Sunday, May 20, 2012

Checks and Balances in a CanDo State.

The State Government, headed by Mr Newman, are proving themselves to be a Government of their word. The problem is, it's not making people very happy.

Prior to the recent State election, the LNP promised one thing above all others. To cut costs, drastically. They promised to reduce Government debt within the first 100 days and as far as I can tell, they didn't promise a whole lot else.

Then the people of this great State voted. They gave the Newman Government a mandate like no other in a landslide victory which effectively gives them no Opposition. The people have spoken.

It appears what they want is no debt. We already know that debt is a death knell for any Government. A sure-fire way to lose, and lose big. There has not been a government in my memory capable of selling debt as a good thing, a necessary thing, a short term issue for long term stability. Government debt is seen as a reflection on a poorly managed economy, driven by an economically disastrous Treasurer. While I personally don't believe our debt was unmanageable or too large, the voters thought otherwise.

So, here we are, two months later. Halfway through the 100 day plan. The first to go was the Premiers Literary Awards. We are now the only State in the country without a Premier award in any form of Literacy. Seems somehow fitting for the 'smart State'.

During the past few weeks we have seen DERM and DEEDI re-shuffled, the Department of Climate Change shut down, green programs axed, pot plants for government offices removed and the beginnings of a fast-track for approvals for mining. That's the environment taken care of.....or not.

We have seen the beginnings of the process to remove Civil Unions (not cost-cutting but a previous promise nonetheless), removal of all funding for the Department of Healthy Communities, the Sisters Inside program for women in Townsville's prison shut down, no entry to the National Disability Scheme and the removal of the Sentencing Advisory Council. That takes care of all minority groups and mental and physical health advocacy.

Finally, the re-introduction of measures which once formed part of Work Choices. A Bill tabled and passed which gives the Attorney General the power to stop industrial action and the removal of the Queensland Workplace Rights Office. That takes care of the rights of workers.

Halfway through the slash and burn process and almost every facet of society is affected by these changes. Some, like the removal of tea and coffee privileges, are not so important as most government agencies supply their own anyway. Others, like the removal of the Sisters program, are just foolish.

Here's the problem though. This State voted them in. In large numbers. Ergo, the debt has got to go. The real question mark in this entire process, is on the 'where' and the 'why' of the cuts. Is it even necessary to cut funding on such a large scale? No. Does it work when it's actioned in this way? No. It will effectively just move the costs to a different area. When HIV rates rise again, when women return to prison time and time again, when productivity levels drop, when workers have enough and the real strike action begins.....all of those things will cost our Government FAR more than any savings made right now. Is it going to happen anyway? Yes.

Government spending on MP's has just risen dramatically, with the introduction of Legislation which increases numbers on Committee's from 6-8. This effectively gives every MP in the State, a pay rise of at least $8'000. This increase alone would more than pay for the Sister's program, one proven to work and at a grand total of $120'000 per year, a cost saving measure on its own.

Changing the name of Parliamentary Secretaries to Assistant Ministers won't change the fact that the numbers of them rose and the pay rate and perks remain the same. Another increase in costs that is probably not justified.

Here's the real kicker though. If the majority, by a long margin, want costs cut and debt reduced, where should it happen? Is it not likely that it wouldn't matter where the cuts were made, someone would be negatively affected? Is there any single Department, group or service supported by the Qld Government which we could happily live without? Possibly not.

Will we claw our way back into the black and one day soon revisit the programs now lost? Maybe. Should we be continuing to lobby against closure of those which are cost effective and absolutely necessary, like Sisters Inside and the Department of Healthy Communities? Absolutely.

It now falls to us all to advocate on behalf of those who can't. To choose which battles to fight and which to let go of. To be the voice of reason in the midst of the great cash saving 100 day plan.

Anything undertaken on this scale, with such a short time period given, will inevitably swallow some of the most needed programs. Especially if we choose to look at the plan in its entirety and don't look closely at the merits of each program facing the cuts along the way.

A government without inbuilt checks and balances must have a population willing to provide that for them. Loudly if necessary......and it's definitely becoming necessary.

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