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Issue #1587      March 27, 2013

A community rises up against the corporate powers

The Queensland Liberal National Party (LNP) Transport Minister released the government’s South East Bus Review on Thursday March 7. It was expected that some services would be axed and money reinvested into the bus services to ease congestion. But the massive elimination of services and other cuts to public bus services planned for south east Queensland were beyond belief. The Newman LNP government planned to eliminate 111 bus services and make major changes to the other remaining 230 services.

Many suburbs would be left without any public transport. Nursing homes, hospitals, sheltered workshops, schools, universities and whole suburbs with low income housing would lose their bus services. It did not matter that the residents of Inala, for instance, lost access to their local Princess Alexandra Hospital or that a bus journey of less than two kilometres from the railway station at Brunswick Street in the Valley (specifically refurbished as a super Station) no longer had a bus route to the Royal Brisbane Hospital. Or that services from the city to the Valley would be discontinued.

More people would be forced onto the roads in their cars with no alternative available. Others would simply lose their access to regular activities and medical and other services.

The response from the public was amazing. Rail Bus and Tramways Union’s (RTBU) Bus Division members were massively active in informing the public of the changes. Their campaign slogan is “Save Our Services – Stand Up For Brisbane”. The union launched its own Facebook site and distributed leaflets and other material explaining the implications of the Newman government’s plans. People were furious. It meant the loss of a vital service.

Brisbane City Council’s buses carry 80 million passengers a year – compared with rail’s 52 million. With an injection of funding there is scope to expand its services and remove even more cars off the road.

The plan was drawn up by TransLink which is an entity created by the former state Labor government to operate and co-ordinate bus services in south-east Queensland. “It is a distorted realisation of the then Public Transport Union’s demand for a south-east Queensland Transit Authority to own and operate buses in south-east Queensland,” Bus Division secretary of the RTBU told The Guardian. (The former PTU is now the RTBU).

“When Labor created the TransLink it was after the union had successfully stopped the implementation of plans to corporatise and then privatise council services. It was designed to ‘keep the council at arms length’ as Transport Minister David Hamill put it. It treats the council simply as a contractor to the state government.”

Mr Matters said the plan would cost jobs and require a massive retraining of all bus drivers for route changes. He described it as “a bastardisation of the transport system as a prelude to privatisation.”

The government gave the public two weeks in which to make submissions to the proposal. The response from an angry public was so great that the TransLink website kept crashing and the time frame had to be extended.

The RTBU made a request to the Brisbane City Council for David Matters to address a council session about TransLink’s plans. He did this on March 19 and received unanimous support from both LNP and Labor councillors. An unprecedented round of applause greeted his speech and a reply from LNP Transport Chairman Peter Matic acknowledged the union for its work, for its members and for the community in Brisbane. He expressed a desire to “work hand-in-hand” to move forward on the issue.

The week before the LNP-controlled Brisbane City Council, under massive pressure from the public, unanimously passed a resolution calling on the government “to immediately reconsider the proposed route changes that will have a significant impact on Brisbane residents, in particular, seniors, the infirm and those with mobility issues.”

State Transport Minister Scott Emerson first admitted that perhaps TransLink had got it wrong. Then as public opposition continued to mount, on March 21, Emerson announced that the Brisbane City Council would be responsible for deciding on what would be done. He made it clear that the state government would not increase its funding for bus services.

LNP Lord Mayor Graham Quirk declared the review was dead and informed the union that the bus service was not “broke”. The Council is still doing a review of bus services and there is the risk that TransLink may pressure to make cuts to services.

It is a great win, demonstrating the power of combined trade union and community action. While there is a great deal of elation, the government will not have given up, nor will those corporate forces who were seeking to benefit from the eventual privatisation of services.

The RTBU is calling a public meeting in King George Square on April 16, at 12 noon, to thank people for their support and to continue their campaign in support of a public transport system which is based on providing a service to the community.   

Next article – MUA calls for solidarity in fight for workplace safety

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