The Guardian January 31, 2001


State elections: Showdown time in Qld and the West

Voters go to the polls for state elections in Western Australia on 
February 10, and in Queensland a week later. In recent months the 
governments of both States have been dogged by scandal.

In Queensland the revelations of ALP pre-selection vote rorting, its 
flirtation with legal changes which resembled the Howard Government's 
infamous Wik legislation, and its passive acceptance of devastating 
agribusiness land clearance, have all done severe damage to the Party's 
electoral chances.

The Liberal Court Government in WA has been subjected to international 
criticism for its mandatory sentencing policies, and its savage attack on 
the rights of working people caused widespread industrial action.

During its two successive periods in office the Court Government has sold 
off the former state assets of Alinta Gas, Bankwest, the Bunbury-Dampier 
gas pipeline, Healthcare Linen, the State Printing Service, SGIO and 
Westrail.

These sales yielded some $5 billion, which was used to pay of part of the 
state's $6 billion debt, but which also contributed to a rise in 
unemployment, and of course robbed the State of a considerable source of 
income.

As a result, the debt has almost returned to its original figure, and the 
WA economy is expected to experience a series of budget deficits rising to 
some $531 million in four years time.

The Court Government has also been rocked by the recent revelations of huge 
financial losses experienced by many elderly West Australians who, with the 
enthusiastic support of the Government, invested in a series of disastrous 
finance broking deals.

Neither the Liberals not the ALP have paid much attention to the current 
Nurses dispute, which has revealed a critical shortage of resources in the 
State's public hospital system.

So how will the opposition fare in each state?

In Western Australia the ALP's chances of re-election may not have been 
helped by the announcement of its intention to immediately cease all 
logging in old growth forests if it wins power.

It's certainly true that the rapid depletion of the world's forests 
desperately needs to be checked. (Logging is said to be proceeding at ten 
times the rate at which the forests as a whole can reproduce)

However, this is not the only issue involved, a reduction in logging should 
be done in such a way that those who depend on the forests for their 
livelihood are not impoverished.

This could be done, for example, by the phasing out of logging for 
woodchips while simultaneously developing alternative employment programs 
for timber workers in affected areas, for example in the development of 
timber plantations to replace previously logged timber stocks.

However, this would require great initiative and strict government control. 
The conservatives would never adopt such an approach, nor does the ALP 
appear willing to do so.

The Queensland Coalition has taken great delight in the public humiliation 
of the ALP over the pre-selection vote rorting affairs.

However, the Liberals themselves are at considerable risk of similar 
revelations, for example in the Queensland federal seat of Ryan, for which 
a by-election must soon be held, there are widespread rumours of local 
Liberal Party branch stacking.

The indications are that the Queensland Coalition is unlikely to derive 
much benefit from the Beattie Government's electoral woes.

It appears that the voting public is finding it more difficult than ever to 
differentiate between the policies of the ALP and the Coalition.

So will the voters opt to support candidates other than those representing 
the major parties? And if so, will these be left or progressive candidates? 
The ultra right is gearing up for battle.

The City and Country Coalition (CCA  a reactionary offshoot of the One 
Nation Party) is advocating the reintroduction of the death penalty.

One Nation is promoting even more draconian policies than the Coalition on 
issues of mandatory sentencing and restricted immigration.

The CCA, which has been virtually ignored by the media, actually has more 
parliamentary seats than One Nation itself, and it is possible that these 
two ultra right organisations could form a coalition with the National 
Party, especially if the Liberals lose even more seats than at present.

The State elections will therefore be of critical importance at a state 
level, and will also be of major importance in the

national political arena, as they will be a crucial pointer to the timing, 
conduct and outcome of the imminent Federal election.

In WA the CPA will be advising voters to vote for the Greens and to give 
their preferences to Labor ahead of the Liberals.

In the North Queensland seat of Maranoa the CPA is backing independent 
candidate Barry Gommersall, and elsewhere is expected to also support Green 
candidates with preferences going to Labor ahead of the Liberals.

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