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The post-mortem

August 10th, 2012

The Labor Party has released a report on the Queensland election debacle. As far as it goes, it’s quite sensible, dismissing silly chatter about the election strategy and other trivia. The main causes of the disaster are identified as
* Too long in office
* Problems in the health system, particularly the payroll fiasco
* The asset sales

The first two of these can be dealt with pretty quickly. Obviously governments can’t last for ever, but reaching your fifth term is the kind of problem you want. As regards the health bungles, I’m reminded of the PM’s observation in The Dish. It’s accurate, but unhelpful to say that bungles like this are to be avoided if possible.

Finally, there’s the asset sales. The committee, probably wisely, avoids judgement on the merits of the issue, but concludes correctly that the decision to announce the asset sales, shortly after the successful conclusion of an election campaign based on a commitment to public investment was a disaster from which the Bligh government never recovered. The Committee also observes that the government’s defeat was made even worse by the hostile reaction from the party base, including unions. I’m not part of the Labor party base, but I certainly made strong public criticisms of the government’s case for asset sales. Given the scale of the resulting defeat, and the appalling policy decisions being made by the Newman government, it’s worth reassessing that course of action.

As an economist, I try to call the issues as I see them, rather than calculating the political consequences. So, I would certainly have expressed the same views on the bogus case advanced by Andrew Fraseer and the Treasury, even if I thought the result would be to reduce the government’s chances of re-election. But, in other capacities, as a blogger for example, I took a political stance against the government. Was this justified?

At this point, we need to push the analysis a bit further. The announcement of the asset sales was a political disaster for the government (as well as being bad policy in most respects), but it could have been recouped if, at any time in 2009 or 2010, Bligh had changed course and admitted that the policy had not attracted the necessary public support. Under these circumstances, her post-flood surge in popularity might well have been sustained. So, those who attacked the government in this period were in fact throwing a lifeline that, if grasped, could have saved it, or at least, allowed for a respectable showing and a strong basis for attacking the LNP. But that didn’t happen, and there was no way to unsay the valid criticisms that had been made of the government. So, the end result was to turn what would have been a thrashing in any case into a wipeout. Still, I can’t see that there was any reasonable alternative. At least now, there is some basis for a critique of the LNP, which there would not have been if I and others had given the Bligh government a free pass.

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  1. Ikonoclast
    August 12th, 2012 at 06:03 | #1

    I guess there are a few lessons to draw from this.

    1. No matter how bad Labor gets the LIBs and NP are much worse.

    2. Modern Labor itself appears largely unreformable now.

    3. An existing or new party that is Green & Left needs to step up to the plate.

  2. TerjeP
    August 12th, 2012 at 09:43 | #2

    There is already a party that is Green and Left. How would a new one be different?

  3. PeterM
    August 13th, 2012 at 11:21 | #3

    I believe the underlying factor in the last two items on the list, (Health Payroll & Asset sales), have a common under lying root cause. The fact that senior levels of the public sector have been captured by the corporate Merchant Banking and Management Consulting firms with their associated fees and charges. This is why they advised the government to privatise with an eye for the associated advisory fees to their mates (and future employers?). And it is why expensive and inappropriate software architectures involving gold-plating vendors and system integrators were used to generate huge consulting fees for the mates in the consulting industry.

    I believe that Anna Bligh woke up to what was going on very late in her term and was essentially at war with the executive level of the Queensland public service during last year or so of her term. But, she woke up too late to turn thing around. And I think the little piggies with their noses in the Queensland government trough will think all their Xmases have come at once with the new LNP government.

  4. August 13th, 2012 at 11:24 | #4

    Terje @2,

    Given the mis-rule that Australians have suffered from the Federal Government and from all state governments since at least the late 1970′s, any sizable party that was truly green and truly left would have had no trouble in increasing its support over that period that time. The fact that the Greens’ growth in that time has left it with as little representation in our state and Federal parliaments that it now has is a sure indication that they are, in reality, no more green and no more left than the ‘Labor’ Party.

  5. August 13th, 2012 at 12:03 | #5

    John Quiggin writes that he “cannot see that there was any reasonable alternative.” Indeed, there has been so much bulldust in parliament that it has been hard to see anything clearly. I find it sad and interesting, however, to look at how ex Lib-Nat leader John Paul Langbroek did make an apparently serious try to raise parliamentary opposition to the Queensland asset fire sale. The following is a quote from an article published on December 4, 2009 at http://candobetter.net/node/1669:
    “The Queensland Liberal National Party leader, John-Paul Langbroek tried to restore some democracy in Queensland last week. Perhaps it is because his party can see that if democracy is not restored – by restraining the pursuit of the ALP’s private financial power through government – no other political party may ever have a chance to govern again, simply because the ALP has become so rich and its power so far-reaching, and arguably it is less a government than a commercial corporation. Langbroek’s reforming initiatives have taken two forms: 1. to call for a referendum into privatisation and 2. to submit a bill to make inquiries into corrupt systems and specific activities in Queensland. Predictably this bill was killed by the ALP on the 2nd reading.
    See also “Anti-privatisation e-petition calls on Queensland government to resign.”

    Of course, three years later, Langbroek has been removed from Liberal National leadership and there is no danger of Campbell Newman stopping private interests getting hold of state assets. My contention in the article cited above was that Queensland state labor party assets (as differentiated from Queensland state assets) had morphed the ALP into a commercial behemoth rather than a real political party and that this commercial entity, masquerading as a political party, would eventually engulf all political opposition. Perhaps Campbell Newman was the LNP brand’s answer to oblivion, because he has simply taken over Labor management of state assets, with all opposition to privatisation among the Libs or Labor sidelined and no obvious political alternative.

    Could I ask posters here to consider authoring articles and comments for the candobetter site if they would like to broaden their support of arguments against privatisation and for democracy and boost James Sinnamon’s efforts.

  6. mikey
    August 13th, 2012 at 15:38 | #6

    “So, those who attacked the government in this period were in fact throwing a lifeline that, if grasped, could have saved it, or at least, allowed for a respectable showing and a strong basis for attacking the LNP.”

    I disagree, criticism of the Bligh government probably hardened its resolve. Also note this didn’t happen in a vaccum – NSW Labor did the same thing. Looks more like a coordinated strike of suicide. Labor strategists are pushing the party off a cliff, the question is – is it incompetence or is it deliberate? Is privatisation a systemic corruption of both parties?

  7. TerjeP
    August 13th, 2012 at 17:00 | #7

    any sizable party that was truly green and truly left would have had no trouble in increasing its support over that period that time.

    Just keep believing that, but personally I have more faith in the Australian people. The reason we do not have an assendent green left political party is because most people are not so stupid.

  8. August 13th, 2012 at 20:35 | #8

    Mikey, you write that criticism could have afforded the ALP a lifeline and a strong basis for attacking the LNP. Thank you for reminding us that this also happened in NSW, hence your question, is it incompetence or deliberate”? Finally you ask, “Is privatisation a systemic corruption of both parties?”

    Well, I think that it is a case of systemic corruption of both parties. If we start with a theory that money and power objectives guide this odd behaviour, it leads to a conclusion that all major political parties (including the pseudo-green ones) have become primarily vehicles for big business in Australia whilst originally pursuing financial independence.

    Although big money has always sought to influence politics, new imbalances might have started with the refocus from wider social values on to narrow economics after the oil shocks in the 1970s. At first it might have seemed like a sensible political course, but when parties started to professionalise their campaigns and their brands, and looked to funding professional marketing over member participation, the lines must have blurred. The market replaced the electorate.

    Following work done by Steven Mayne, I have found plenty to substantiate the conclusion of systemic corruption in the existence of Labor Resources and Labor Holdings (http://candobetter.net/taxonomy/term/1554) and various commercialised facets like the Progressive Business Association in the Labor party. I assume from the behaviour of the other parties that similar structures dominate them too. One gets the impression that commercial wealth has so taken over as a norm that the people running the parties have lost sight of the original role of these organisations.

    When there was really participation by membership in the ALP, the LNP, the Greens, this was not so possible, but the people in charge of these parties now run them like businesses (Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swann turned the Qld ALP into a big investment business when they were working for Wayne Goss in the late 1980s, it seems) and the factions ignore the membership and broker the actual political policies, such as they are.

    I suppose that, not only have their investment objectives taken over from the original aims of the political parties, but that big business joined up and captured the executives of these parties some time ago. In parliament laws are made now that the public object strongly too but which the mainstream press and commercial peak bodies promote.

    The need to suck up to News Ltd and Fairfax in the absence of a diverse press and on-ground participation reinforces the economic objectives of commercially based power elites.

    So, not suicidal, except if you want to preserve a democratic political system. The parties could now survive without parliament and without the electorate, but simply as financial institutions.

    The systemic corruption (or breakdown of original values and aims to represent) could also be largely an unconscious and inevitable product of corporate capitalism and economic rationalism too, so that these parties are now hardwired or reflex-arced to meet corporate and accountant values and more complex messages simply don’t reach the party-brain, which isn’t as good as it used to be anyhow.

  9. August 14th, 2012 at 13:20 | #9

    Why have the Greens failed to effectively oppose privatisation?

    Terje @ 13 wrote:

    The reason we do not have an ascendant[1] green left political party is because most people are not so stupid.

    (The original copy of this post, linked to above, also includes links to other resources about privatisation.)

    In fact, every opinion poll of which I am aware has, in spite of overwhelming media propaganda in favour of privatisation, shown that the vast majority of Australians oppose privatisation. This puts them, on that issue at least, well to the left of Labor and the Greens, not to mention the Liberals and Nationals. The opinion polls put public opposition to privatisation in the order of 70% to almost 90%, yet not not one amongst the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Labor Party or the Greens have ever put this policy to the voting public at any election in recent years as far as I am aware.[2] Of course his has not stopped governments of both major parties from embarking on privatisation fire sales following the elections.

    I am not aware if public opinion polls have not been taken on other neo-liberal/Shock Doctrine policies such as deregulation, reduction of government services, the sell-off of public land, retrenchment of public servants, union-bashing, war, etc. but I have yet to see evidence that these policies enjoy any more public support than does privatisation. Certainly, if there was fair reporting of these issues, I believe the public would be no less opposed to all of these other facets of neo-liberalism than it is to privatisation.

    So, given that the public is emphatically opposed to privatisation and most probably equally opposed to the other pro-corporate policies mentioned above, why have the supposedly left wing Greens Party failed again and again to effectively campaign against privatisation and neo-liberalism in general in any elections that I have observed in recent years, particularly in the 2009 and 2012 Queensland state elections?

    Footnotes

    [1] I have assumed that ‘assendent’ is a misspelling.

    [2] From my recollection, the Labor Party went to the 2004 election opposed to privatisation, but that did not form a major component of that campaign. Curiously, more Liberal and National Party candidates, including Barnaby Joyce spoke against the privatisation of Telstra than for its privatisation in that campaign. John Howard, himself, barely mentioned privatisation during the campaign except on about two occasions when questioned by the press about it. In September 2005 Senator Barnaby Joyce broke his 2004 election promise and voted for full privatisation thereby enabling passage of the legislation. Labor also decided quietly to retrospectively support privatisation and abandon its commitment to repeal the privatisation legislation.

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