August 2, 2019
As I write this we are in the middle of Budget Estimates. Jackie Trad presented the Budget in June but the money can’t be spent until the Budget is passed by the Parliament. This is called the Appropriation Bills.
Like any other Bill, they are referred to the parliamentary committee system for examination before being debated in the House. In the case of the Appropriation Bills, this means all seven portfolio committees are involved.
Two Weeks of Estimates
It is these committee hearings we call Estimates and it runs for two weeks. The hearings are open to the public. You can also watch them on your computer, tablet or smartphone as a livestream from Parliament’s website www.parliament.qld.gov.au . There are also transcripts available on the website.
At each Estimates hearing the Committee members and Shadow Ministers have the opportunity to scrutinise each Department’s budget in detail and ask questions of the Minister and senior bureaucrats. After each hearing, the Committee tables a report in Parliament and the Appropriation Bills are then debated and voted on.
Like Pulling Hens’ Teeth
Of course Labor tries to avoid scrutiny in all sorts of ways. In the case of my own Shadow portfolio, a key executive was on long service leave and apparently no one was able to answer on his behalf. Often the Labor committee chairman will say a question is not allowed for one reason or another. It can be like pulling hens’ teeth.
So what have we learned at the 2019 Estimates to date?
Premier’s Chief given a $250,000 Taxpayer Grant
The Premier’s Chief of Staff, David Barbagallo received a “business development” grant of $267,000 for his company to develop an App which allows cruise passengers to share their photos. Apart from the bad look of this in integrity terms, isn’t there already Facebook or Instagram for this?
Jackie Trad Does a Property Deal
Deputy Premier and Treasurer Jackie Trad purchased a $700,000 investment property situated close to the proposed new Boggo Rd Jail station seven days before she announced the route. Imagine how the seller feels now.
Not only does this seem ethically dodgy, it raises the question as to why this route was chosen and not the alternative route which would have served the Princess Alexandra Hospital? Apparently we can’t be told because it is confidential.
And then Jackie makes a Phone Call
It was then revealed in Estimates that Jackie had rung the head of the CCC on a Sunday, from a personal phone, two days after Deb Frecklington had referred the property deal to the CCC. When asked why, Jackie said she was “referring herself”! If she was, she knew she was two days too late.
Either way, her phone call meant that the head of the CCC has had to stand down from conducting the investigation because of Jackie’s interference.
Ag Colleges in the hands of an Interdepartmental Committee
At the Agriculture Estimates hearing we learned there is an inter-departmental committee already overseeing the future of the two campuses, which makes me wonder if the community consultation process has been another Labor sham.
When the Minister announced the closure of the QATC campuses, he stressed that the colleges would transition to a use developed through community consultation. Perhaps this has been a community consultation in the way there was a survey asking whether the public supported a change of name for the Lady Cilento hospital.
$5 Million Broken Promise
We also heard the Minister attempt to justify breaking his promise of $5 million to help prevent the spread of prickly acacia following flooding in the North West.
This exotic weed forms thorny thickets impenetrable to man and beast. It extinguishes the native grass Biosystems and degrades soil, making areas more vulnerable to erosion. If it infests the pristine channel country, it will be an eco-disaster of historic proportions.
So I was greatly relieved when Minister Furner and his federal counterpart announced a funding package to combat this. The Minister told Estimates that while he had issued a joint media release announcing the funding with Minister Littleproud, he hadn’t actually signed any agreement to fund anything. So it looks like it is the federal government to the rescue again. Thank goodness for Scomo.
Secret Public Asset Sales
Estimates has also revealed that Labor has sneakily sold off almost $53 million worth of state land last financial year and has budgeted to sell a further $77.5 million this financial year.
Labor loves to accuse the LNP of wanting to privatise Queensland’s public assets, but we took that to an election and lost. We accept that result.
The truth is, Labor is the only party who has sold public assets. Apparently, they are still at it and they still don’t consult the public whose assets they are selling.
Turning off the Tap
Estimates also made clear that we can’t expect to see any water infrastructure developed anytime soon, despite the federal government chipping in with funding for that too.
Actually it put Labor in an awkward position, but they seem to have worked out how to choke off any water development with bureaucratic processes. The Rookwood Weir has been pushed back three years to 2024. Completion was planned for 2021. Don’t hold your breath for any of the other proposed dams, like Hell’s Gate, Nullinga and even Emu Swamp.
Bushfires? Nothing to See Here.
As Shadow Minister for Fire, Emergency Services and Volunteers, I was keen to ask a number of questions about the Inspector-General of Emergency Services (IGEM) Bushfire Report. Sadly, the IGEM has gone on long-service leave and no-one could answer on his behalf.
So we will never find out who requested him to write to the Minister around Recommendation 9 on the very same day the Minister publicly released the report. Sharp-eyed readers of the report will have noted that it took six weeks to get clearance for public release. Why?
Labor says Stupid Farmers, Not Stupid Laws
Recommendation 9 centres on the conflicting requirements of five different pieces of legislation affecting land management and fire hazard management. To me, the IGEM makes clear this has prevented landholders managing their fire hazard and the laws need to be re-assessed.
Labor do not want their green laws reviewed. They say all that is needed are more bureaucrats on the VEG Helpline. In other words, according to Labor it is all about the stupidity of landholders, not the stupidity of the laws. No wonder farmers are planning a protest rally in Brisbane on August 20.
Be a Good Neighbour – just like the Labor Government
The report also cited the success of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services’ Good Neighbour policy and suggested private landholders should copy it. So I asked what the key performance measurements were in this Good Neighbour Policy. Again, no-one could answer. Perhaps we’ll find out at the Estimates Hearing for the Environment Minister this week.
While people have repeatedly told me that QPWS officers are great people, they have also said they are so underfunded and understaffed that vast parts of Queensland’s protected estate are not managed for fire mitigation, fire breaks are overgrown and fire trails are inaccessible in parts.
New Fire Season Starts
With the fire season officially commencing on August 1, I fear we will be facing another horror season and nothing has changed.
And part of the reason for that is the Minister’s refusal to hold a proper public Inquiry into what contributed to the severity of last summer’s catastrophe. Face the truth, and you have a real chance of better outcomes.
Thank you for reading my update on Queensland Parliament and the issues affecting Gregory. It is a privilege to represent you.
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Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory and
Shadow Minister for Fire, Emergency Services and Volunteers.