President’s comment : 15 June 2012

For whom does the bell toll?

Today’s release of the interim report of the Queensland Commission of Audit brought the expected dire analysis of the state’s finances – and tolled some ominous warning bells for those delivering the basic services on which Queensland’s well-being and future depend.

Teachers, principals, and all the other staff who keep our schools running throughout Queensland are clearly in the frontline of such service delivery. But the language used in the interim report casts a shadow over the value this Government really puts on their work, and the work of others devoted to serving the Queensland public.

On page 7 of the executive summary, under the previous page’s heading “Lack of effective expenditure restraint” is the following observation.

“In the period 2005-06 to 2007-08 alone (at the time of the Health Action Plan), employee expenses jumped by 40%.

Much of the increase in expenditure was directed at policy objectives, including:

  • child safety services
  • hospital bed numbers
  • increasing wages and conditions for doctors, nurses and clinical staff
  • public transport infrastructure and services
  • disability services
  • introducing a prep year into schooling.”

These would hardly seem to be extravagant spends, yet the context in the report is clearly one of rampant and irresponsible government expenditure.

Already we have seen drastic “savings measures” in cuts to contract staff working behind the scene of service delivery. Despite Government rhetoric, these staff are not “dead wood”, but real people doing valuable work in supporting those – like teachers – who are in face-to-face contact with the Queensland public. Through no fault of their own, but due to the constraints of year-to-year departmental funding arrangements, they did not have permanent positions and have now become economic casualties.

The QTU has been clear in every State Budget submission for decades that Queensland could not remain a low-tax state and deliver high-quality service. The real consequence has been that education workers have been delivering ever more with ever less, at huge cost to their own pockets and their workloads.

The concern now is that this Government, riding high on an election victory based on “cutting the waste”, will start slicing deeper into the funding for critical areas of government spending such as education.

The fact is that you can’t trim any fat from a bare bone.

Kevin Bates