This was the last week before Treasurer Dick presents Parliament with the next Queensland budget. It was a strange week. On Tuesday afternoon the Callide C power plant blew up, as the week unfolded Victoria’s latest COVID outbreak took off and Parliament House was lit up to promote National Palliative Care Week.
Off with a Bang!
The Callide C plant is Queensland’s newest coal fired power turbine, having been built in 2001. The plant uses hydrogen in its cooling towers, so fire comes with considerable risk.
It is fantastic to report that all 219 workers were safely evacuated and no one was injured. Queensland Fire and Emergency Services also deserve the highest praise for their response to the situation.
Like Self Protective Dominoes
Australia’s modern electricity grid is a very sophisticated system, so when a key generator like Callide C drops out suddenly, it triggers other generators to trip too. This action isolates the damage and protects the integrity of the system as a whole. But it did result in widespread blackouts in parts of Queensland and Northern NSW. The Energex and Ergon crews who worked to promptly restore power to the grid also deserve our thanks and praise.
The Energy Minister told the House an investigation is already underway to find the cause of the fire. There have been reports in the media that it might take up to a year to fully restore Callide C.
Not in the Same Sentence Please!
Back in Parliament, we were still debating the Debt Reductions and Savings Bill. As a curtain-raiser to the Budget next month, it left me with a sinking feeling. As I told the House, the words “debt reduction”, “savings” and the “Queensland Labor Party” should never be used in the same sentence.
The Queensland economy is facing serious structural challenges. The Auditor-General has said that for the first time in eight years the Queensland Government was forced to use borrowings to pay for operating expenses.
And Wobbly Wheels
In other words, we are borrowing money to pay for day-to-day running costs. As I said in my speech, I know other states are borrowing to take advantage of low interest rates. But they are investing the borrowed money into infrastructure that will earn enough to fund itself and more – to grow their economies. We are borrowing to stop the wheels falling off.
This debt problem is not new. It has been part of the Palaszczuk Government approach to managing Queensland. But at $130 Billion, even Labor must be a little alarmed.
Trad’s Plan to Pay Off Debt
In 2019, former Treasurer Jackie Trad created the Queensland Future Fund. This was to be a sovereign investment fund whose earnings would pay down Queensland’s debt – a Queensland take on Peter Costello’s successful national Future Fund.
The seed money to be invested was taken from existing debt retirement schemes topped up with $3 billion from the government defined-benefits superannuation scheme. Treasurer Trad assured Queensland this $3 Billion was “surplus” to the scheme’s requirements.
Money invested, job well done, Jackie!
Well, not so fast.
As recently identified by the Auditor-General, these funds have now dwindled away. Surprised anyone?
The Debt Reduction and Savings Bill will rescue the Queensland Future Fund with a top up. Where is the top up to come from? The Queensland Titles Registry will become a business called Registry Co.
A $4.1 Billion Job
Handily, this new entity has been given a value of $4.1 billion. This is a bit of a surprise because you would assume the titles registries in NSW and Victoria would be bigger than Queensland’s.
Yet NSW estimates the value of its titles registry at only $2.6 billion. Victoria’s registry has a value of $2.85 billion. Why is Queensland’s worth so much more?
Regardless, Labor will be hoping this is enough “furniture re-arranging” to stop a further down grade of our credit rating.
Charges in Units not Dollars
You may recall me writing about this Debt Reduction and Savings Bill in March. It is the Bill that will see all government charges expressed in units, so they can be easily increased without anyone really noticing.
As I wrote last time, unfortunately you will still have to pay in dollars – your hard-earned, after-tax dollars, please.
Government Notices Go On-line
This bill also allows the Government to advertise government information on its own websites or in social media, rather than placing a public notice in a printed newspaper.
I believe it will make it much harder for many of us to discover important information in a timely way.
No More Newspapers in the Regions
Treasurer Dick justified the move by saying many regional communities no longer have printed newspapers since News Corp took its mastheads online.
A False Cop-Out
I was proud to tell the House this isn’t true. Since News Corp did that, we have actually gained more newspapers and retained much-loved and trusted old ones.
In Gregory, the new ones include CQ Today and the Highlands Leader, while the Longreach Leader continues to cover the central west. We also have the wonderful Barcoo Independent catering to Blackall and Tambo readers.
Important Decisions Must be Shared with those Impacted
As my colleague, the Member for Ninderry, told the House in his speech, “The Country Press Association stated at the public hearing that important decisions made by government, mining companies or developers must be shared with impacted citizens and therefore must be published in a public place.
“It went on to say that the loss of transparency as a result of the amendments is a new liability, not a new asset—indeed, a retrograde step”.
Restore the Public Notices
Without much hope, I asked Treasurer Dick to reconsider his stance because government notices should also be an important source of advertising revenue for country publications. We need to support journalism. It is one of the pillars of democratic government.
A lack of transparency is becoming a very common criticism of the Queensland Government across the board and this Debt Reduction Bill had even more harmful changes.
Building Queensland – Abolished
It abolished Building Queensland – a body intended to provide independent assessment of infrastructure proposals. This should be of concern when we see the cost over-runs and problems associated with the Cross River Rail. Similarly, the proposal to re-develop The Gabba comes with no business case.
When the Premier is talking about massive population growth in Queensland, we need proper assessment of the infrastructure required to sustain it.
Water and roads are underfunded, schools are groaning at the seams and our hospitals and ambulances are already struggling to provide the services the current population needs.
But let’s get rid of Building Queensland.
Qld Productivity Commission – Abolished
In the same vein, the bill abolished the Queensland Productivity Commission. Its functions will be rolled into the Treasury Department.
Queenslanders will lose an important independent economic review body that can look at the impact of government policies on productivity.
An example might be energy policies affecting electricity costs or industrial relations agreements increasing the cost of building government projects like hospitals and schools. This bill will make it harder to find these things out now.
Productivity is important. Amongst other things, John Howard and Peter Costello showed us that increasing productivity is a good way to pay off debt.
Some of you may have seen my speech to the bill on Facebook, but if you would like to read it you can click here.
Why the Sale of Berrigurra Made Me Angry
If you read it, don’t be puzzled by my opening remarks. I was responding to previous speeches by the Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and the Minister for Training and Skills.
They were singing the praises of the Palaszczuk Government only days after the sale of Berrigurra for $32.5 million. Money for government jam – and from a Government that boasts about not selling public assets.
Berrigurra was the prime beef property owned by the Emerald Agricultural College. Its sale is the final signal that the portfolio of properties and assets held by both the Emerald Agricultural College and the Longreach Pastoral College are lost to Queensland agriculture forever.
I admit to being devastated about this and I spoke about it again on Thursday in a Private Member’s Statement.
What Has Been Lost
More calmly this time, which you can read here, I recounted the neglect and disarray the LNP discovered when elected to government in 2012 and how we were turning that around.
I also spoke of the proud legacy, over 50 years, of the two colleges. While I grieve for that loss – like many others in Gregory – it is the future which represents an even greater loss. Never again will such a group of assets be brought together for the express purpose of supporting Queensland agriculture.
A Plan for Modern Agriculture
Modern agriculture is very complex. One of the challenges is workforce planning. Agricultural workers are all skilled workers, from the universities to the workers in the orchards, feedlots and paddocks. The ag colleges existed to ensure we were able to continually educate and update those skilled workers.
Instead of shutting them down, we should have been expanding their scope. It should have been a foundation in our plan for the challenges of the next 50 years.
Research, Regeneration, Landscape Management and Soils
Even more importantly, we could have used the assets for scientific researchers working in plant development, animal management, the control of exotic weeds and pests and managing landscapes for climate change – starting with soils, water management and regenerative farming and grazing techniques.
Community Legacy Too
In this vision, Longreach and Emerald could have been humming centres of agricultural science and development, one in the heart of our indigenous grasslands and one in the rich brigalow landscapes.
A Future Lost
These Colleges should have been expanded into major facilities that helped agriculture rise to the challenges we are facing. The assets were unparalleled in this regard. It will be virtually impossible for any future state government to re-assemble such a portfolio.
First Aid for Last Aid
This week was National Palliative Care Week. It was also the week the voluntary assisted dying legislation was referred to the parliamentary Health and Environment Committee for Review.
The committee will be accepting public submissions until July 2, 2021. This link will take you to the Committee Page where you can access the Bill and the accompanying report from the Queensland Law Reform Commission. You can also read about how to make a submission.
Gambling on the Cart Before the Horse
What National Palliative Care Week showed me again is that, in a very real sense, we country Queenslanders are the ones being asked to take a gamble on putting the cart before the horse. The Attorney General has said VAD laws will be introduced this year, make no mistake.
But this is being done when most country Queenslanders still cannot access palliative care. I have helped constituents who have been caught in appalling circumstances because of this lack of palliative care and I can tell you there is nothing more distressing.
What is Palliative Care?
Palliative care is not just about being given a bed in a hospital ward to die in. It is not about tidying away the challenges of death.
Palliative care is about specialist nurses and doctors supporting the patient and their families through dying.
It can take place in a home setting or in a clinic or hospice setting. But one hundred per cent of us will need it and – in this day and age – we should be able to access it.
And Palliative Counselling
In an ideal world, as well as physical care it can include counselling for the patient and the family.
Death is not something you get to practise. Palliative counselling helps people know what to expect, what to say and what to do to help their loved ones at this time.
This leaves many much better equipped to support their dying loved one and much better prepared for grief and recovery. This is important for everyone, but especially when children are involved.
Queenslanders Need $275 Million for Palliative Care
Professor Chris Perry of the Queensland AMA said this week that an additional $275 million is needed urgently to provide adequate palliative care in Queensland. The AMAQ has asked in their submission for the upcoming budget that this be funded before VAD is put in place.
Steeper Eligibility than for VAD
He highlighted the fact that the VAD laws propose people become eligible for VAD when they have a remaining life expectancy of 12 months.
Yet specialist palliative care is only available when the patient’s life expectancy is just 3 months. This really is the cart before the horse.
They Should “Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage”
I agree with Professor Perry and the 98 per cent of doctors surveyed who believe doctors should be able to offer patients palliative care options at the same time they are discussing VAD with the patient.
And as a country MP, I would be absolutely horrified if the VAD Laws are used as some sort of free pass for future governments not to provide universal access to palliative care for country Queenslanders.
MPs Receive VAD Briefing
MPs received a briefing from Justice Applegarth on the proposed laws this week in parliament and there is some homework for me to do, but if you have a view you would like to share with me you can do so by simply replying to this email.
A Great Gregory Story
I was sorry to miss the Queensland Governor’s visit to the BushKids Centre in Emerald this week. He was there to rename the building the Leslie Wilson Outback Centre.
A Train Trip with an 87 Year Legacy
BushKids is a very Gregory story. It began life as the Royal Queensland Bush Children’s Health Scheme.
It was founded by Sir Leslie Orme Wilson, Queensland’s longest serving Governor. He took a train trip from Emerald to Longreach during the Great Depression, at a time when the districts were suffering from prolonged drought. Times were really tough.
Country Children Suffering
Sir Leslie, who had previously been Governor of Bombay, was shocked to see Queensland country children malnourished and suffering from a lack of medical and dental services.
All Children Deserve a Chance
On his return to Brisbane, he founded the Royal Queensland Bush Children’s Health Scheme. The aim back then is still the same today – that all Queensland children should have the chance to reach their full potential, regardless of where they live in the state.
Beach Holidays with Benefits
In the beginning much was achieved through the establishment of the Bush Children’s holiday camps. These allowed the children to have a holiday at the beach. You might recall them at Emu Park and Yeppoon.
While the kids had fun, they also received a nutritional boost and medical and dental treatments.
Those Wonderful QCWA Ladies
The QCWA played a key role, providing chaperones on long train trips as well as taking children to medical appointments and providing supervision and meals at the holiday camps. It was a mighty effort, driven by grassroots volunteers.
Today BushKids is still supporting country kids and their families, but now they do it where they live. And they do it ensuring country kids can access early intervention like their city cousins.
Free and Effective Support
They employ teams of Allied Health professionals to bring our children services like speech pathology, occupational therapy, child psychology, family support and learning support.
Their services are free and last year they provided more than 22,000 sessions from 32 locations.
Still a Grassroots Effort
Emerald’s Centre is supported by a volunteer group called the Friends of BushKids (FOBK) Emerald. In a lovely twist, their president is Sir Leslie Orme Wilson’s grandson, Charlie Wilson. I am proud to call Charlie and his wife Kay friends. You could not meet more generous people dedicated to helping their community. Charlie and the FOBK Emerald run a cracker of a golf day to raise funds every year.
“I’m a Bushie!”
If I’m lucky enough to be around when it is on, I try to pop in for the 19th Hole. It is at the golf day I’ve learned how many people love BushKids.
People will tell me “I was a BushKid”, or “My brother was a Bushie”. These people are all successful and important members of the Central Highlands community who hold BushKids very dear for the help it gave them in reaching their potential.
Helping a Child Helps Everyone
It really brings it home to me that when you help a child there is a ripple effect to their family, friends, school mates and right out to their community. And that positive ripple lasts for decades.
Bringing It to the Central West
While Emerald’s Leslie Wilson Centre is a great achievement, BushKids doesn’t want to stop there.
They hope to use it as a hub to provide outreach services to Alpha, Barcaldine, Blackall, Longreach, Winton and beyond. It is a matter of funding and staffing. Both myself and David Littleproud, the Member for Maranoa, will be doing what we can to help this happen.
You Can Help, Too
But if you would like to help see this dream come true and you live in one of these western centres, consider whether you would like to found a local Friends of BushKids in your town.
BushKids works because it is grassroots. A local FoBK could really help in bringing the service further west and helping it become established. You can learn more about BushKids here .
Or Make a Donation
The BushKids story shows what can happen when locals get involved. You can also make a donation to their end of financial year fundraising drive.
COVID19 Border Closure
With the coronavirus outbreak in Victoria this week, Queensland has now closed its border to travel from Victoria. As of 1 AM today, Friday May 28, 2021, all of Victoria has been declared a COVID19 hotspot.
Quarantine Applies to Returning Queenslanders
This means anyone trying to enter Queensland from Victoria will be turned away at the border. If you are a returning Queensland resident, you must return by air and you must undergo 14 days Quarantine in a government-designated hotel, at your own expense.
If you have travelled to Queensland since May 11, the start of the infection period, you should ring 13 HEALTH and follow the instructions.
It is a reminder for us to keep up our handwashing, social distancing and check-ins at venues.
Thanks for Reading
Thanks for reading. Remember, if I can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
The Longreach office phone number is (07) 4521 5700. The Emerald office phone number is (07) 4913 1000. Or you can email me at [email protected]
If you wish to share this email with a friend or relative, you can simply forward it to them. If you wish to subscribe you can do so for free at my website here. If you no longer wish to receive this email, simply unsubscribe by clicking on the link below.
Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory
Assistant to the Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Assistant Minister for Western Queensland
Deputy Chair – Queensland Parliamentary Transport and Resources Committee