the background noise of my television at the exact moment that one of the most misleading simplifications of the year so far came fumbling out, the election is simply a “referendum on privatisation”. What a great way to spin a complicated, multi-faceted choice as a simple yes or no to one of the largest debates in modern politics. This “referendum on privatisation” has basically been brought about by Newman and the LNP promising a 500 million dollar duplicate of the Sunshine Coast rail line funded by privatising state assets such as energy companies Ergon Energy, Egernex and Powerlink plus the ports of Gladstone and Townsville. These are excellent developments for all Queenslanders if you ask Newman. However, Some calculations diametrically place these privatisations in the ‘extremely bad’ category for Queensland families, stating that they will result in $1000 extra taxes annually for families. In addition, if you were going to revert to the referendum simplification, there is certainly no shortage of criticism of privatisation in the general debate. Some say it is good for the economy, leads to increased efficiency and a lack of political interference (is this really a good thing?). Others say that the same reason for this efficiency – private companies having their foremost duty to delivering profits to shareholders and needing to cut costs – leads to worst service and potential danger, higher costs for customers, worse conditions for employees and natural monopolies of industries. In my view, I’d rather my public assets remained public.

Whilst I am finding it hard to paint a clear picture of Labor’s vision for Queensland based on their rather vague, or just plain mundane, stances on these issues, I am finding it even harder to swallow the picture clearly painted by the LNP. Destructed environment, contaminated water, militant police, corruption and corporate power come together ominously in the picture of Queensland’s future.