Bathing in sanctimony


2013-04-24 04.49.50 amNICK CATER

The Australian 21 January 2015


OUTNUMBERED in Queensland’s parliament by more than eight members to one, it’s been a struggle for Annastacia Palaszczuk to get through the working day, let alone build a coherent policy platform.

“There must be a better way,” the Labor leader told parliament just before Christmas. “I know that there is a better way, and I’m going to find that better way.”

With 11 days until the Queensland election, Palaszczuk’s better way is still a work in progress. The eclectic odds and ends listed under “Labor’s 2015 Election Policies” on Palaszczuk’s website reflect a party unable to disown the Beattie/Bligh legacy and lacking the fortitude to move on.

The last Labor administration increased government spending by 6 per cent a year. Palaszczuk’s government, if voters so decide, will pick up where Anna Bligh and Peter Beattie left off, transferring yet more money from the private to the public sector. There will be 2500 more teachers at a cost of $140 million and 400 more nurses “to work with patients, assisting them to navigate from their referring GP through hospital-based care and back home again”. Labor will “create” 543 full-time construction jobs and 1000 support jobs in Townsville by building a $100 million football stadium.

When it comes to warm and fuzzy causes, Palaszczuk’s position is crystal clear. She is passionately in favour. She wants to stop breeders being mean to puppies, create “the knowledge-based economy of the future” and declare “a world surfing reserve” on the Gold Coast. Most of all, she wants to save the Great Barrier Reef.

The campaign to make Labor the party that supports coral and brightly coloured fish is as absurd as it is disingenuous. Palaszczuk has pledged to stop dredging spoil being dumped in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, but how is another question. The High Court’s December 1975 ruling on Gough Whitlam’s Seas and Submerged Lands Act locates the continental shelf under commonwealth, not state, jurisdiction. In any case, since Tony Abbott’s government promises to introduce its own legislation to that effect, Palaszczuk’s gesture is pure moral posturing. Ditto her plan to spend $100 million doing something to “save” the reef.

The Newman and Abbott governments have worked assiduously to protect coral from its most immediate enemy, the venomous crown of thorns starfish that has been steadily devouring the coral. Divers are paid to inject the starfish one by one with a newly developed saline-based solution that causes them to disintegrate within 24 hours. Millions of dollars have been pumped into a program to reduce outflows of farm run-off.

Yet Labor is investing heavily to build its reputation as the saviour of the reef, guessing that it will play well in the gentrified suburbs of Brisbane, including Ashgrove, where the Premier is struggling to retain his seat. It is a dangerous game that obliges Labor to enter a shadow alliance with ecological warriors who want to destroy the state’s coal industry, and much more besides.

Beattie and Bligh, despite their thriftless habits, understood that wealth had to be created, not just redistributed. They recognised that Queensland was sitting on some of the greatest untapped coal reserves in the world, allocating tenements in the Galilee Basin and announcing plans to expand the coal terminal at Abbot Point.

In June 2011, Bligh announced a $6.2 billion expansion, with a capacity to ship almost 300 million tonnes a year. Six months later, she went further, announcing that Abbot Point would be supersized to a $9 billion project producing 400 billion tonnes of coal and loading 1300 ships a year.

The Labor government in Canberra bent over backwards to help, making 33 of the 34 approval decisions the development needed. Infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese told the ABC it was one of the best industrial developments he had ever seen.

The election of Campbell Newman and of Tony Abbott in Canberra provided the opportunity for sober reassessment. Newman declared Bligh’s supersized terminal as “a complete mess” and set about scaling it back. There would be two new wharves rather than six, and the project would be closely monitored to relieve UNESCO’s concerns about its effect on the reef 80km offshore.

The amount of sand to be dredged was reduced from 38 cubic metres to 1.7m cubic metres, roughly a twentieth of the size. Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt and his Queensland counterpart Andrew Powell went further, insisting that the dredged sand should not be dumped in the marine park but onshore, within the perimeters of the port. That, after all, was what the environmentalists said they wanted.

Yet in the devious, dissembling and deceitful world of ecological activism, none of that made any difference. The activists are not in the business of compromise; conservative governments consist of sinners, not saints.

And so, having restored some sense of proportion to Labor’s adventurous plans for Abbot Point, Newman finds himself portrayed as the villain in a mendacious television advertisement commissioned by Get Up.

“Our reef has suffered enough at the hands of the Newman government,” reads an emailed appeal for donations sent by the GetUp! team on Saturday. “It’s time to fight back …

“Our testing shows that delivering these key messages about what the Newman government is doing to the reef makes voters’ blood boil … every ad spot we’re able to buy has vote-changing, election-changing potential, including the potential to dislodge Premier Newman from his own seat.”

Palaszczuk would be naive to imagine the GetUp! mob are her friends or that they have the interests of Queensland at heart. They are ideologues who seek not to participate in the political process but to take it over, imposing their illiberal, anti-corporate, anti-­industrial agenda by any means.

A premier who heeded their siren song would risk turning Queensland into the Tasmania of the north, a place where the residents of La La Land go for a sunshine break.

If Palaszczuk understands politics, and the price Labor inevitably pays for siding with the Greens, she should repudiate GetUp! ’s unscrupulous campaign and throw her full support behind the Abbot Point redevelopment and the rail link to the Galilee Basin.

Palaszczuk would do well to reacquaint herself of the words of her predecessor. “Investment of this magnitude will drive an enormous economic surge through north Queensland,” Ms Bligh said in 2012. She was not wrong.