Sometimes you’d think the weather gods have a wicked sense of humour. This week’s budget sitting in Brisbane was marked by mornings of peasouper fogs.
A Fog of Figures
But, as I said in my speech, I bet the very foggiest place in the State was the media’s budget lock-up on Tuesday morning. The layout of this year's budget papers was so changed that it is difficult to compare this budget to previous years, let alone compare Queensland to other states.
As InQueensland commented, it could have been written in French. You cannot see what is new money and what are recycled announcements. You cannot see where the money previously allocated has been fully expended. No wonder people were bamboozled. You can listen to my speech here or read my budget report below.
The Big Surprise
The biggest surprise came at the end of the Treasurer’s speech. He’s a great showman and likes a flourish. So, ta-dah …
In 2024, just in time for the next election, Treasurer Dick expects a small surplus!
Ducks in A Row
Mind you, an awful lot of ducks have to line up in a row for this to happen. Three of them relate to coronavirus, government spending and those comic weather gods.
No COVID19 Panics
We cannot have any serious COVID-19 outbreaks, lockdowns or border closures.
This is a big assumption as long as there is a single country that has not achieved full vaccination. That is a long way off. For the foreseeable future, COVID-19 will continue to circulate around the globe, mutating from time to time. We will be living with the coronavirus for some years yet.
The second assumption requires the Labor Government not to spend more than the targets the Treasurer has set down. Not just this year, but across the forward estimates to 2024.
The Courier-Mail reported this week that the only year the Palaszczuk government has achieved this, since it was elected in 2015, was last year. What was special about last year? Everyone was periodically locked down or restricted and many public servants worked from home.
The Last Unlikely Duck
Finally, in a state famous for its extreme weather events, we need to have three consecutive years of good, calm weather. I do not think any grazier or farmer would take that bet for a land-mass the size of Queensland.
I told the House the return to surplus is not just a surprise, it is a fairy-tale. Actually, it was not even the most surprising aspect of the Budget.
The Magic Beanstalk School of Accounting
That would belong to the Queensland Titles Office and the “Magic Beanstalk School of Accounting” which has seen its value jump to a whopping $7.8 Billion.
I told the House my constituents will be very surprised, because they already knew that last sitting week it was only valued at $4.2 billion. This new valuation of nearly $8 billion will really knock their socks off.
Move Over Gerry Harvey
Especially when the NSW Titles Office is still only worth $2.86 billion. This new figure puts the humble Queensland titles office on the same level as companies in the Australian Stock Exchange Top 50.
Through this accounting magic, the Treasurer reduced Queensland's debt figure without actually reducing the amount of debt Queenslanders must repay.
Using Our Imagination
The Queensland Government has now sold the titles office - to itself! Two billion dollars of the imaginary money has been put into a fund to build social housing and another $2 billion of the imaginary money has been put into a fund to build hospital infrastructure.
These funds are supposed to be going to deliver all this money, but sometime in the never-never.
Today, and in the here and now, there is not a single dollar in the Budget against either of these funds. If it is not in the Budget, then it doesn’t exist.
Infrastructure for the Regions
In his speech, the Treasurer said, “In Queensland, more of our people live outside the capital city than do in any other mainland state or territory... That is why 61 per cent of our $14.7 billion capital program next financial year will be spent in the regions.”
Depends on what you call “the Regions”
The Member for Hill burst that bubble saying, “…those living in Mount Isa, Atherton or Ingham certainly would not classify the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast and Logan as regional centres.
“The true regional Queensland spend is 40 per cent, with 60 per cent being spent in Brisbane and the south-east corner, which will not surprise regional Queenslanders.”
The Blunt Facts
As the Shadow Treasurer told us, the infrastructure spend has been cut by $4 Billion. And this is at a time when we already spend the least on infrastructure in the country as a percentage of our total budget.
“In contrast, New South Wales and Victoria are spending up to 25 per cent of their total budgets on infrastructure across the forwards,” he said. “Worryingly, we are ever more reliant on federal expenditure to help Labor prop up the mismanagement of our economy.”
Thumbs Up, Fellow Australians
Take roads in Gregory, for instance.
Proposed roadworks are detailed in a document called the Queensland Transport Infrastructure Program – or QTRIP. While there are no amazing new announcements on Gregory’s roads in the budget, our QTRIP will continue to be delivered because a large number of the projects are funded 80 per cent by the federal government and 20 per cent by the Queensland government.
What that 80:20 Means in Dollar Terms
For a project like the progressive sealing of the Cramsie-Muttaburra Road, the Australian Government will fund $1.872 million, while the Queensland Government funds $468,000 and the work is actually carried out by the Longreach Regional Council. Multiply this across our QTRIP and we owe our fellow Australians a big thank you.
The Treasurer’s Best
The best line from the Treasurer – and it was hard to choose from so many – was when he said he was reducing debt and returning Queensland to surplus “without cutting services, without sacking public servants and without selling public assets”.
Well, he certainly hasn’t fronted at the government office counter for help recently. He could have experienced those service cuts for himself. And he must have a complete blind spot concerning the $32.5 million he got from selling Berrigurra a couple of weeks ago. That was certainly a public asset.
A Failure of Vision in Agriculture
The treatment of agriculture in this budget put the spotlight on a complete failure of vision for agriculture’s future.
The operating budget for the department of agriculture has been cut by 10 per cent and there will be fewer staff.
There is barely a mention of pest and weed management or biosecurity preparation and management. This at a time when we have fall army worm in the state and new eruptions of fire ants as well as a lethal, tick-born disease killing dogs across northern Australia. We weren’t even ready for grasshopper swarms after rain.
No Help on Research or Innovation
As I wrote last time, Queensland is party to an agreement with the federal government to move drought policy from one of reactive assistance to one of active drought preparation and resilience.
So I was looking for the funding of research and innovation that would help us. Soil research, landscape management, farming innovation, ag tech and new drought-resistant plant varieties all have a part to play in this.
This budget has no new investment in rural training, education or research to help agriculture rise to these challenges.
The ability of farmers to obtain crop insurance would be an excellent addition to the tool box, as the success of the Farm Deposit scheme demonstrates.
This budget has completely failed to address the pressing need for Queensland's farmers to have better crop insurance options as a part of dealing with climate change.
All in all, it was very disappointing – and then, Minister Furner addressed the House.
My Best Mates
First he told the House what close mates he is with Agforce - which raises more questions than he realised.
He then said, and I quote, “It is little wonder that when I travel the thousands of kilometres throughout the regions of this magnificent state I am called ‘Furner the farmers’ friend’.”
Farmer Friendship Fun
In my speech, I invited Minister Furner to come and experience some farmer friendship fun at the past-students reunion on the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Emerald Agricultural College next weekend.
Emerald Ag-Grow will be in full swing, so he can enjoy the full farmer friendship package.
Bleating for Health Services
We came into this budget with Queensland Health in crisis across the state, from the hospital boards to the hospital beds.
The LNP has brought case after case to question time and the Treasurer described this as “bleating”.
These are real Queenslanders telling him the truth. As the member for Mudgeeraba asked: where else in the modern world are people left on stretchers for hours crying for help?
Gregory’s Version of Ramping
I told the House about my constituent, Rob from Dingo, who had to drive himself to the Rockhampton Hospital because his GP said he was suffering a heart attack. That is a two-hour drive, while having a heart attack. Just think about that for a moment.
Having got himself there, Rob parked the car and went into the ED where he was ramped for three hours. Watching the frantic and frazzled staff, he had nothing but praise for them, but he thought to himself, ‘This might not end well for me.'
A State-wide Crisis
Make no mistake, as Rob’s story shows, this health crisis is not just in the south-east corner. It is right across the state.
The crisis is not just in the emergency rooms. It is in every department—surgery, outpatient treatments like renal dialysis, radiology, mental health and palliative care. Talking about renal dialysis, we still do not have renal dialysis for a town the size of Emerald. Emerald has a population of 15,000 people.
Health Cuts Held Back
The Treasurer had been going to impose $550 million of health cuts, on top of the $270 million he imposed last November. But by last week, the Palaszczuk Government was facing a health revolt.
So the Treasurer announced he would not impose these new “efficiency dividends”. But – and it is big – Queensland’s hospitals will still have to make $1 billion in savings over the forward estimates, according to the Courier Mail.
A Record Health Budget
Separate to health infrastructure, what is the actual budget for the hospital and health boards to provide actual services?
The Treasurer told the House it was a “record” health budget.
The truth is that Queensland's health budget only increased by the extra amount Canberra gave them in this year's federal budget—$400 million.
Last Year’s was a Record Too!
Apparently, last year’s health budget was a “record” too.
It gave Queenslanders our longest elective surgery waiting lists and the highest ambulance ramping numbers we’ve seen in a generation.
Forty percent of ambulances are currently being ramped. This is much worse than anything we saw under the Bligh Government, when Queensland Health was described as a “basket case”.
Saving Our Free Public Hospitals
On Thursday, the Courier-Mail reported that the AMAQ is so devastated by this Labor budget that it is convening secret round tables of doctors, nurses and hospital administrators to generate a five-year plan to save Queensland Health.
This shows how desperate the situation is. It also shows how disenfranchised our medical insiders feel.
Good Works in Secret
Why do they want their names and identifies kept secret? They fear government retribution. They fear personal payback because their participation could be seen as criticism of the Minister for Health, the Treasurer and the Premier.
These are good Queenslanders bravely attempting to save our free public hospital system. They deserve our gratitude and our admiration. They deserve our moral and financial support.
Saving the Best for Last
I hate finishing on a down note, so I have deliberately saved the best of the budget for last.
Twenty million dollars has been allocated to redevelop the Blackwater Hospital.
Support Came From Everywhere
The people of Blackwater have been fighting for this for years; people like Sue Engwicht and the friends of Blackwater Hospital.
I have been part of the fight, but we couldn’t have done it without the support of the Queensland Resources Council, the CFMMEU and the Central Highlands Regional Council.
I especially commend the Board Chairman, Paul Bell, and the CEO of the Central Queensland HHS, Steve Williamson, who were able to get the plans to the shovel ready stage, which gave the proposal real heft.
Blackwater Has Earned This Many Times Over
Blackwater punches above its weight in terms of both the coal royalties contributed to the Queensland Treasury and in terms of its key role in Queensland’s transport system.
FTE Population 12,000
It is home to the country’s largest open-cut mine, in addition to many others. With the drive-in-drive-out and FIFO workers taken into account, the Hospital needs to service around 12,000 people.
Still in the 1960’s
Unbelievably, it is still operating from the original campus created by Utah Coal back in the 1960’s. Anyone paying attention to the important triage and stabilisation role played by Moranbah Hospital after the Grosvenor Mine Explosion would look at Blackwater Hospital with disbelief .
Better Emergency Response
Thankfully, the redevelopment will see the relocation of the helicopter pad and ambulance entry to improve the medical evacuation of patients as required. A new Emergency Department will include two resuscitation rooms and a modern Xray facility.
Palliative and Aged Care
I’m delighted to see the inclusion of two palliative care beds and four aged care units with a courtyard for residents. There will also be verandahs and a common room. This has never been available to Blackwater residents before and will make such a difference.
Other Health Funding
Gregory also received funding for the Barcaldine Hospital, Windorah Primary Health Care Centre, Aramac Primary Health Care Centre and the Woorabinda Multi-Purpose Health Centre.
I am hopeful these improvements will help us recruit and retain our valued health workers. You can’t have health services without them.
COVID Travel Changes
Please be aware that from 1 AM tomorrow, Saturday June 19, there is a new requirement for crossing the Queensland border. This is permanent and it applies to everyone – visitors and returning Queensland residents.
Everyone will be required to complete an on-line Queensland Travel Declaration. These will need to be made before you come into Queensland and you can apply up to 72 hours before you intend to cross. You can find out more here.
Traffic Light System
It is similar to Victoria’s red, amber and green zone system. We currently have active restrictions in place for NSW and Victoria. You can check them here. Anyone who has been to an exposure site will be required to go into government-designated, hotel quarantine for 14 days at their own expense.
Telstra Call Centre Hiring in Emerald
Telstra has asked me to let people know they are currently hiring call centre operators for a hub in Emerald.
This is a work-from-home opportunity and follows the success of their remote hub in Longreach. If this is of interest to you or someone you know, you can find out more here.
Thanks for Reading
Thanks for reading and staying up to date with the state issues that affect Gregory. 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