A few years back, before Eddie McQuire said silly, racist stuff on radio, he hosted a rather innovative National IQ Test on, ironically enough, Channel 9, the spiritual home of the idiot box.
Queensland finished at the top, with a slightly higher than average result.
Which was all very confusing, because it didn’t explain Joh Bjelke-Petersen. And Peter Beattie. And the Gold Coast. And, of course, Campbell Newman.
Or maybe Campbell Newman is actually the smartest man in the room? And based on what his party has just tried to pull off, he clearly thinks he is, because he obviously believes that the people who elected him to office are the dumbest folk on the planet.
Yesterday, the Newman Government announced that it had spent all weekend working, while everyone else was getting ready for the footy finals. And what was the fruit of their labour? A decision not to sell off the state’s ports and power stations.
Instead, the LNP will be leasing them.
The plan, loosely speaking, is to cash up Queensland, pay off some debt, and set aside a fund for the next election, then try and buy another term.
Or in Campbell Newman’s words: “This is exciting. It's exciting because today we say very clearly the assets are not for sale, they will be leased….”
Yes. Exciting. A phrase popularized in Queensland by Big Kev, a man who went bankrupt selling toxic, corrosive household cleaners, before dying of morbid obesity.
You can usually tell how bad a government policy is by the intensity of the spin that precedes it. And this press conference was so intense, the only thing missing was Tom Cruise.
In the space of a few minutes, Newman described his idea as “historic”, “momentous”, “fantastic”, “exciting”, “methodical”, “disciplined” and “in-depth”, self-praise apparently being very much a recommendation in Queensland these days.
Newman even dubbed the whole package ‘Smarter Stronger Choices’, theorizing that it’s always best to get the difficult bits out of the way in the title.
The stupidity of the LNP spin on this deal is almost as easy to work out as the math, which I’ll come to in a minute, because the spin is worth dwelling on.
If you lease an asset to someone for 99-years, then, effectively, you sell it. At least that’s what the average Canberra homeowner understands, because that’s how they own their land – on 99-year leases.
The Libs tried this on back in 2006, when Mal Brough (a Queenslander almost but not quite as likeable as Newman) tried to convince Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory that 99-year leases over their land did not amount to a sale. This in a jurisdiction where the average life expectancy for a black male in many communities hovers around the mid-40s.
In any case, here’s an inconvenient truth: possession is indeed nine-tenths of the law, and if you lease something to someone for 99 years, then they own it. Unless you plan to live a very, very long time. Or you’ve already purchased a spot in a cryogenic freezer.
And so that’s the spin out of the way. Now to the math.
Campbell Newman, currently aged 51, will be 150-years-old when the assets he’s planning to lease revert back to public ownership. Even uber-privileged white men from Queensland are not expected to live that long.
So Newman appears to be banking on the fact that he’ll either be long dead before Queenslanders realize they’ve been fleeced, or he’ll be so old and senile that people will take pity on him. In his defence, that did actually work for Joh.
On matters of math, maybe it’s best to defer to the Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls, who explained: "If you lease your house out for a year, you get it back at the end of the day.”
Well, actually, no. You get it back at the end of the year. But either way, Nicholls – clearly a numbers man of some repute – was obviously hoping Queenslanders don’t notice there’s quite a gap between ‘1’ and ‘99’.
And Nicholls would also be hoping they don’t recall what he told Parliament in 2010: “As anyone would know if they had observed the privatisation of assets, a 99-year lease is as good as giving away the farm…”
None of this, of course, factors in what Newman and the LNP are actually trying to lease. And this is where the numbers get really interesting.
• the Ports of Gladstone and Townsville (with the Mt Isa Rail line)
• commercial water pipelines of SunWater
• electricity generators Stanwell Corporation and CS Energy Ltd
• electricity transmission and distribution companies Energex, Ergon and Powerlink
• a range of non-core business activities currently run by the corporations.
Setting aside the conservatives’ unfortunate history with phrases like ‘non-core’, it’s worth noting what some of these assets actually are, and what they do.
The Mt Isa Rail Line is used to move coal, copper, zinc and silver from Mt Isa Mines to Townsville.
Anyone care to guess the predicted life of Mt Isa Mines?
30 years. Sure, keeping the rail line alive for an extra 60-years past its commercial use-by date might seem really ‘exciting’ now, but it probably won’t to shrewd investors in 2044.
Queenslanders might also like to dwell on the actual value of a rail line that hasn’t been used for more than a half a century, when it’s handed back in 2113 (when train technology, of course, will no doubt still be cutting edge).
And then there’s the ‘electricity generators’ owned by the Stanwell Corporation. Anyone care to guess how they generate much of their power?
Coal. A form of electricity generation that isn’t contributing to climate change at all (according to the latest Wikipedia entry updated by a ‘Mr G Hunt from Canberra’) and which is sure to be extremely popular with people living in the ‘Sunshine State’ in another 50 years (the clue is the name folks).
The whole deal is obviously ridiculous. Indeed it’s so ridiculous, that it’s hard to believe anyone would swallow it. If you want to privatize assets, then privatize them. But call it what it is.
Of course, Anna Bligh was annihilated at the last Queensland election for doing exactly that, without first asking the electorate. Hence, Newman, right at the end of his press conference, had this to say: “None of these proposals will be implemented until the Government has received a mandate for this methodical and disciplined plan at the next state election.”
Which could equally be read as, “We think the Queensland electorate is incredibly f**king stupid, but we’re not entirely sure they’re that stupid, so we’ll put it to a vote first.”
If it turns out that Queenslanders are this stupid, then they deserve every little bit of Campbell Newman. Of course, they put him there in the first place, so maybe Newman really is the smartest guy in the room after all.
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