The real result from the Queensland election is that drovers’ dogs will occupy the Treasury benches for the foreseeable future. There was no government in waiting, just a bunch of kids waiting their turn.
The only bright spots were that Greens and the Palmer United Party did not win any seats. However Clive Palmer did achieve his aim, which was to help bring down the Newman government.
I wrote on January 8, not thinking the LNP could possibly lose, “Should the LNP lose, Queensland and Australia should abandon all hope of rational politics and economic reform.”
The general rule for decades, that Labor spends irresponsibly — Cain-Kirner in Victoria, Brian Burke WA Inc, John Bannon State Bank of South Australia, Beattie-Bligh $80 billion debt in Queensland, Rudd-Swan debt and deficits as far as the eye can see — and is punished with two or more terms in opposition, is defunct. There is now only a one-term penalty for gross mismanagement. Fewer voters displaying blind loyalty to a party, along with the fact a very large proportion of the electorate receives money from government, combine to make reining in debt an electoral fool’s game.
John Hewson offered radical reform from opposition and remained there. John Howard and Bob Hawke offered it from government and prospered. This is no longer likely.
The final result in Queensland could be a draw with two Katters and one independent deciding who should govern. The fact each is opposed to privatisation makes plain that Labor would form government.
That being so, Annastacia Palaszczuk and Jackie Trad as deputy may well be the first female duumvirate in Australian political history. This should, once and for all, kill the last feminist seeking preferment above merit. These two will be judged on their merits, however unfair that judgment may be in the coming months.
If Labor has learned anything from the Gillard minority government experience, Palaszczuk will not sign a deal with any group. There would simply be acknowledgment that supply would be guaranteed to Labor so long as it stuck to the non-privatisation promise.
That Palaszczuk has no credible plan to pay down debt and indeed will further degrade public assets with the planned amalgamation of electricity generators may, fortunately, be blocked by the Australian Consumer & Competition Commission.
What is the Liberal game plan in the new era? Tony Abbott’s address to the National Press Club yesterday was bullish: “that Australia cannot join the ‘weak government’ club”.
Abbott said: “The Australian electors rejected chaos” at the last federal election, but they appear to have embraced it on Saturday in Queensland.
Abbott’s speech was a “gird the loins” rather than a call to arms. The difference is that Abbott is digging in, he knows that he lacks the common touch and indeed common sense in many respects, but there is no doubt in his resolve to do good.
There was a hint of, dare I say, the real Tony, with his plea: “We are on a journey, and we have to succeed.”
He is dead right when he states that “our problem is not that taxes are too low; our problem is that government spending is too high”.
He is also dead right in saying: “We can’t wait for a crisis — like Europe — to address this problem because the solutions then will be much worse than the solutions today.”
So what can the commonwealth do to cut spending?
I offer this cunning plan. Politicians cannot take lollies from voters but they can take them from government.
When the commonwealth sought to open the commonwealth’s workers compensation scheme to national companies the main objection came from state trades hall officials; not so much the ACTU. Why? Because they would miss out on the spoils of committee work, commissions and the like.
It was the spokespeople’s interest, not the workers, that dictated where politics was played.
Translate this observation to the fact the commonwealth funds schools, hospitals and universities, without running any. Should the commonwealth vacate these fields and transfer responsibility to the states and universities with a formula for funds, the spokespeople would scream bloody murder because they are set up to lobby Canberra, not because it may harm their constituency.
There are modest savings to the system from not having federal departments of education and health. The move sends a signal to the states that they are on their own. Give them pocket money and make them, and their electors, grow up.
This article was first published by The Australian.