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A chance for renewal

On 21 March, Queenslanders have a choice between a stale 11-year-old Labor government and the untested Liberal–National opposition led by Lawrence Springborg.

18 March 2009

12:00 AM

18 March 2009

12:00 AM

On 21 March, Queenslanders have a choice between a stale 11-year-old Labor government and the untested Liberal–National opposition led by Lawrence Springborg.

On 21 March, Queenslanders have a choice between a stale 11-year-old Labor government and the untested Liberal–National opposition led by Lawrence Springborg. Premier Bligh called an early election last month to capitalise on Queenslanders’ anxieties about the ‘global financial crisis’, yet the latest polling suggests she may be about to follow in the footsteps of Western Australia’s last Labor premier, Alan Carpenter, who was similarly eager for an early endorsement and is now sitting reflectively on the back bench.

Political contests in Queensland are of national consequence. In the past ten years Queensland’s population has grown significantly faster than that of any other state, surging by 24 per cent to reach almost 4.3 million people in 2008. Its economic efflorescence is equally unmatched: Queensland’s economy has expanded faster than the rest of Australia every year since 1997, and now contributes more than a fifth of our national income. The ‘little colony half the size of Europe’, as the British Foreign Office once described it, has grown up.

We hope Queenslanders eschew the so-called safe option this weekend and usher in a new Liberal–National government. The Labor campaign’s incessant focus on the personable Ms Bligh is intended to distract Queenslanders from her government’s mediocre performance in recent years, and its ludicrous claims about jobs. The number of jobs Ms Bligh has ‘saved’ and is set to ‘create’ is very impressive if true. Labor campaign material notes ‘168,000 jobs have been created since Anna became premier’. Whether the most recent 100,000 jobs her government ‘will create’ are in addition to the 119,000 jobs already promised is anyone’s guess. ‘Anna’ has also prevented and will continue to prevent major earthquakes in Queensland. Someone should tell the Premier that real jobs are not created by government but emerge naturally, free of government ties, and the state’s economic wealth is a direct result of this.

The government’s last-minute plan to subsidise 200,000 solar-powered hot-water systems smacks of desperation and is a policy ripe for corruption and waste. In any case, the environmental cost of manufacturing water systems that recipients are not willing to pay for is likely to exceed their benefits. At least this policy is specific, unlike the government’s $17 billion building plan, an enormous figure that includes all ongoing capital works spending and which, perhaps intentionally, obfuscates what spending is proposed, late, early or routine.

For his part, Mr Springborg has presented a clearly enumerated and relatively modest $700 million programme that entails a sensible reordering of planned public works: public transport in the densely populated south-east is to be put ahead of the contentious Traveston dam, for example.

More impressively, Mr Springborg has had the courage to suggest that the Queensland public service is $1 billion a year too costly. It is axiomatic that the public service presents opportunities to save money, yet he has been savaged by Ms Bligh, who believes ‘it’s the role of government to provide jobs in tough times’.

Finally, the Labor party’s ban on uranium mining in Queensland — a state which possesses huge potential reserves — appears economically short-sighted and unnecessary. Mr Springborg would lift this ban. Ms Bligh is on the record worrying about ‘radioactive material being transported into population centres’. She should tell that to the residents of Sydney’s Lucas Heights, who routinely live through this apparent danger.

While economic prudence favours a change of government at the state level, the case for a Liberal–National Queensland government nationally is overwhelming, as the people of Western Australia have already recognised. A Premier Springborg is far more likely to resist the Rudd government’s misguided and populist attempts to centralise education, health and even law and order in Canberra. A coterie of complaisant state Labor governments only increases the risk that six of Australia’s seven parliaments become dysfunctional and expensive vassals.

Queenslanders wary of change should reflect on the consequences of such trepidation south of the border in 2007. Then, the people of New South Wales re-elected a mediocre if innocuous 12-year-old Labor government. Yet barely two years into its fourth term, a litany of scandal and incompetence brought public opprobrium to unprecedented heights, and even incited calls for the NSW governor to dissolve parliament.

Unless a government is particularly wise, or an opposition especially egregious, it should be removed after 11 years. Certainly neither exception arises in Brisbane today. Power’s ability to corrupt incumbent governments is more insidious at the state level and stronger as their tenure wears on. State politicians deal with the messy minutiae of public services, supporting hundreds of education, health, building and transport companies, not to mention having control of the police forces and the ability to re-zone land for profitable development. The coalface of government offers more opportunity for selective mining.

Queensland will remain the ‘sunshine state’ whoever wins this weekend, but 11 years of Queensland Labor is enough: even Peter Beattie has noted ‘the electorate gives most governments two terms, the third one tends to be truly ugly’. A fifth would not be smart.

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