Queensland leader's first Budget cuts

By Greg Ansley

Queensland leader's first Budget cuts deep with public sector workers bearing brunt.

Unions claim 10,000 public-sector jobs have gone since March. Photo / Doug Sherring
Unions claim 10,000 public-sector jobs have gone since March. Photo / Doug Sherring

This morning Queenslanders will begin to digest the reality of the new conservative Liberal National Government they overwhelmingly voted into office last March, and the priorities of Premier Campbell Newman.

These include the sacking of thousands of public servants, deep spending cuts, higher royalties for miners now slashing their workforces, and an air of austerity for a state Newman once compared to Spain.

Newman's focus, underscored yesterday in his first Budget, is the shedding of debt to return Queensland to surplus within three years, regardless of widespread anger and pain already directed at the Government by voters, commentators and unions.

Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan is warning that what Newman does to his home state - where Labor risks devastation at next year's election - will be a harbinger of what the nation can expect if Opposition leader Tony Abbott wins power.

Anger at the Budget and earlier moves has largely fallen on the shoulders of Newman, the former Lord Mayor of Brisbane who broke Labor's 18-year grip on the state. The Liberal National Party won 78 of 89 seats in the Queensland Parliament.

Polls show voters are already having second thoughts, about the Premier if not the Government.

The most recent Morgan poll showed that while Labor has narrowed the gap by about 3 per cent since the election, the LNP still holds a crushing 60.5-39.5 per cent lead in the two-party preferred vote.

A Galaxy poll in the Courier-Mail also said the Government's primary vote had barely been dented since the LNP took office.

But the polls showed significant unhappiness with Newman.

An APN poll found two-thirds of voters thought the Government's performance was below expectations, 68 per cent described Newman as "arrogant" - including 42 per cent of LNP voters - and 56 per cent thought his Government would be worse for regional and rural Queensland.

Galaxy said one voter in two was "unimpressed" with Newman and that dissatisfaction with the Premier had soared from 19 per cent to 49 per cent.

Yesterday's Budget will provide his critics with more heavy ammunition.

Included in it was confirmation of massive public-sector job losses - albeit capped at 14,000 rather than a previous target of 20,000 - increased royalties for miners, and changes to first-home buyers' grants. Although increasing the grant for new homes to A$15,000 ($18,274), the previous A$7000 grant for existing properties has been scrapped in a move that has been widely criticised.

Newman will come under attack for his hewing of the public service and the imposition of higher mining royalties, both coming on top of thousands of jobs already axed since the election, cutbacks by miners, and statewide unemployment that remains higher than the national average.

This week mining giants BHP Billiton and Xstrata announced almost 1000 jobs would be cut from their Queensland coalmining operations because of rising costs and the strength of the Australian dollar.

About 3000 casual and fixed-term appointments and hundreds of community sector employees were lost in cutbacks to the health sector in June.

Critics have slammed Newman for slashing these jobs while promoting an A$800 million boost to the state's health budget, including higher travel subsidies for patients.

The basis for Newman's slash-and-burn tactics has also come under fire.

His policy was based on an audit headed by former federal Liberal Treasurer Peter Costello, which has since been criticised as "political manoeuvring" and "misleading" by prominent academics.

The State Public Sector Union has also launched a constitutional challenge to new industrial laws that underpinned the cuts.

- NZ Herald

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