The first Liberal government in South Australia for 16 years has delivered its inaugural state budget, and it’s filled with brutal cuts to public services.
Treasurer Rob Lucas is eager to pick up where he left off. He’s infamous for privatising the electricity grid in 1999, a move that led to ballooning power prices, decrepit infrastructure and the energy crisis we’re dealing with today.
His budget will sack more than 5 percent of public sector employees – around 4,000 people. It will cut $900 million from health funding over four years, while medical services such as Pathology SA and SA Medical Imaging will be privatised.
Public housing tenants will be slugged with a $10 a week rent increase and emergency housing services for Indigenous youth will be defunded. Three Service SA shopfronts will close, making essential services harder to access for the state’s poorest.
The TAFE system has been singled out for particularly harsh treatment. During the previous 16 years under Labor there was chronic underfunding of TAFEs, resulting in a crisis in the sector and a decline in course quality. The Liberals have used this as an excuse to sell seven TAFE campuses.
Privatisation of the Adelaide Remand Centre, a prison in the CBD, has provoked the biggest response from the union movement. In a rare event for unionists in South Australia, the prison guards’ union held a stop work for up to 40 hours at the remand centre to oppose the privatisation. And hundreds of guards formed the vast bulk of a union rally held to protest the state budget.
Resistance to cuts and privatisation in South Australia has been almost entirely absent over the past decade and a half. But if the government’s anti-worker agenda is to be halted, the unions will need to mobilise. Not just prison guards but teachers, nurses and other public sector workers will need to walk off the job and protest.
South Australian workers know the price of privatisation. There is the potential to draw on deep community anger against the budget.
The Liberals are gunning for a fight. Now is the time to flex our side’s industrial muscle.