On track for disaster

In a way, you could almost feel sorry for Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh. Almost but not quite . . . for the simple reason that she is the architect of her own demise.

Having decided to flog-off the best elements of the state’s railway assets to partially offset the monstrous debt she has accrued recently, Bligh swapped her customary hardhat for a train driver’s cap, stoked the furnace and tooted her whistle. Despite calls from all sides – including her own staunch union base – to slow down and reconsider leaving the station, Bligh opened the throttle and refused to heed the flashing red warning signals. That she now finds herself in the controlling seat of a runaway train that appears headed for a spectacular wreck sometime in the not too distant future will eventually be seen as the defining moment of her premiership.

Given that the only glimmers of support for her determination to ignore public sentiment come largely from the top end of town who have been photographed grinning uproariously (and rather tactlessly, it must be said) at the expectation of the rich pickings from the share deals that are yet to be done, you have to wonder at her determination to self-destruct. Rather like a heroin addict going back for another injection. Her thought must be: I know this is doing me harm but I can’t help but see it as a way out of my problems. Sadly, her ‘extended family’ (that’s us cannon-fodder voters) are grieving her disconnect with reality. But she won’t listen. It’s the archetypal tale of tragedy: everyone else can see destruction looming but the victim pushes ahead blithely (or is that, Blighly?).

There are many sad aspects to Bligh’s asset sell-off. If nothing else, the fact that she has alienated her own union base of support should have rung alarm bells but with the evil voice of her devoted ‘supporter’, Treasurer Andrew Fraser, urging her ever onwards she threw caution to the winds. Then she decided to create two classes of Queenslanders. She tried to buy support: always a fraught strategy. She offered Queensland Rail staff an entitlement of shares to offset the unstated fear of lessened job security. But it’s an act of stupidity. Every other Queenslander looks at this cosy arrangement and says: Well, we ALL own this state asset that we have paid for with our taxes for generations, why should a select few get a privileged slice of ownership? It’s a fair question and one Anna has ignored. She is no doubt too scared to even debate the issue.

Unfortunately, it is just one of many troubling issues that bedevil this strangely manic policy imperative of a Premier enduring dark days of voter discontent. Like an overboard sailor clutching at any piece of driftwood to come within reach, she has clutched it like salvation. That everyone else can see it is becoming waterlogged and will sink without trace very soon only heightens the sadness of this unbecoming act of a leader who has lost her compass.

You have to imagine that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will feel compelled to come to her aid very soon. The fact he could not call the newly-installed Labor Premier of the major ALP state of New South Wales for several days to welcome her to the fold must surely indicate his frustration at the byzantine antics of his party’s factional warriors. To now find his own home state in almost similar death throes must be galling in the extreme. Yet, given his increasing disconnect with Aussie voters, his ability to help ally Anna must be very much in question. His tacticians must be enduring a deliciously painful choice: do we try to save Anna from almost certain destruction or do we abandon her to try and save ourselves?

These are the issues that will preoccupy Labor from governing well at state and federal levels for the foreseeable future. If the conservative parties do not rise to the challenge of presenting their credentials as alternative governments with the capacity to restore good government at both levels, they do not deserve the electoral victory that now appears increasingly to be within grasp.