Budget Blues

BUDGET BLUES

June 14, 2019

It’s a Record – in Every Respect

On Tuesday, Treasurer Jackie Trad brought down Labor’s fifth budget. She boasted of a “Record” budget; record health spend, record education spend, record spend in the regions, regions, regions.

The one record she didn’t mention is the Record Debt for Queensland. We are heading for $90 Billion; $19,000 for every man, woman and child. A Queensland family of five will carry a debt equivalent of $95,000.

Managing Labor’s Record Budget

The Treasurer put on her best voice as she spoke to the television news audiences on Tuesday night. “This is an entirely manageable debt level for the State” she said. Well, of course, someone is going to have to manage it!

Every thoughtful Queenslander knows who: the regions.

Even if we can lift our production in the regions to earn more for the State, and even if there are no economic downturns, this debt will be a brake choking the prosperity of our children and grandchildren for decades to come.

A Love Letter to the Regions? More like an IOU!

The other line used by a journalist is that this budget is somehow a “love letter” to the regions.

As an MP who represents a quarter of Queensland’s land mass in the heart of this state, let me tell you this budget is more an “IOU note” than a “love letter”.

Gregory Highlights - and Reminiscences

Come with me on a tour of the Budget highlights for Gregory. Sadly, it will be a less a tour of discovery and more a chance to reminisce.

The Black Gully Waste Water Treatment Plant Upgrade in Emerald.
First announced in May 2017 for completion by June 2018. Budget allocation $1 million of the $5 million spend. Take an IOU.

Passing lanes for the Capricorn Highway between Gracemere and Emerald. Well the Department has been talking about this since anyone can remember. It was actually announced in last year’s budget and was due for completion in November this year. The federal government is contributing to the cost. The state budget allocation is short of the full spend. So take an IOU note.

 

The Emerald Saleyards Upgrade was first announced in March this year as part of a successful application by the Central Highlands Regional Council in Round 4 of the Building Our Regions grants to local government.

The construction of Rookwood Weir will absolutely have a positive impact for the most eastern part of Gregory. But the locals had a good laugh reading the Rockhampton Bulletin when the Minister and the member for Rockhampton visited on a “tour of inspection” the other day.

Everyone knows the federal government has had to drag the Palaszczuk Government kicking and screaming to the table for this one. The feds even paid for the business case, so we should be relieved to see it in the State budget at all.

However, the allocation of $83 million for a $352 million project is a major IOU.

Four regional IOU’s and countingand we haven’t even crossed the Great Divide.

In western Gregory, top of the list is the Blackall Hospital redevelopment. This is a long-awaited and much-needed $17.9 million project. It is always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Announced in 2017, it was allocated $5 million in the 2017-18 Budget. That first IOU turned out to be even bigger than it appeared because the Palaszczuk Government only delivered $361,000 of the $5 million allocated for that year.

Next IOU

Last year, in the 2018-19 Budget Treasurer Trad gave a further $1.23 million and said – and I quote …“Whether you live in Brisbane or Blackall, Labor is doing the things we said we’d do”. Second IOU.

Did we get the $16.3 Million for Completion?

Starring in a third Labor budget, do we get completion? No, we get a 2019-20 allocation of $2.7 million, a $13. 6 million IOU and the Treasurer’s flattery that “When the regions are doing well, Queensland is doing well”.

Boulia’s IOU

The Boulia Community Hospital is in the same position, with an allocation of $3.9 million for a $7.2 million refurbishment. Another multi-million dollar IOU.

 

Other Highlights

There is a road pavement and widening project between Longreach and Winton, but this is part of a partnership with the federal government’s Northern Australia Roads Program, so it is unclear what the contribution is.

There are previously announced grants from the Outback Tourism Industry Infrastructure Fund. These projects will help us develop our tourism industry in the Outback and are much appreciated, but in order to receive such a grant you have to be able to match it dollar for dollar.

Longreach Fire Station - IOU

There is a measly $100,000 allocated of the $3.1 million needed to replace the Longreach Fire Station. I have been past the land where that fire station is to be constructed. It has been marked out. It has been surveyed. The project is ready to go. Why not give the community the $3.1 million they need so that we can get this fire station up and going now? During last year’s Estimates I asked the minister about this allocation and he said to me that it was coming. So first or second IOU?

Barcaldine Power Station - IOU

We received roughly half of the $7.6 million needed for the upgrade of the Barcaldine Power Station and substation. Another vital project on the never-never.

That’s just one electorate’s IOU Note from the Treasurer’s regional love letter. That is not investing in the regions. That is not a true reflection of our infrastructure needs.

The Real Story - Wasted Money and Poor Priorities

The real story of this budget is one of wasted money and poor priorities.

Roads - In the portfolio of roads and transport, $240 million is being put into building bicycle paths in Brisbane while our regional roads fall apart.

Health - In a record health budget, the Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service is actually described in the budget papers as suffering from aging infrastructure, poor IT capacity and a difficulty recruiting and retaining staff. So where is the investment in these areas?

Blackwater Hospital gets nothing. Google an image of the Blackwater Hospital. This is a facility that is supposed to cater to a town which is a major contributor to the Treasurer’s record take from coal royalties.

For $500,000 we could have renal dialysis chairs in both Emerald and Longreach. $500,000! Remember the $240 million for bike paths and think what that says to these patients! They pay their taxes. Their work contributes mightily to State revenues. Yet we are literally losing lives over a relatively small investment.

And there is no money to address the pitiful funding of patient travel for regional patients. Try to find accommodation close to a Brisbane Hospital for anywhere near $60 a night.

Education - The Treasurer cited a record investment in education, but except for the replacement of air conditioners at Emerald State High School – which is maintenance, all of Gregory’s schools seem to have missed out. Our school infrastructure is aging, but nothing is done.

The students who live most remotely in Gregory are among the small handful who receive assistance from the State Government to attend a boarding school, because there is no other way to ensure their access to a secondary education.

Yet again, this budget does not address the growing gap between the subsidy and the actual cost. The subsidy needs a one-off increase to catch up to reality and then CPI increases annually.

Instead families, many of whom have had no income for years due to the drought, are somehow expected to fund the gap of thousands of dollars per child. This is not equality of opportunity for remote students.

Electricity costs in regional Queensland are crippling. I read that the publican at the Barcoo Hotel has found installing a diesel generator proved to be a sensible investment. It’s not a surprise, but just stop and think about that in a first world country!

Similarly, irrigated farmers are screaming out for a food and fibre tariff but I can see nothing in this budget indicating practical plans for relief.

Increasing vehicle registration well above the rate of inflation will particularly hurt regional Queensland where private vehicles are the only option. It will also be a blow to our many locally based trucking companies. We rely on those trucking companies to freight in everything we need at home and at work and so we will inevitably pay more there as well.

The Regions are Just a Red Herring

While Treasurer Trad might have said the word region nearly 40 times in her speech, this budget is not about the regions at all. Talking about the regions is just a way of keeping the spotlight off a public service which has grown so big it costs us nearly 50 per cent of our income just to pay the wages.

It is meant to distract us from the fact that we are paying $3.7 billion in interest every year and taking on more debt, even as taxes and charges are raised.

It is meant to hide the fact that this is a government bent on undermining our economy by strangling agriculture, resources and construction in order to pander to green and union interests.

A Very Bitter Harvest to Come

This budget is the sowing of a bitter harvest for the great state of Queensland and Labor boasts of it!

Thank You

Thank you for reading my Gregory Budget round up. If you have an issue you wish to raise, you can contact me by return email or by calling my Emerald Office (07 4913 1000) or Longreach office (07 4521 5700).

If you are new to the newsletter and want to subscribe, email me at gregory@parliament.qld.gov.au or visit lachlanmillarmp.com.

Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory and
Shadow Minister for Fire, Emergency Services and Volunteers.