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<p>Chris Hyde/Getty</p>

Chris Hyde/Getty

Premier Newman cheers a netball game in Brisbane, June 2012

Jobs Cut? Tick. Arts Cut? Tick. Gay Rights Cut? Tick ... Tick ... Tick ...

Ten things Can-Do Campbell Newman's government already has done, and it's still days before his first Queensland budget, coming September 11.


In March 2012, Queenslanders elected the Liberal National Party with an historic majority. They wanted change, and boy did they get it.

Massive staff cuts, arts programs obliterated, and a controversial stand against disability insurance — those are just some of the decisions that have roiled the state in recent months. Newman cites ballooning debt for most of the cuts, but not all his decisions relate to saving money.

The vote … led federal MP Paul Neville to warn that the party risked being branded “a mob of bigots”.

Recent polls suggest Newman might be going too far, too fast, with his support starting to slide. From a high of 54 per cent in May, his party's primary vote has slipped to 48 per cent, a Galaxy Poll showed.

In the lead-up to the Queensland state budget, due on September 11, the premier has promised more cuts, as part of his plan to pare back $4 billion in spending. Queensland currently has a debt-to-revenue ratio of nearly 15 per cent, which Moody’s said was twice the national average. A commission of audit led by former federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, recently found that the state’s debt could balloon to $100 billion by 2018-19, if it continued on the same spending path.

There's a lot of anxiety about where the guillotine will fall next. In anticipation of those announcements, we've put together a list of his ten most controversial moves so far.

Judge them for yourselves, and let us know if you think we've forgotten anything, put them in the wrong order, or just give us your thoughts on the current tally, at qld@theglobalmail.org.

1. Slashing the Public Service

Depending on who you ask, Newman has sacked between 4,000 and 7,000 workers, and he's previously said that the former Labor government had "employed 20,000 more public servants than the people of Queensland can currently afford".

Over the weekend, Newman seems to have backed off that figure, saying the final tally will be closer to 15,000. (He had also previously said, "all hard-working public servants in Queensland should look forward to a bright and rewarding future with the LNP", as you can see in this video from before the election.)

"Cutting back the public service eclipses everything else," says Dr Rae Wear, senior lecturer in political science at the University of Queensland, who specialises in state politics.

Most who have already lost their jobs were contract staff, whose contracts simply weren't renewed. The Brisbane Times is keeping track of cuts.

Wear says Newman initially focused on behind-the-scenes people, while retaining frontline staff. "But that seems to have changed," she says: Earlier this week, Newman announced that he'd fired 200 health workers, including 45 nurses, but maintained that he was "not cutting frontline services."

Apart from the public servants themselves, how will these cuts affect the people of Queensland?

Time will tell, but Wear says there could be political costs for Newman farther down the track.

"Public servants have a long memory," she says. "There are commentators who claim that Wayne Goss lost power because of the cuts he made to the public service."

2. Not Funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme

In July, Newman announced that his government wouldn't participate in the plan to fund disability insurance for all 420,000 Australians who need it, citing the costs of participating in the scheme.

While it's true that the NDIS is costly — NSW and Victoria have recently promised $35 million and $42 million, respectively, to trial the system — the timing was unfortunate, coming at around the same time as Newman's government pledged $110 million to the state's racing industry.

According to Every Australian Counts, a group that advocates for the NDIS, Queensland's bill would be very high, because the state lags far behind other states and territories when it comes to support for the disabled.

<p>AAP/Dan Peled</p>

AAP/Dan Peled

Public sector workers rally outside Queensland parliament against proposed job cuts, July 2012

A spokesman from the group told The Global Mail that a succession of Labor governments left Queensland's system chronically under-funded, with virtually no respite beds available. To participate in the NDIS, the state would have to contribute enough funds to bring Queensland in line with best practices. Because they have so far to go, Every Australian Counts says Queensland's costs would be relatively high.

Newman, they said, needs to do something to fix it, and they'd like to see him chip in for a trial of the NDIS.

Recently, the Queensland government announced that it will "go it alone" on trialling a different type of system to provide disability support. Newman says the trial will enable Queensland to transition into the NDIS by 2018, but the state still won't be contributing funds towards the federal scheme.

3. Defunding the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities

Back in May, Queensland's Health Minister, Lawrence Springborg, decided to strip $2.6 million in annual funding from the sole organisation in the state that focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and support for gays and lesbians.

"We were effectively told via the Sunday papers that we have been defunded, and it was only confirmed officially a few days later," says Michael Scott, acting executive director of the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities, the body that ran the program. "Staff were given three months to complete their positions, and that ended in mid-August."

Scott says the funding amounted to 85 per cent of his annual budget.

Now, the organisation that was established 28 years ago to combat the AIDS crisis, is operating with a skeleton staff.

The stated reason for scrapping the funding is that HIV infection rates are rising in Queensland, leading Springborg to say the organisation had lost its way. He also slammed the group for engaging in advocacy, citing lobbying they'd done relating to the age of consent for homosexual intercourse down from 18 to 16, in line with the law governing heterosexual sex in that state.

“Public servants have a long memory. There are commentators who claim that Wayne Goss lost power because of the cuts he made to the public service.”

Scott says his group can't support the community without advocating for their rights.

As an example, he cites the importance of educating doctors about the sensitivities that might surround consultations with men who have sex with men. If a doctor assumes a male patient is heterosexual, the patient might not feel at ease discussing some of the health issues that could be relevant to preventing HIV infection, Scott says. Advocacy allows the organisation to educate doctors on that risk, and help them to better treat patients.

The decision to defund Healthy Communities also sees Queensland scrapping a program that met world's-best practices in how to keep infection rates under control, according to Bill Bowtell, an internationally recognised HIV-policy expert.

"There is only one model that works effectively to keep rates as low as they can be, and that is by utilising the community model and asking the people most at risk of infection to undertake prevention and education services," he says. "If the government can come up with a better model, we'll nominate them for a Nobel Prize. But there isn't a better model."

Bowtell also laments the government's reported decision to revive the famous "Grim Reaper" advertising campaign, which first brought the crisis to the attention of Australia's general public, back in the 1980s.

"I did the old Grim Reaper ads," Bowtell says. "When we put that ad to air, we were talking about an infection that, if people caught it, they were dead within a year. Now HIV infection is treatable and it's a chronic condition. To go back to where we were 20 years ago makes no sense."

While Bowtell commends the Newman government for showing concern about growing infection rates, he warns that new policies must be based on evidence. "If they get this wrong, every additional infection is on their head. And that's a very serious thing."

4. Tenants Services Axed

On July 24, faxes arrived in the 23 offices of the Tenant Advice and Advocacy Service around the state, informing tenants' advocates that their program had been scrapped, and they had three months to wind up their work.

The services, which have been around for more than 20 years, advise tenants on a wide range of issues, according to Penny Carr, co-ordinator of the Tenants' Union of Queensland, one of the TAAS offices. Carr says the TAAS centres received a little more than $6 million a year, which consisted mostly of the interest earned on rental bonds held in escrow accounts.

The TAAS services provided a range of assistance: low-income earners struggling with rent arrears could seek advice on how to rectify that debt. People facing eviction seek information on the best way out, which could also benefit landlords who want to avoid protracted and costly disputes, Carr says.

Last year, 80,000 tenants sought advice from TAAS branches, and Carr says her particular office estimates that one in seven of those were at risk of homelessness.

<p>AAP/Dan Peled</p>

AAP/Dan Peled

Public servant Rowena Wichman rallies outside Queensland parliament, July 2012

She says the cuts are a "false economy".

"Our services deliver a way to keep people in the private rental market. Instead, you're going to have people homeless."

5. Winding Back Surrogacy for Same-Sex Couples

In 2010, Queensland legislated to allow same-sex couples to have children using surrogate birth-mothers. Known as "altruistic surrogacy", the arrangement precludes couples from paying surrogate mothers, other than to cover the reasonable costs associated with a pregnancy.

In June, Campbell Newman confirmed plans to scrap that law.

Winding back rights is an unusual step in developed democracies, as others have noted. Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie didn't respond to our questions on that point, but a spokesman did say that scrapping the law would be in keeping with his party's stated views on allowing same-sex couples to conceive through surrogacy.

“If the government can come up with a better model, we’ll nominate them for a Nobel Prize. But there isn’t a better model.”

In the 2010 debates leading up to the passage of the law, the then-opposition MP Ray Hopper criticised Labor's Bligh government over the move, saying: "This government is pushing for surrogacy to be accepted for many reasons, so same-sex couples can feel good, to gain popularity and in doing so reducing children to the status of pets."

There's no bill yet, and there are signs that the government might be softening its stance on this policy as well. They've given private reassurances to concerned same-sex couples that any changes wouldn't undo parental rights for kids already born under the surrogacy arrangements.

"The government recognises the importance of maintaining the legal protections of both child and parents, in these circumstances," Health Minister Springborg wrote in a July letter to a concerned lesbian couple.

How many people might this affect? It's a bit tricky to measure, since the process of surrogacy takes up to 18 months, according to a Brisbane attorney who helps couples draw up the necessary legal documents.

The final step in that process requires an application to the Family Court to change the birth certificate (swapping the name of the birth mother for the name of the intended parent); the lawyer says she is aware of around seven cases that have proceeded under the new surrogacy laws. A spokeswoman from the Family Court told The Global Mail that they do not track those specific cases, and could not provide a verified number.

We asked Bleijie's office when the government expects to introduce a bill, but didn't hear back.

<p>AAP/John Pryke</p>

AAP/John Pryke

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman in Brisbane, July 2012

Surrogacy wasn't the only target in the Newman government's sites, when it came to rights for gay and lesbian Queenslanders. Also in June, his government surprised both critics and supporters by stripping same-sex couples of the right to undergo a state-sanctioned wedding ceremony, on the basis that the ceremony "mimicked" a marriage.

Critics were shocked at the move, but Newman's supporters — particularly among Christian groups — were disappointed that the new rules stopped short of banning same-sex unions altogether. The new measures preserve the right for same-sex couples to join an official relationship register, without the extra step of a state-sanctioned ceremony.

7. Calls to Cut Abstudy

The Queensland government doesn't control Abstudy, or other federal subsidy programs, but that didn't stop them calling for Abstudy to be abolished.

The vote came at July's Liberal National Party Queensland convention, and led federal MP Paul Neville to warn that the party risked being branded "a mob of bigots".

Abstudy payments are available to Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders who are studying full-time, and meet other needs-based criteria.

According to numbers from the federal Department of Human Services, one of the departments responsible for Abstudy, about 32,500 Australians collected Abstudy payments last year, and 9,000 of those were in Queensland.

For comparison, there are 685,000 recipients of Youth Allowance nationwide, with 62,000 of those in Queensland.

We contacted the federal office of the Liberal Party to ask whether they'd consider cutting Abstudy if they win government, but we didn't hear back.

8. Cuts to The Arts

In a move that many saw as deeply symbolic, one of Newman's earliest official acts was to defund the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards.

“Our services deliver a way to keep people in the private rental market. Instead, you’re going to have people homeless. ”

The state government claimed the move would save taxpayers nearly $245,000 at a time of budget shortfalls, but the arts community was alarmed.

At the time, the head of the Brisbane Writers Festival, Jane O’Hara, said the move "should be a concern for us all", while Michael Gerard Bauer, a former winner of the award, said it was a "backwards step".

Newman has since gone further, also slashing funding to school music programs (as TGM's Stephen Crittenden reported recently).

Queensland writers have rallied, announcing the winners of their own, much more modest, awards, earlier this week. The new awards have been supported through campaigning and fundraising.

Commentators have warned that bleak times lie ahead if Newman's government continues to wind back funding for the arts.

9. Torpedoing Australia's Largest Solar Energy Project

Queensland was to host one of the world's largest solar-and-gas power stations, which supporters said would have supplied energy for 70,000 homes, and employed 400 people.

Announced in June 2011, construction of the Solar Dawn project was scheduled to begin in 2013. The project was to have been a $1.2 billion public-private partnership, with a pledge of $464 million from the federal government.

But in early July, Newman yanked $75 million in state funding, putting the project's future in doubt. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency will determine whether the project can proceed, but the federal government has said it's disappointed in Queensland's decision to pull out.

10. ?

We'd like to hear from you. What policies do you nominate? Winding back environmental legislation? Relaxing gun ownership laws? Other policies we've left out?

Let's hear it. Send emails to qld@theglobalmail.org or tweet at us @theglobalmail.

Read more Sharona Coutts stories on the agonising questions posed by one-punch homicides, the gilded trail of Gina Rinehart's lobbying largesse and, in NSW environmental legislation, the loopholes large enough to fit a coal mine through.

12 comments on this story
by Michael in Hobart

Tony Abbott must be having sleepless nights as Campbell Newman sabotages his 2013 ambitions.

September 6, 2012 @ 8:01am
by Vashti Bland

This article does not even question, athough many have, the correctness of the assertion that QLD is in a financial meltdown at all. John Quiggan and others have questioned the report released by Liberal stalwart Peter Costello. This article should link to those contra viewpoints.

September 6, 2012 @ 11:41am
by Paul

And all this on the basis of a report that took a five-year period including the worst drought in recorded history, two major natural disasters and a global financial meltdown as its baseline.

I should point out that Queensland's workforce is about 2,000,000 people, of whom roughly 10% are public servants of one form or another. The key policy plank of the LNP at this point (4% unemployment by 2018) isn't going to be helped by sacking about 1% of the state's workforce in their first year.

(Also, Jarrod Bleijie's name has an 'e' at the end.)

September 6, 2012 @ 3:51pm
by Sam

Well they are funding a Twitter account which led to a staffer equating paedophilia with homosexuality.

September 6, 2012 @ 4:46pm
by Luke

Having worked in several QLD Govt IT departments over the years I can assure you the treasury figures are reasonable. What worries me are two things I am not sure Newman even knows about yet - Inflated government owned property prices and Debts leant and/or guaranteed to Govt Owned Corporations. Both of these turn up on the Assets side and make the state out to be in far better condition then it actualy is. For instance the QLD Rail sale I think was on the books at about 12 bil and sold for 7bil.

Anyway good luck to him, personally I think he has done a hard and thankless job quickly and fairly cleanly. We have to live within our means.

September 6, 2012 @ 4:55pm
by Catherine

I have been a Liberal Party voter all my life. I will never vote for them again. I stand to lose my home if I am axed and will have to go onto Newstart. Campbell Newman has "little man's syndrome". The public servants who are being dumped are not those that are being paid the big bucks - they are the numbers that will just look good on paper - the lowest paid and therefore expendable. Nothing of substance. How about middle managers who are promoted on the basis of who they know, not how they can do the job. They will be the ones protected by the managers who put them there in the first place.

September 6, 2012 @ 5:36pm
by Evan Atlantis

This report highlights the flawed austerity approach to managing the Queensland economy by the premier, which is in line with and neo-conservative capitalist theory. Responsible tax reform such as increasing personal income tax and repealing middle class welfare and tax subsidies to mining and unsustainable manufacturing industries would allow the government to increase health and education services, creating even more jobs for Queenslanders. See Mike Seccombe’s fascinating report on philosopher John Ralston Saul.

September 6, 2012 @ 10:07pm
by christy mcguire

A couple of policy decisions I would have put in the top 10 include the defunding of Sister’s Inside’s program supporting women in prison in Townsville – support services to the most disadvantaged and marginalised people in Queensland i.e. criminalised, mostly Aboriginal, many illiterate, women. And cuts to the Skilling Queenslanders for Work supporting tens of thousands of people a year to get employment, and in the process generating over $1 billion in tax receipts for Queensland over the next 8 years.
I’m also with Vashti – some alternative analysis of the State’s finances would have been useful. While discussed across the net in various forums, the most troubling aspects of the LNP’s approach haven’t yet been picked up by any of the major media sources. With the help of Costello’s rather hastily put together (and very expensive) audit report, the new government is using the popularist rhetoric of ‘cleaning up the public service’ and ‘preventing the State from going broke’ to sell what they clearly think is a much less politically-palatable agenda i.e. further selling off and privatisation of State assets and businesses and greatly reducing funding to all aspects of social care including education and health systems. In short, the LNP are hoping to fundamentally change the role of government in Queensland.
That’s all very well, but in the interests of democracy the LNP needs to come clean with the voting citizens of Queensland. If Newman and the LNP believe that the State has no role in supporting the needs of those that are struggling financially or socially, and if they want to fundamentally change the role of government to one that is primarily supports business interests (important but not everything), and if they really believe that a healthy economy has a goal other than creating a just and equitable society, then they ought to say so. So that Queenslanders can decide for themselves. One of the most disturbing aspects of what is happening in Queensland is it currently stands, is that Campbell Newman and the LNP are assuming that Queenslanders are ill-informed, disinterested and not-quite-bright-enough to see a broader political agenda. How about an article looking at some of these critical issues?

September 6, 2012 @ 10:24pm
by John

Joh Bjelke-Peterson lives on in Queensland. What retrogressive steps... As a socially progressive Australian, it's going to be a while before I'll feel like spending my holiday dollars in that state.

September 7, 2012 @ 12:14am
Show previous 9 comments
by John

Is there any truth to the rumour that Campbell Newman is planning to set up a human safari park where visitors can see the newly unemployed, arts workers and gays and lesbians, not to mention indigenous Australians and environmentalists, in a park-like setting?

Seriously though, many people from NSW and Victoria are thoroughly sick of Queensland politicians constantly talking about how great their economy is doing, whilst simultaneously claiming a disproportionately high share of GST pool funds.

September 8, 2012 @ 12:37am
by Ashley

"Peter Costello, recently found that the state’s debt could balloon to $100 billion by 2018-19, if it continued on the same spending path."

And if I continue to accelerate away from a traffic light at my usual rate I will be travelling at the speed of light by 2018 too, what an absurd statement and why would it be included in an article trying to investigate the matter.

I think there is little doubt that the cuts in Queensland are being driven by political dogma and not economic necessity as has been shown by a number of independent sources, the Global Mail staff included. This is an incredibly retrograde government reflective of all things bad with past National Party governments in Queensland, including the ridiculous statements to the press. The Treasurer said recently the cuts would be reduced from 20,000 to 14,000 because of tens of millions of additional savings found, including "double sided photocopying and printing procedures", come back Vince Lester, all it forgiven.

The ultimate insult in that in 5 years under the stewardship of Newman the Brisbane City Council, a local government with over a million people, went from 6% of rateable income to service debt to over 24% and continuing to rise. That is a "Spanish" result Mr Newman.

September 11, 2012 @ 10:57am
by DJ N-Town

I didn't know there was an "AIDS crisis" in Queensland?

January 16, 2013 @ 3:28pm
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