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IF PREMIER Annastacia Palaszczuk is to have any hope of retaining government at the looming state election, the ongoing shambles that is Queensland Rail must be fixed.
So far the signs are not good. Timetables have been pared back, services reduced at many stations and commuters subjected to chronic overcrowding and often long waits. And despite an exhaustive report, prepared by now QR chairman Phillip Strachan, into the debacle that began unfolding last year, there still appears to be a pervading culture of “nothing to see here” that allows endemic problems to be ignored in the hope they might go away.
A case in point is the ongoing bottleneck when it comes to training enough drivers to adequately staff southeast Queensland’s passenger rail network. That we reached this crisis point – with the pain expected to linger well into the future, according to the Strachan report – was the result of a management bungle of epic proportions.
Senior QR management was either unaware, or chose to ignore, repeated warnings that the expansion of the network that came with opening the Redcliffe rail link would require more drivers, and stretch QR’s ad hoc reliance on ever-increasing amounts of voluntary overtime to breaking point and beyond.
Transport Minister Jackie Trad. Picture: Annette DewAs it stands, on QR’s own trajectories, it will be a couple of years before there are enough fully trained drivers to ensure security of services across the network. And as transport advocates warned earlier this week, that timetable is unlikely to see sufficient drivers on hand to cope with the doubling of train services to the Gold Coast to cater for Commonwealth Games crowds in a year’s time. As well as gridlock for motorists on the M1, train commuters can likely expect further reduced services across the network to accommodate a two-week international sporting event.
Only sustained pressure from this newspaper and the public has resulted in QR bowing to basic common sense and opening up its driver positions to applicants from outside the group, many of whom are already trained professionals working for the likes of Aurizon or interstate operators.
While this, despite opposition from unions keen to protect what has been a closed-shop environment and some very generous workplace conditions (not to mention overtime payments), is a step forward, new obstacles are still emerging.
As The Courier-Mail reports today, we learn that train drivers applying for QR positions are being required to sit “psychometric tests” so tough that a university maths professor says many of his students would be flummoxed.
While QR has defended the process, and stressed that it applies to all applicants whether internal or external, you would like to think that a company screaming out for more skilled staff would be looking to streamline the process – especially for already qualified drivers – rather than erecting more hurdles. Obviously safety is paramount, and anyone behind the controls of hundreds of tonnes of locomotive packed with passengers must be well qualified and of sound mind.
We are however, talking here about driving a train– not something a degree in advanced mathematics is usually required to qualify for.
Given the barriers to entry, it is little wonder that QR has been making slow progress in filling the gaps in its driver ranks, and it is a nexus – and perhaps a deeper workplace culture – that the Government is beholden to do its level best to break. As Mr Strachan rightly warned, the process, particularly when it comes to cultural shifts, will take time, but that time and voter patience is fast running out.
Job crisis needs serious work
AS THE latest jobless figures demonstrate, the last time Queensland’s trend unemployment rate dipped below the 6 per cent barrier was way back in November 2013.
This statistic demonstrates that the Queensland employment market has a stubborn structural problem rather than cyclical issue, as some like to claim.
The economic implications of this have been well canvassed. However, the social consequences haven’t – and they’re as diverse as they are damaging.
Some of these are: children growing up in households where unemployment and under-employment is the norm; youth joblessness that becomes a way of life; and dented superannuation savings that have severe flow-on effects.
Meanwhile, our political discourse remains marooned in a vanity contest where both sides seem content to compare variations of unemployment figures. And there’s been no better example of this lately than last month’s self-praise by Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt, who went to great lengths to point out that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was still 0.3 per cent lower than the figure left by the LNP.
Voters aren’t interested in this type of pointless political posturing. They want to see clear signals that governments at all levels are facilitating economic opportunities, investing appropriately and spending wisely to create jobs.
The latest figures show some uptick in fulltime work and a decline in the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate. But beyond the month-to-month travails, the statistics clearly indicate that Queensland needs an employment plan significantly braver than the Palaszczuk Government’s Back-to-Work gambit.
Responsibility for election comment is taken by Lachlan Heywood, corner of Mayne Rd & Campbell St, Bowen Hills, Qld 4006. Printed and published by NEWSQUEENSLAND (ACN 009 661 778). Contact details are available at couriermail.com.au/help/contact-us
This article first appeared on www.couriermail.com.au
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