The last sitting of one of the most cynical parliaments in memory was always going to be jam-packed, but I’m struggling to know where to start in summing up this week’s events.
It started with questions of constitutionality, budgets and estimates – and ended with three ministers retiring from public life: Anthony Lynham, Kate Jones and Coralee O’Rourke.
You may recall me complaining about two issues to do with the way Labor has been operating the parliament. The first is the closing down of debate. The government has been limiting the length of time a bill can be debated before they call for the vote and ram it through on their numbers.
If they say a bill can only be debated for two hours, for example, then at the end of that time the Member who is speaking must sit down – even in mid-sentence – and the vote is taken.
This means that many members who want to speak to a certain bill just miss out. As a result, their electorates are denied a voice. Media can’t report what hasn’t been voiced.
Last Minute Amendments
The second trick has been attaching amendments to bills at the last minute. These amendments often don’t relate to the bill at all, but when the bill is passed into law they are passed too.
More Like a Solid Text Book
In one case, the amendments amounted to 100 pages. The MPs hadn’t even seen them before they were expected to speak and vote on them.
The amendments also don’t go before the parliamentary committee, so the public and other key groups who may be affected don’t get the chance to point out flaws or unexpected consequences.
A recent agriculture bill, cited by the Courier Mail, had over 50 pages attached to it at the last minute. These laws were to allow the lowering of the Paradise Dam, provide portable long service leave for community workers, change bail requirements, change the Ekka public holiday and change the Youth Justice Act.
Surprise Electoral Amendments
An electoral bill contained surprise amendments about political donations and election signage. All unscrutinised.
Is that Even Constitutional?
The LNP had asked the Speaker to rule if this was allowed under the Queensland Constitution.
The Speaker sought advice from Gim Del Villar QC who, this week, found that while it was not in breach of the Queensland Constitution, the actions were “contrary to the spirit of it.”
He suggested that the Queensland Constitution might need to be changed to stop the Government avoiding these important checks and balances.
Sounds Familiar - Jackie Trad Laws Anyone?
This sounds very similar to the CCC’s ruling that, while Jackie Trad hadn’t technically breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct with her real estate investment near the cross-river rail, the law should be changed to prevent similar breaches in future.
Just Happy Coincidences
Of course, when those laws went through, they actually weakened the protections because you now have to prove that a Minister intended to benefit from the action. That leaves a lot of room for “happy coincidences”.
The Budget they Dare Not Call a Budget
In that happy “unconstitutional spirit”, that brings me to the red-letter event this week: the Economic Review.
It is the Budget they dare not call a budget, because it isn’t a budget. It certainly isn’t a plan.
Using COVID as a Political Raincoat
As early as May, the Premier announced that she couldn’t bring down a budget, because of Corona Virus.
This announcement followed a terrible mid-year economic update in December 2019, when Treasurer Trad had announced state debt had blown out by another billion dollars.
The LNP were very concerned because it was clear that corona virus would have major financial impacts. Instead of providing an excuse, corona virus made a budget essential.
No Budget, No Plan, No Democracy
However, the pandemic is not the only budget concern in Queensland. The other issue is Queensland’s first fixed election, on October 31. Voters need to see the budget to know Queensland’s financial position and the Government’s spending priorities.
To do anything else is undemocratic. It will deceive voters, whether deliberately or not. They will be voting without the full information they deserve.
I know people who are thinking they or their organisation or their cause are going to be “fully-funded” if Labor is elected. I would warn them that these are pie-crust promises. They will find the funding was never there, while Labor will blame the corona virus.
No More Glossy Brochures
Remember Treasurer Dick, when he took over from Treasurer Trad, promising no more money would be wasted on glossy brochures? Well this week instead of a budget we got a 41 page brochure. You can click on the embedded link to read it or read my take:
This is not a budget; it is an economic statement.
There are no economic forecasts beyond nine months, and the only economic commitments are to projects that have already been announced. It is in no way a comprehensive document and it is certainly not a budget, nor is it a plan.
What was In It?
- Government debt has blown out by more than $18 billion in a single year to soar past $101 Billion.
- Labor forecasts a deficit of $8.136 Billion.
- Economic growth was negative last year and the economy is predicted to grow by only 0.25 percent – a quarter of one percent – this financial year.
- Unemployment is forecast to jump from 6.5 per cent to 8.5 per cent, meaning another 73,000 lost jobs in addition to the record 234,000 Queenslanders already out of work.
- Labor have made a blunder with royalties; a $1.4 billion blunder. Even with Labor’s new 25% gas tax, royalties have fallen to $3.1 billion.
- Labor continues to fail its own targets on keeping public service growth to population growth. An extra 3900 public servants have been added to the Queensland payroll in just one year at an additional cost of $600 million.
And Now – the Mystery Box!
There are $4 billion in new borrowings, but Treasurer Dick refuses to say what they are for. He said that will be revealed by announcements to be made during the election campaign!
As the Courier Mail said in its editorial, this is little more than a pre-election slush fund borrowed from future generations of Queenslanders.
Urgent COVID19 Motion to Debate
First thing, after bringing the budget bills to Parliament, Treasurer Dick moved a motion to urgently debate them. Once again, no chance for scrutiny by anyone. Very much against the spirit of the constitution.
In my opinion, it is essentially a blank cheque providing Labor with a $4 billion pork barrel for the upcoming election.
What Should Happen?
Normally, a budget bill is first referred to the committees of review. This is what we call “Estimates”. The committees thoroughly investigate all the expenditures - department by department, minister by minister.
It is those reports that are debated by Parliament before the budget is voted on.
Public Concern Since May
Months ago, when the media questioned the lack of a budget from July, the Premier promised – on the public record - that Labor would hold an open examination about Queensland’s financial position before the election. So what did we get instead of Estimates?
Three Hours vs Two Weeks of Scrutiny
Today (Friday), when Parliament has been safely dismissed, the Premier and the Treasurer will make themselves available to the Economics and Governance Committee for three hours. That is right—for three hours. The Premier has graciously spared an hour of her time and the Treasurer is giving the committee two hours.
There will be no questions of directors-general or any senior bureaucrats.
Clearly, this is a whitewash. It is a box-ticking exercise so Labor can say, ‘We’ve been open to scrutiny.’ They haven’t.
What is the Undercover Estimates Squad ?
A Right to Information request by the LNP this week revealed the Palaszczuk Government’s desperate fear of the Estimates examinations.
Maybe not for every minister, but Health Minister Steven Miles definitely requires three people to work all year solely on getting him through Estimates.
Fifty-Four Plus Three
Fifty-four bureaucrats from across the Department are brought in to coach him on the workings of the public service and three “mock sessions” are held across two weeks for him to rehearse his answers.
To avoid drawing attention to the undercover squad (Steven’s Angels?), the job title of one was changed to specifically not use the word “estimates”. Briefings and Liaisons Officer was thought much better.
No wonder a public report this week revealed wage expenses in ministerial offices have hit $28 million for the last financial year.
Oops! There Really is a Secret Budget
With all this scheming to avoid estimates, I was astonished to hear the Treasurer say on Tuesday that he would deliver the proper budget on 30 November, after the election.
Not Making Scones
Producing a budget is not like making scones. You just cannot whip it up. If the Treasurer is able to deliver a budget in November, just weeks after the election, I strongly suspect it is already sitting on a computer in his department.
Slip of the tongue or not, it underlines my suspicion that this “no-budget-and-no-estimates” routine is purely for political gain and nothing to do with COVID-19.
The cutback in parliamentary sittings is the same and is prompted by the same motivation of hiding Labor's woeful record over the last five years.
Pie-Crust Promises and Pork Barrels
This is why I warn people to be wary of Labor’s election promises. Not only do you have to know the difference between a pork barrel and a pie-crust promise, COVID19 is a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card.
Making the Public Service More Secure
Moving on from budget matters, Parliament also debated a bill to make employment in the public service “more secure” and ensure “positive performance management” of public sector employees.
Our frontline public sector employees do a wonderful job in Gregory, but I couldn’t help but be struck by how this bill contrasted with the Wage Theft Bill that was also passed.
Get a Wages Bureau or Risk Jail
That bill places private employers at risk of jail if they get the wages calculations for their employees wrong. You may do this accidentally by selecting the wrong Award for a position.
This is a nation-wide problem that results directly from our pay awards being too complicated. There is a national taskforce, including representatives of unions and employers, working on this problem.
I have no doubt Queensland’s private employers will end up being the only ones at risk of prison. This is not what we need as we try to re-build our economy.
Please Check Your Enrolment To Vote
This election is one of Queensland’s most important in decades. Please check you are enrolled to vote. With the wonders of digital technology, you can just “drop off” the roll. It has been known to happen.
You can check your enrolment here.
Postal Votes – Applications Open on Sunday
Applications for postal votes open on Sunday, September 13, 2020. You can apply for a postal vote, due to COVID19 here.
Candidate Nominations close on October 12 and the ballot draw will take place at 2.30pm on the same day. Ballot papers will then be printed and pre-polling will commence on October 19. Locations for pre-polling booths haven’t been published as yet.
Heartbreak on the Border
Finally, in relation to the heartbreaking stories from the border – not least the young lady denied the chance to say goodbye to her dying father or attend his funeral: the LNP is not saying “Open the borders”, but we are saying border management requires common sense, consistency and compassion.
I have been calling for active border management for some time. We were told last week a new unit had been formed to deal with compassionate applications. But still, these tragedies unfold. I’ll say it again: border closures need to be actively managed. That management requires common sense, consistency and compassion.
The Premier could have – and should have – allowed this young lady to say goodbye to her father as he lay dying. The Premier could have – and should have – allowed her to attend his funeral so that she could comfort and console her mother and her little sister in their shared distress and grief.
Thanks for Reading
Thank you for reading this and staying up to date. As always, if you have a comment or an issue to raise, you can simply contact me by return email.
If You Need Help
Remember, if you need help or advice, please don’t hesitate to ring and we will do our very best for you. (Emerald Office PH 07 4913 1000; Longreach office PH 07 4521 5700.)
Kindest Regards – and stay safe,
Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory and
Shadow Minister for Fire, Emergency Services and Volunteers.