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States, Meet Anna Bligh

Leonard Gilroy
July 23, 2009, 6:09pm

Following up on this post last month, Anna Bligh, premier of the Australian state of Queensland, is eschewing anti-privatization politics and holding firm on her decision to privatize the Port of Brisbane, Queensland Motorways and three other major state assets to address a A$14 billion budget shortfall over the next several years. Per the Sydney Morning Herald (emphasis mine):

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh will not budge on her decision to sell $15 billion of public assets despite an expected voter backlash at the next election. The Queensland government passed laws in June to allow the sale of assets, including the Port of Brisbane, Queensland Motorways and Queensland Rail's coal freight business.

Results from a union campaign and poll against privatising assets to reduce Queensland's debt have revealed a voter backlash in safe Labor seats.

Ms Bligh said her government had known it could face a backlash at the polls due in 2012. "I accept that my government might not be the government that gets the benefits of this decision but it is the right thing to do to take Queensland forward," she said.

"No other state continues to put taxpayer money into some of these sorts of assets and that means those other states are better equipped to spend money on new hospitals, on new schools and on new roads and that's what I want for Queensland."

She said the sell-off would go ahead because it would reduce Queensland's debt levels and restore its AAA credit rating.

But the usual suspects are already lining up in opposition:

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) is sinking $1 million into a campaign against privatisation which includes placing billboards against the proposal in the electorates of Labor politicians who voted for the sale.

ETU state secretary Peter Simpson said the government had timed the sell-off in the hope voters would forget about the decision before the next election. "The laws have been passed, but they haven't been enacted and our goal in the next two-and-a-half years is to make sure they're not enacted," Mr Simpson said. [...]

The Queensland Council of Unions is also planning a year-long anti-privatisation campaign with details expected to be known after July 28.

The Rail Tram and Bus Union, the Australian Services Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Federated Union Of Locomotive Employees Queensland and the Maritime Union of Australia have been organising meetings and rallies in regional communities.

As I said in my earlier post, U.S. state policymakers should be channeling Premier Bligh and moving to divest themselves of underperforming or non-core government enterprises to help address their ongoing fiscal crises. When revenues are declining and budgets are unraveling, states should be looking to get themselves out of the business of business and take care of first things first.

California, are you listening?

» Reason's Privatization Research and Commentary


Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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