I've been back three days. Time to get down to the forthcoming Queensland election (31 Jan).
It's being called a snap election, which roughly translated means Campbell Newman was scrambling to catch everyone out. January is big-holiday time here: even state schools don't resume until the end of the month. He hoped the small Opposition team wouldn't be prepared. More significantly, he knows he is likely to be in deep water once the Senate enquiry into Certain Aspects of Queensland Government Administration related to Commonwealth Government Affairs kicks off in March, when the election was expected. The polls were more or less neck and neck when he took the plunge, but a lot can happen in two weeks and two days.
The bribery of voters is manifold: a youth employment scheme in Newman's constituency of Ashgrove if the people elect him rather than the more personable previous incumbent Kate Jones; a railway duplication for commuters north of Brisbane; and bottleneck-easing where the Gateway and Pacific motorways merge. Labor has promised more teachers; and a five-year programme to resuscitate the Great Barrier Reef. And all the photo-ops, complete with hard hats and high-vis vests; the awkward embraces of reluctant infants; or the obligatory nodding-party-faithful backdrop to the announcer of inducements.
What about the issues? As soon as the date was announced, The Guardian predicted: 'Queensland election: all about the environment, bikies and privatisation'. I wish. The environment bit, I mean. I sit here wearing my Bimblebox T-shirt as I write, willing Queenslanders to wake up to the continued trashing of their landscape.
So many issues are not being addressed. Why are vital Artesian aquifers and unique remnant ecosystems being put at risk by the proposed development of nine mega mines in the Galilee Basin of Central Queensland (not to mention the argument for leaving this coal in the ground)? Why are coal ports already being expanded for the export of the products of mines whose economic viability is seriously in doubt and which are nowhere near being operational? How will the decline of the Reef be arrested not only to keep UNESCO happy but also befit Australia's global responsibility for this natural wonder? Why aren't coal trains covered as they pass within a kilometre of 40,000 schoolchildren in Brisbane's southern suburbs? Why isn't renewable energy policy at the top of an urgent list of action on carbon emissions reduction? Why have sand mining operations on North Stradbroke Island been expanded, not wound down (see here)? How will the Channel Country's ephemeral water courses be protected and Cape York's wild rivers remain untamed? Who will reduce the percentage of land under mining leases and gazetteer new national parks instead? Who will ensure the safety of coal seam gas extraction and prevent its further encroachment on prime agricultural land?
Many Queenslanders will list the cost of living – Queensland has the most expensive rego (car registration) and petrol, for example – the management of the economy and jobs creation as the biggest issues of the election. If you've been impressed by claims that Queensland's economy has been strengthened over the last three years then you had better read this. Perhaps you should also be sceptical of numerous promises of vast numbers of new jobs – see here – and be generally wary of weasel words, doublespeak and the selective use of statistics.
There's no economic policy as yet from Labor. The last-minute appearance of meat on bare bones seems to be a feature of electioneering here. Tony Abbott did the same during the Federal election campaign in 2013. Did he reveal his economic intentions at all, in fact? My memory fails me, but it matters not, because he had reneged on many pre-election promises by budget time. Its unpopularity is one reason Campbell Newman doesn't want the PM coming up from Canberra to join the LNP campaign trail in Queensland.
And then there are the subjects no pollie, whatever their colour, thinks they can risk. Such as billions of dollars' worth of subsidies to the mining industry, see here, although not everyone agrees with these findings. A good example of this was last November's announcement of the Newman government's Infrastructure Enabling Agreement with Indian coal company Adani to build a rail line linking the Carmichael mine to Abbot Point port, see here. The removal of such subsidies might help to reduce the state's debt, I think. As would raising taxes. Queenslanders pay less tax than in any other state, but woe betide anyone who suggests an increase. Even though, in the state government's Strong Choices questionnaire, people said they would rather see taxes raised than assets sold. 'As a State we have always been proud of our low tax regime, which encourages interstate and international investment,' they cry. They should cease bleating about the debt if they're not prepared to discuss the most obvious yet more radical solutions.
I can't vote in the state election. Neither can my friend, despite paying a lot of tax over the last five years. In Australia you have to vote, by law (and you have to be enrolled to vote). It's your choice to embrace your responsibility, or be a donkey (ranking candidates in the order they appear on the ballot paper rather than according to your preferences) or an 'informal' voter (spoiling your ballot paper or leaving it blank). Accustomed to voter apathy and low turnouts in the UK, I used to think compulsory voting was a good idea, but now I'm not so sure.
Enjoy the rest of the campaign. I'll keep you posted.
This post was last edited on 22 January 2015