The Satchel Review - Saturday 15 September 2012

As 2000 teachers, doctors and municipal staff demonstrated against a new round of salary cuts and job losses in Athens, Greece, due to ongoing austerity measures, public servants in Queensland also took to the streets to shout down the State Budget.

In Greece, state funding has been cut by 65 per cent since 2009, according to Christos Kortzidis, mayor of Hellenikon. The government is still in trimming-down mode, most recently announcing US$14 billion ($11.5 billion) worth of cuts to pensions and wages, along with working hours, health and defence, which sparked a protest of 15,000 people in Thessaloniki last Saturday.

On Tuesday, Greek unionists reportedly formed a human chain to block entrance to the Labour Ministry. Understandably, Greek people on the street are bearing the burden, but not happily. The financial crisis has left one in four Greeks jobless. In the past year, unemployment in Greece has risen 44 per cent; the long-term unemployed jobless rate is 59 per cent.

"We can't take it anymore. Right now I earn 19,000 ($23,500) per year after more than 20 years in the service, and with the expected new cuts, my income will drop to 17,000 euros," 43-year-old captain Mihalis Daskalakis told AFP (via SMH). "Before the crisis, in 2009, I was making 24,000 (euros)."

The spending cuts are necessary for Greece in order for the country is to meet is obligations for up to 130 billion euro in aid from the EU-IMF, without which it would likely default on its loans. "I am telling you the truth, there is no other way," said Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

Part of the plan is to privatise projects, with a bargain sale of up to 70 per cent of shares in the Hellenikon airport, a prime real estate asset to an international investor. While Samaras and his Finance Minister Yannia Stournaras make the necessary cuts, many Greeks feel like they're being held hostage by foreign interests intent on teaching them a lesson.

Queenslanders might be forgiven for thinking that they too are living in Greece. Since former Federal Treasurer Peter Costello issued his audit on the state's finances, government workers and their families have been waiting with bated breath for the bad news.

The Newman Government issued its first State Budget on Tuesday, along with 14,000 public service job cuts. Up to 10,600 employees will be made redundant (including 4,140 from health; 1,450 from transport and main roads; and 1,425 from housing and public works). A further 3,400 vacant positions won't be filled.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 government workers, unionists and supporters – teachers, nurses, paramedics, health workers – marched on Parliament House in Brisbane on Wednesday to protest the Budget cuts, shuffling down George Street in the CBD from Queens Park.

The police praised the behaviour of the crowd who chanted, "Campbell Newman listen up, Queenslanders have had enough" and brandished signs including "Dirty schools = sick kids".

Treasurer Tim Nicholls, the bearer of the negative news, pointed to the capping at 14,000 job cuts, as apposed to the original target of 20,000, which was welcomed by the Queensland Council of Trade Unions (QCU).

Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan took the opportunity, as Julia Gillard mourned the passing of her father, to connect Newman with Tony Abbott. 

"We don't like doing this," said Premier Newman. "It's not fun for us and we're very sorry for the people losing their jobs and their families, we're sorry... In time, maybe people will see this budget in a different light."

Not even the golden miners escaped unscathed. In what has been called a "betrayal", the industry will be hit with tax increases – royalties have risen from 10 to 12.5 per cent for every tonne of coal sold for between $100 and $150 in order to generate a further $1.6 billion over four years for the ailing state economy hit by the floods and past blundering budgetary blowouts.

While the little Aussie dollar surges along like our Paralympic team (105.48 US cents on Friday following US Federal Reserve measures to stimulate the sluggish US economy), creating difficulties for certain Australian industries, perhaps a moment to reflect on our relative prosperity in the global scheme of things, though that's small comfort for our newly jobless friends – some already doing it tough as Campbell Newman furnishes his new office.

A moment of jovial reprieve this week for GWAS around the office space was the news that one state government department had been forbidden colour printing. 'What next? Paperclips?'. For those who remain in employment, don't get carried away with the stapler. For the rest of us, if you haven't signed up to GiveIt, I highly recommend you do.

Girl With a Satchel