By David Marler @Qldaah
No Fibs Queensland Reporter
31 July 2013
Out of all the Australian states and territories, it is Queensland’s Newman Government that is the most indicative of what an Abbott led Australia might look like.
Welcome to hashtag #Qldpol.
May 17, 2012: New Premier of Queensland Campbell Newman rises and delivers his maiden speech to parliament.Newman is the first Queensland Premier to be elected from outside of the parliament. Astonishingly, he evokes former Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.”His government built this state into an economic powerhouse that led the way for our country for so long,” he tells parliament.
Given this statement and the Fitzgerald Inquiry borne of the Bjelke-Petersen era, had Queensland made a terrible mistake in giving his party of conservatives such a huge majority?
It was the beginning of another tumultuous period in Queensland’s political history. Something had come along and nudged democracy to one side. It was fueled by rankism; that conservative mindset of born to rule and the we know best mentality. It began with the labelling of people belonging to the Labor party or unions as hysterics, fear mongers, thugs and fat cats.
Social media quickly compared Newman to Sir Joh, Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett and Former NSW Premier Nick Greiner. However, what was to come was something Australia hadn’t experienced before. It wasn’t fair to call it fascism but it was close to Thatcherism. It deserved a new name.
In time, it would become known as Newmanism.
The best place to watch it unfold was Twitter hashtag #Qldpol (displayed right). As the Newman Government began to cut services and jobs, the media reports were tweeted into the hashtag within minutes of announcements. It became very similiar to a Meerkat Manor episode in which tweeps called out approaching danger.
Queensland politics is never dull. It’s volatile and parochial. Dynamic and populist. To the rest of Australia, it is the ‘Redneck State’.
A seemingly endless supply of Queensland politicians rise up and spill over the border with their provocative conservative views.
Brisbane Times state political reporter Amy Remeikis described it as the ‘Canberra-can-go-to-hell mentality’.
It’s the big land of the big names. Most famous of all, Kiwi born peanut farmer Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
More recently, Ipswich gave the nation Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party. The party is still in business today.
Queensland has granted the rise of the big hat wearers. Bob Katter and son Rob have arrived with their Katter’s Australia Party brand which consumed the old Queensland Party and its membership.
Billionaire, Clive Palmer has entered the field to play politician with his new Palmer’s United Party.
There is the ever present Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce with his bold statements, now off to unleash himself on the unsuspecting Federal NSW seat of New England.
Observers would be forgiven for thinking that there was no Left side of politics in Queensland.
The Greens can never seem to gain a foothold at a state level. In the Federal senate, Queensland Senator Larissa Waters continues her struggle for The Great Barrier Reef and against CSG mining.
Queensland is also home to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Although, decisions made recently on asylum seeker policy may ask some to question his political view.
With all of this in mind, Queensland seems an odd place for the birth of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) but it is the location of two unique events in history.
However, it wasn’t until 1915 that Thomas Joseph Ryan became Queensland’s first freely elected Labor Premier and only elected Labor leader in the nation.
He became a formidable opponent to Prime Minister Billy Hughes against conscription.
|Under Ryan, those traditional Labor reforms begin to take shape. Industrial relations in the form of the industrial arbitration act. Workplace safety in the form of workers’ compensation act and inspection of machinery and scaffolding act.It was legislation that had never existed in Australia and today is taken for granted. Ryan went on to be re-elected in the 1918 ballot.
In 1919 he stepped down and moved to Federal politics where he was touted as a future Australian Prime Minister.Way before his time, complications from a previous bout of influenza caught up with him and he died on the campaign trail in 1921.
Coincidentally, he passed away at the hospital in Barcaldine.His body was transferred by rail back to Brisbane for burial in Toowong cemetery. Crowds gathered along train stations to mark his passing.
The Ryan reforms had transformed Queensland and the nation. They propelled the progressive movement forward, with the Labor party commanding the majority of state elections up until 1957.
|Fast forward to 1989, the ALP’s Wayne Goss broke the Bjelke-Petersen era on the back of the Fitzgerald Inquiry and the election promise of a ban on uranium mining.
Peater Beattie became the most famous contemporary Queensland Labor Premier. He defeated the Liberal Party and National Party on three occasions, exploiting the disparate nature of their leadership.
Beattie handed over to Anna Bligh and retired undefeated.After the revolving door of different leaders, the Queensland conservatives managed to get their act together and under the leadership of Lawrence Springborg formed one party.Under the banner of the Liberal National Party (LNP), Springborg challenged Bligh at the 2009 election.
Bligh was returned.
However, it was a launching pad for the conservatives. Springborg was replaced by John-Paul Langbroek. In the lead up to the 2012 election, Langbroek was replaced by former Brisbane Mayor, Campbell Newman.
A landslide victory was delivered to the LNP; 78 seats out of the possible 89.
For the first time in Queensland’s history, Newman had been parachuted into state politics from outside of parliament. With no state seat he had been unable to lead his party from the floor of the Queensland parliament.
It seemed a disadvantageous position but one the electorate did not consider.
The LNP had waged a successful campaign against the Bligh Government. It focused on debt and deficit. It demonised Anna Bligh for her lie on asset sales. Just three months into being elected in 2009, Bligh had announced a part asset sale of Queensland rail.It was a fateful decision. An election promise had been broken.
In much the same way as former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was discredited for her statements on the carbon tax, Bligh found herself facing the same smear.
A thief of the people’s assets.
There was also the ugly undercurrent of misogyny. Hard right conservatives could not stand a woman being in charge of the state.
Yet, Bligh had repeatedly proven herself, leading Queensland through two of the worst natural disasters on record.
The Queensland floods of 2010-2011 with an estimated damage bill of $2.38 billion.
A month later, Cyclone Yasi slammed into the northern coast of Queensland and devastated the land to the tune of $3.5 billion.
Bligh was also part of the Beattie Government that saw Cyclone Larry deliver $1.5 billion worth of damage in 2006.
Three of the worst storms in Queensland’s history; all under the governance of the ALP. Total damage $7.38 billion.
It wasn’t fair but politics isn’t about fair. It’s about making the other guy look bad and the LNP exploited the deficit nature of the budgetary position. In so doing, they wiped the electorate’s memory of these natural disasters.
The media lapped it up and replayed the sentiments, sowing them deep into the conscience of the Queensland constituency.
Just as had been the case with Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Bligh’s character was now tarnished beyond repair.
|Government debt and deficit had become interchangeable amongst political speak.As most Australians don’t understand the terms, it leaves the subject of the economy to be exploited by conservatives.
It’s a tactic Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott uses now.
The antithesis of Former Premier Ryan, Campbell Newman had arrived almost a century later and set about undoing a multitude of legislation on the environment (green tape) and industrial relations (red tape).
The Newman Government has two goals. Restore the ‘AAA’ credit rating of the state and deliver a surplus budget. The message it sends to the electorate is that by generating a surplus of funds it will allow the government to ‘pay down the debt it owes’.
Such statements are reciprocated by LNP supporters. You will seem them pop up quite often in #Qldpol. Yet, it displays a distinct ignorance of the government bonds trading market.
Both Newman and Abbott frequently liken government debt and budget deficit to households and business. The promise of lower taxes for households becomes a dangling carrot. Or, as if the surplus money will be returned to households in the same way dividends are returned to shareholders.
Government is neither.
Which begs the question, once Queensland has achieved this surplus what do we do with it?
An indication of what may happen is the establishment of a ‘future fund’. Former Australian Treasurer, Peter Costello talks frequently of placing the surplus from his previous budgets into them.
Newman’s time as Brisbane Lord Mayor may give us an indication of his intentions. He established a future fund managed by the City of Brisbane Investment Corporation (CBIC) and appointed LNP backer, Mark Brodie as chairman.
For the financial year 2011-12 it returned $18.43 million net profit.
However, $3.4 million was used for expenses including director’s fees.
While this may seem like a great idea, as Brisbane council rate rises continue to hit households, it becomes clear that this is taxpayer money not being invested in the community. Instead, the fund manger invests more taxpayer dollars in property markets and the like.
Newman had arrived on a ‘Can Do’ election slogan. However, once in power, he revealed himself to be a ‘Can’t Do’.
He quickly embarked on a program of cost cutting. Both public sector jobs and public services were slashed with very little warning to the people impacted.
All that had been promised by the LNP pre-election was no longer possible.
To reinforce this, the LNP employed Liberal party member and former Australian Treasurer, Peter Costello to deliver an ‘Independent Audit’ into Queensland’s finances.
The report has since been proven false as an audit. One of Queensland’s contemporary economists, Professor John Quiggin of the University of Queensland exposed it for what it was. A repackaged report of existing data from Queensland Treasury which highlighted the worst aspects of the economy.
As news reports of job losses and cutbacks began to flood the online media, it was twitter hashtag #Qldpol that people tuned into. The volume of information was excessive and social media was the only platform that could really handle it all.
Everything from youth cadet programs to funding for fishing clubs. Newman cancelled literary awards and decimated frontline services. Bush hospitals were now at risk of closure and locals found themselves having to rally to save them.
#Qldpol became the portal into an economy plunging headlong into austerity. With Newman’s numbers on the floor, there was no way of resisting his changes.
Legislation changes in Queensland occur rapidly, sometimes overnight and due to its’ unicameral system of parliament. Historically stacked with British aristocracy, the Labor party managed to get the numbers to abolish Queensland’s upper house in 1924.
When it comes to federal politics, how likely is a Tony Abbott led government to replicate a Newman one?
If Australia were to grant Abbott ultimate control of both houses of federal parliament, then there would be no check and balance on any austerity measures he chose to implement.
Abbott is a frequent visitor to Queensland. The two men rarely disagree on policy and never in public.
One area they seem at odds over is indigenous policy. Where Abbott strongly promotes alcohol limitations in communities, Newman doesn’t see why an indigenous person cannot ‘sit on the verandah of their house and enjoy a beer’ like any other Queenslander.
When Newman decided to withdraw all funding from Noel Pearson’s Cape York welfare program, Queensland saw the fastest backflip of the Newman reign.
Pearson had labelled his regime a “cowboy government when it comes to policy.”
By that evening, the decision was dropped. While the Newman government rarely engages in community consultation, it would appear that top down pressure works.
Both Abbott and Opposition Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey have backed Newman’s cuts to services and jobs. Perhaps a model for Coalition policy on small government.
|At the outset, Newman appears friendly and open. However, he does go out of his way to make people dislike him.He can be cruel in his politics.Earlier in the year, as the Coalition began to drop flyers on the numbers of asylum seekers arriving and linking them to the rise of gang culture, Newman joined in with his own dog whistle tweet.As the Coalition letter drops flyers linking asylum seekers to gang crime, Premier Newman chimes in:|
|Recently, as Abbott went on the attack over Prime Minister Rudd’s Papua New Guinea solution for asylum seekers arriving by boat, it was Newman who launched a full on xenophobic attack against the plan.”You can go from PNG into Queensland across the strait in a row boat,” he told the media at the LNP yearly convention.|
|The Torres Strait becomes a body of treacherous water for the non-seafarer. Lives lost in the strait are well documented.He also failed to mention that the current holding centre in PNG, Manus Island, is located on the northern side of the country, not in the Torres Strait.A few days later, Queensland Health Minister, Lawrence Springborg reinforced the message by linking PNG to diseases such as drug resistant tuberculosis. He neglected to mention the 2012 closure of two Qld health run tuberculosis clinics in the Torres Strait.|
|All politicians distort the truth. However, Queensland is seeing this on a new level; a blatant obscuration of the truth which the media has found difficult to challenge.When Abbott endorsed the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Newman begrudgingly joined former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a press conference to sign up.He left the event swiftly, head down not taking any separate questions. It must have been one of the hardest moments of his political career; to sit in a room with a Labor PM and formalise such an agreement. hates Labor, yet it is a core component of Newmanism. When his back is to the wall, most media answers are based around two strategies.1. Labor did it firstor2. Blame LaborHe needs Labor to be the enemy of the Queensland economy. He needs to constantly remind the electorate of Labor failures. A strategy similar to North Korea’s leaders who use the perpetual and imminent fear of invasion to justify decisions to the people.Overall, Newman is a terrible Premier and leader. He will, though, be hailed as a great one amongst the conservatives.He is a successful politician. He is able to deflect media questions and attacks from opponents with an air of knowledge about the subject at hand. He is a tank politician; able to draw fire and take the damage from unpopular government decisions.
Both Newman and Abbott are masters of obscurantism; the darkening or deliberate prevention of the full facts from being aired.
Will Newman get a second term? Perhaps.
Generally, the polls show no great swings against him since the 2012 election. The next one will be fought on asset sales, the very thing that Anna Bligh was publicly crucified for. Newman’s ability to sell the benefits of this to Queensland will be on display.
How long Queensland will tolerate the blame Labor game remains to be seen. Eventually, Newman will paint himself into a corner from which there will be no solid footing upon which to stand.
His eventual demise wont worry him. As he has often stated, “People can judge me at the next election.”
An euphemism perhaps for democracy only occurs once every three years.
As for Tony Abbott, if he is given a mandate to govern the country, the way on reducing the size of government and making drastic cuts will have been paved by Newmanism. Like Newman, he uses the same bold, fear mongering statements to evoke strong emotions in the electorate.
Queensland will be one of the key battlegrounds of the 2013 federal election. It has a history of being a political anvil upon which to hammer out public policy. It’s an unfolding tragedy within a comedy.
You can watch it all unfold through twitter hashtag #Qldpol.
Bring your popcorn.