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Enough to make a liberal weep

By David Leyonhjelm - posted Friday, 20 April 2012


The LNP's huge electoral victory in Queensland inevitably comes with high expectations. It was the same in NSW a year earlier, when the Liberal-led coalition swept Labor from office in a comparable landslide.

Yet if NSW is anything to go by, Queenslanders may be in for disappointment. Far from using its sweeping mandate to transform NSW along liberal lines, the O'Farrell government has so far proved to be timid on the economic front and authoritarian on social issues.

A year is obviously not enough to rectify all the problems it inherited, but it is sufficient to signal intentions and show signs of progress. To date, all the signals point to little more than token efforts to address the state's woes. Even the NSW Business Chamber, in an assessment of its first year in government, called for a "more ambitious" reform agenda.

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No Kennett/Stockdale-like privatisations are on the agenda despite inheriting a massive infrastructure backlog that cannot be addressed without selling things the government need not own. There has been little effort to reign in the bloated public service, although there are entire departments and programs that could be abolished to free up funds. In fact the only real changes have been to impose a modest ceiling on public sector salary increases and make it easier to dismiss unattached public servants.

There is also no appetite for major change in health or education. Some authority is being devolved to principals in schools and to local boards in public hospitals, but it is slow and tentative. Against that, another 200 teachers are being recruited to the public payroll and the massive bureaucracies continue to take priority over patients and students.

A proposal to reduce feed-in tariffs for existing solar panels, which would have significantly reduced pressure on electricity prices, was dropped without a fight.

On the social front, there have been changes that reveal a government with no respect for individual liberty.

The anti-bikie legislation, introduced by the previous Labor government and found to be unconstitutional by the High Court, has been reinstated with a few tweaks that the government hopes will ensure it survives any future challenges.

There is now a provision requiring a judge who 'declares' an organisation to give reasons for the declaration, but members of a declared organisation can once again be convicted of a serious offence for simply meeting each other, while the evidence and judge's reasons can remain confidential. Someone could end up spending years in jail without ever knowing why.

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In the same spirit, the law on consorting has been changed to make it an offence to participate in a "criminal group", whether or not you know it is such a group or your involvement contributes to its criminal activities. If you knew the group was criminal and you were "reckless" as to whether your participation contributed to it, the penalty is imprisonment for up to 15 years.

In an attempt to show it is serious about stopping drive-by shootings, the maximum penalty was increased from 14 to 16 years and it has introduced a bill to limit the ability of law-abiding sporting shooters (ie the ones who have licences and don't shoot up houses) to purchase ammunition.

Farmers have been prevented for a further ten years from deciding for themselves whether to grow genetically modified crops. All such crops are exhaustively assessed by the Commonwealth Office of Gene Technology Regulator yet the state government thinks it is competent to evaluate trade implications.

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David Leyonhjelm is Registered Officer of the Liberal Democratic Party.



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David Leyonhjelm is the Liberal Democrat Senator for NSW.

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