Friday, 1 July 2011

Socialist Alliance responds to harsh Tasmanian budget

The State government budget is outrageous - we need a socially just alternative.
Socialist Alliance members were outraged by the harsh neo-liberal budget handed down by the Tasmanian Labor-Greens government on June 16. The budget slashes a total of $1.4 billion from the public sector over the next four years, including a $100 million cut to health within the next financial year and the closing of 20 schools.

Up to 1700 full-time equivalent jobs will be scrapped, including 100 police jobs. The 5 per cent cap on water price rises was increased to 10 per cent, meaning price rises of up to $100 per quarter for households. Public sector workers will have their pay rises capped at 2 per cent a year, with the possibility of an extra 0.5 per cent through productivity improvements, still well below rising inflation and cost of living increases.

The government has also passed laws to make it easier to sack public servants by limiting the redeployment period from twelve to six months. Both Labor and the Greens gave a public commitment before the last state elections that they would not sack public sector workers.

We are shocked and disappointed that Greens MPs are supporting and actively implementing this agenda. Greens leader and MP Nick McKim said in a media release: “The Greens welcome the move to a new fiscal strategy… [it’s] a welcome change of position from Labor.”

He said that they have “rolled up their sleeves” to take “tough remedial budget action” and they won’t “shirk from this responsibility”. As Education Minister, McKim is now leading the charge to close down 20 public sector schools. “This Labor-Green government has got its priorities all wrong”, said Shaine Stephen, spokesperson for the Socialist Alliance. “The government is punishing ordinary people by slashing into the services we really need.

Nobody believes that you can axe millions of dollars and over a thousand jobs from health, education, police and other services without leading to poorer services.” The Socialist Alliance pledges to stand side-by-side with the communities that are fighting for the survival of their schools.

“The fact that savings from 20 school closures have already been included in the budget suggests that McKim’s pledge to visit those schools and consult with them doesn’t mean much”, Mr Stephen said. “We understand that in some rural areas and tight-knit communities, schools can be the lifeblood and the centre of those communities. Closing them down, against the wishes of teachers, parents and students, could devastate those communities and seriously impair those children’s education. It’s also bad for the health of families and the environment because instead of parents being able to walk their children to school, children will need to travel long distances by road.”

Socialist Alliance also pledges to assist public sector workers and their unions in their fight to protect jobs and services. Rose Matthews, Co-Convener of Hobart Socialist Alliance, said: “We have members working in mental health, acute health, education and child protection and they are saying loud and clear that these services are already struggling. They also worry that the workers left behind won’t be able to deal with the stress of increasing workloads when jobs are cut.”

Ms Matthews continued: “Some people think of the public sector as being full of over-paid department heads and paper-pushing bureaucrats but actually research by Anglicare shows that the increase in public sector job numbers in recent years has been mainly through more dentists, doctors, teachers, ambulance officers, allied health professionals and nurses. We know that grassroots workers will be the ones to face the sack, not the top-levels of the bureaucracy.”

Socialist Alliance also believes that these actions will be bad for the economy. Many economists, including authors of the report by the University of Newcastle’s Centre of Full Employment and Equity commissioned by the unions, say that these cuts will have a negative flow-on effect into the private sector and raise unemployment. Governments need to stimulate the economy by maintaining a strong public sector and investing in jobs, especially in times of economic crisis.

Yet Premier Lara Giddings is too eager to listen to its ex-TCII (Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry) economist who she recruited to be her senior advisor. Roz Madsen from Unions Tasmania pointed out that last year, the state government cut land tax, payroll tax and tax on betting exchanges which led to a reduction of $185 million in government income. The government has also spent taxpayers’ money on propping up Gunns and other favored businesses, with no public benefit.

The Socialist Alliance advocates an alternative approach that protects services and boosts the economy. We call on the government to:
  • End subsidies to Gunns and other private companies (especially when there are no guarantees of long-term jobs)

  • Increase corporate payroll tax

  • Reverse land tax cuts

  • Increase mining royalties significantly from the meager rate of 5.5%

  • Reduce the frivolous budget spent on maintaining a full-time governor and Governor   House

  • Reform forestry – cancel native forest logging permits to big companies like Gunns without compensation and instead seek to maximize the carbon storage and tourism value of our forests while supporting a transition for workers into a small-scale value-adding timber industry.

  • Charge market rates to the three big corporate electricity users instead of selling our electricity to them at below-cost

  • Tax the excess gaming profits made by Federal Hotels (which according to Greg James on Tasmanian Times, amounts to $225 million per annum)

  • Take action to recoup the $721,000 owed to the government by the Walker Corporation for planning costs associated with their failed Ralph’s Bay marina application

  • Return water and sewerage to council control

  • Reduce parliamentary and top-bureaucrat perks, privileges, superannuation and wages

  • Invest in rail, renewable energy, national parks and public housing, going into debt in the short-term if necessary, in order to stimulate jobs and the economy

  • Boost grassroots professional jobs in essential services like health, mental health, education, child protection, ambulance services etc to meet the needs of all Tasmanians

  •                                                                                                                                                               For more information: Shaine Stephen: 0422 849 641, Rose Matthews: 0407 550 805

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