Tasmania’s public services are being eroded by the ideological fixation on austerity and privatisation. Successive Governments have used every tool at their disposal to chip away at public services, as well as to isolate and undermine the workers who deliver them. The increasing abuse of Government Businesses is a prime example.
Instead of using GBEs for the purpose they were brought into existence—”to maximise value for the State, with regard to the economic and social objectives … [and] to fulfil the State’s community service obligations,”1 they’re being used to create a one-way slippery slope to privatisation.
In 2021 TasTAFE became Tasmania’s latest Government Business, operating under the TasTAFE (Skills and Training Business) Act 2021. Compare the above objective with the justification given by Peter Gutwein in his 2021 State of the State Address for removing TasTAFE from the State Service: “We need … a provider that looks more like and operates more like the businesses it serves.” It’s a chilling phrase, but an honest reflection of this Government’s priorities. Tasmania’s social and economic objectives should be far greater than simply serving business.
Muddying the lines between public and private makes future attempts to further carve up and sell off those services easier to get away with – we’ve seen it countless times in attempts to sell off public utilities and services. It also enables Ministers to distance themselves from accountability for the cost of underservicing or other failures.
We see this disdain for transparency and public accountability further reflected in the Government’s move to outsource Racing Stewards at the Office of Racing Integrity to TasRacing – the very body it exists to regulate. Everywhere you look, regulators intended to maintain probity and integrity to protect the public are either being hamstrung (like our State Ombudsman) or handed off to allow businesses complete control over how their industries operate.
The carve up of public services also runs against our public sector’s greatest strength – our unity. TasTAFE and other GBEs are isolated from the combined strength of more than 32,000 public sector workers: 32,000 opportunities for knowledge sharing, transfer of skills and expertise through redeployment and mobility.
It also isolates the workers affected from the protection of having those tens of thousands of workers by their side. Like TasTAFE, the newly established statutory authority Stadiums Tasmania will operate under the employer-friendly Fair Work system from inception.
Time and time again we’ve heard claims that corporatising public services and selling off public assets frees up ‘efficiencies’ and resources to be invested where they’re most needed. In reality, we get nothing. Or worse: not only is it used as a tool to drive down wages and conditions, we’re left to pick up the pieces (and the bill) when the private sector fails to deliver critical services and has to be bailed out.
The public interest, not profit, should come first in any decision about the future of public services in Tasmania. That’s why it’s up to us to push for an end to privatisation, outsourcing, and erosion of public assets for private profit.