Adani mine takes centre stage in Queensland poll

The state election on 25 November is poised to shake up Queensland politics, with neither major party likely to win a majority and One Nation polling well.

After ousting the widely despised government of Campbell Newman in 2015, Labor is struggling to maintain its grip on government.

Newman’s Liberal National government savaged community services and cut 14,000 public service jobs. What brought Newman undone was his intention to privatise more state assets, an issue that had sunk the previous Labor government. While Labor under Annastacia Palaszczuk did not promise to restore the LNP job cuts, it took a clear stand against the privatisation of state assets, particularly of the electricity grid.

LNP leader Tim Nicholls, who served as treasurer under Newman, is implicated in his predecessor’s disastrous policies. With this legacy, the LNP is taking a defensive approach, hinting that cuts to the public service are necessary to rein in the state government’s $74 billion debt but refusing to mention the word “cuts”. Instead, it is promising new state infrastructure.

Labor has been running a lacklustre campaign, promising 3,000 new nurses, 400 new police and the continuation of an existing regional infrastructure program. There is also unspoken agreement between the major parties on maintaining Newman’s legacy of attacks on civil liberties, as epitomised by his anti-bikie VLAD laws. The Palaszczuk government has still not abolished the VLAD laws, and has given unprecedented powers to police over the last few years.

The political issue that has dogged both major parties has been the Adani coal mine, set to be built in north Queensland. An ABC poll conducted a few days after the election was called showed opposition to the Adani mine ranked as the most important political issue for nearly 40 percent of respondents, twice that of any other issue, even though every party except the Greens backs the mine.

Palaszczuk has been dogged by anti-Adani protesters. The proposed mine would produce more carbon emissions than New Zealand. To top off this unprecedented environmental destruction, the federal government is set to offer a concessional $1 billion loan to Adani through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund. Despite it being a federal loan, the Queensland government has a veto over whether it goes ahead.

Facing this pressure, on 3 November Palaszczuk announced that Labor would not support the loan, though Labor continues to support the mine going ahead. The LNP has indicated that, if elected, it will support the loan. Labor is hoping to neutralise what looked to be an explosive issue in the campaign, while refusing to take decisive action to stop the mine by revoking Adani’s licence.

While Adani is the major issue, One Nation remains popular in Queensland, polling 18 percent. It is predicted to pick up regional Queensland seats and is running on a grab bag of classic populist tropes, such as citizen-initiated referenda and reducing the number of parliamentary seats. While its racism has not been front and centre in the campaign, if One Nation can cement itself as a force on a state level, it will further normalise far right politics.

The Greens are in with a strong chance to pick up a seat in South Brisbane, and are running a surprisingly left wing campaign. Resolutely opposed to the Adani mine, the Greens argue for higher taxes on the mining industry and property developers to raise around $6 billion a year to expand public housing and reduce the price of public transport. A campaign arguing for expanding public services to benefit working class people at the expense of big business is something not seen in Queensland for many years.

Despite Labor’s cynical manoeuvring to placate the intense hostility to the Adani mine, it’s clear that only a strong public campaign and continuing the pressure have any hope of preventing the mine once and for all. Likewise, building principled anti-racist forces will be necessary to confront what will be a strengthened One Nation presence after 25 November.