This weekend's Stafford by-election distills all that is wrong with the shambolic Queensland political scene right now, writes Alex McKean.
THE STAFFORD BY-ELECTION, to be held this Saturday (19 July 2014) is a microcosm for the current dysfunctional political scene in Queensland.
The LNP government is deeply unpopular, having squandered a massive lead in the polls from March 2012. One of the factors which may be driving public dissatisfaction involves allegations about cash-for-legislation deals with the mining industry.
One such deal appears to involve Sibelco, the Belgian company conducting sand-mining on Stradbroke Island, made an undisclosed donation of $90,000, paying for a misleading letter-writing campaign directed at Premier Newman’s electorate of Ashgrove.
In short order, the Newman government passed legislation, apparently drafted by Sibelco, allowing an extension of sand mining from 2019 until 2035, provided Sibelco applies for renewal in 2019, and enriching Sibelco by $1.5 billion. Sibelco has now been referred to the Crime and Corruption Commission by the ALP for investigation.*
Another suspicious deal involves Karreman Quarries, owned by one of Queensland’s richest men, which donated $75,000 to the LNP coffers. An investigation into the legality of Karreman’s mining activities in the Upper Brisbane River had produced evidence sufficient to found a prosecution.
The Deputy Premier met with the investigating body and soon afterwards legislation was passed which, retrospectively, declared Karreman’s activities to be legal, and ‘to always have been legal’.
Perhaps more disturbing than these examples are indications that donors to the Newman Government can have the benefit of legislation not being passed which might conflict with their interests. This is of particular concern where the policy position excludes such alternatives, undesirable from the donor’s point of view, which are based on scientific research and would be of significant benefit to public safety and the State Budget.
Dr Anthony Lynham the ALP candidate in Stafford, is a well-known maxillofacial surgeon. He has been a vocal advocate for law reform to prevent alcohol-fuelled violence and the subsequent preventable injuries he is called upon to repair.
Dr Lynham has pointed out that 75 per cent of the assault cases he is called on to repair are due to alcohol-fuelled violence and the theatre time required to work on these cases takes time from other surgical lists, increasing waiting times.
One of the strategies Dr Lynham has called for is closing down clubs two hours earlier.
The evidence in support of reduction of alcohol-fuelled violence from earlier closing times is compelling.
In 2008, the city of Newcastle implemented a suite of changes with 3.30am closing times and 1.30am lockouts, along with restrictions on service of shots and other high alcohol volume drinks after 10.00pm, as well as restrictions on stockpiling of drinks by patrons.
By September 2013, Newcastle local area commander, Superintendent John Gralton reported there had been a reduction of reported assaults of 33 per cent since the changes were introduced in 2008. This is consistent with the findings of research conducted into the Newcastle changes and reviews of scientific literature worldwide since 1965.
Research published in March 2014 showed the one-third drop in assaults in Newcastle was being sustained.
Results of a study conducted in Norway, published in 2012, showed assaults increased by 16% for every hour trading of licensed premises was extended.
The Newman Government is set to introduce a suite of changes it says are designed to curb excessive alcohol consumption and associated violence. Instead of opting for reductions in trading hours, the Premier has reached for ineffective measures not based on any evidence, including a particular favorite of this regime — extremely harsh mandatory penalties for certain offences.
The Premier cast the debate as a choice between the alternatives of restricting trading hours or introducing tougher penalties.
He said that, if drinking hours were restricted, everyone who goes out late at night would be punished, adding that:
"It is authoritarian, in my view, to make laws that penalise the many for the sins of the few."
This Government has had no qualms about introducing harsh laws penalising all members of a number of motorcycle clubs on the basis of the sins of a few members of some of those clubs.
No cogent reason has been advanced by the government for rejecting the evidence-based approach that has so clearly produced results in Newcastle. It has, however, been revealed that the Australian Hotels Association, the peak lobby group for licensed premises, recently donated $372,500 to the Queensland branch of the LNP.
The people of Queensland are poorly served by a Government which prefers the profits of licensed premises over the safety and wellbeing of citizens, the longer wait for surgery created by operating theatres tied up while surgeons repair the victims of the carnage, and the significant impost on the budget created by the consequences of alcohol-fuelled violence.
* Editor's note: A previous version of this article inadvertently omitted the following important words from this sentence: 'provided Sibelco applies for renewal in 2019'.
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