Yesterday the Australian ran an article about the financial crisis we face. It was headlined “Deepest Fiscal Hole in 75 Years Awaits Us”.
It went on to flag a collapse in revenue due to the COVID19 recession and the biggest deficits since WW2. If that is the national outlook, my poor old Queensland.
Poor Old Queensland
We went into this Corona Recession as the sick man of Australia. We were already the bankruptcy capital and this week the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that a record number of Queenslanders are unemployed and our youth unemployment is the highest in Australia.
Meanwhile, the corona virus is bringing new challenges for every government.
Queensland Parliament Must have Been Serious This Week
In the light of all this, you’d think the Premier and her Merry Band would have been busy in the Queensland Parliament this week trying to improve the situation.
Instead it was a week of trivia, dodging and some union laws that will actually make things harder for us in this recession.
Another Attack on Business
First up were new “wage theft” laws which a national employer group described as an “attack” on employers – and I would be inclined to agree.
We have recently seen some very big names make mistakes in calculating employee pay packets – Woolworths, Bunnings, Qantas. But to call this “wage theft” is a slander.
They don’t sit down and think, “Gee, think of all the extra hooter we can make by clipping the checkout staff’s pay-packet!”
The truth is Australian employment awards and agreements have become so complicated, that many small and medium businesses have to use a wage bureau to calculate the pay packets. And even with this expert help, honest mistakes are still made.
When the corporate giants are struggling too, it is clear we need to overhaul our industrial awards to simplify matters for everyone.
National Reform on the Way
The federal government has formed a working party of employers and union representatives to look at just such an overhaul. It is an issue that should be dealt with at a federal level.
But on Wednesday the Palaszczuk Government moved to amend criminal legislation to target “wage theft”. Under the proposal employers will face up to ten years in prison for stealing and 14 years for fraud.
Prison Terms for Queenslanders
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace says the law will cover all types of “wage theft” including underpayment of wages, superannuation and penalty rates.
At a time when we need that great engine of the economy, small business, to kick into gear and start creating jobs, in Queensland who’d want to be an employer?
Business Attacks but Union “Favours”
This wasn’t the only parliamentary “favour” to the unions this week. Laws passed in state parliament on Thursday mean the state’s trespass laws won’t apply to union officials with a workplace health and safety permit.
Minister Grace Grace needed to change the law because the District Court overturned a decision that saw four CFMEU officials charged with trespass have those charges dismissed. With the law change, union officials won’t be able to be charged with trespass anymore.
One less protection for builders and open slather for the unions. Who’d want to build major projects in Queensland? Many subbies must certainly feel that.
New Laws for Tradies
In 2015, the Palaszczuk Government was elected on a promise to introduce reforms to ensure that subcontractors got paid.
It followed years of subbies being left unpaid while fraudsters took bankruptcy, only to turn around and start a new business under a slightly different name.
The Phoenixes Fly Free
This is called “phoenixing”, because like the mythical phoenix rising renewed from the ashes, these fraudsters used bankruptcy to shed their debts, then repeat the whole cycle.
And all the way down the line, honest chippies, sparkies, plumbers, concreters and landscapers were left unpaid for their labor and their materials.
An Entire Industry Infected
It wasn’t just residential buildings. The bad practices spread up the chain, affecting commercial and industrial projects of major scale. Finally, it started to affect the building of major infrastructure. In Gregory, we have seen this on road projects and on the construction of a solar farm
Finally, after 5 years, two elections and just before the next election, the Palaszczuk Government put the Building Industry Fairness (Security of Payment) bill before the House this week and it passed.
It will be eight years from that election promise to full implementation of the Project Bank Accounts (PBAs) required by this Bill. While this is progress, it doesn’t close the book.
Royal Commission Still Needed
It is crucial that Queensland’s 245,000 subbies are paid on time, every time, because local economies and communities depend on it.
The LNP is still committed to holding a Royal Commission into the industry. We need to bring the disinfectant of sunlight to bear on a range of sharp practices like illegal phoenixing, fraudulent company collapses and false statutory declarations.
Lay Down Your Guns
Yesterday in Parliament I spoke out against the ridiculous laws on gel blasters which Labor snuck into a bill about corruption risks and corruption in Queensland prisons.
I say “snuck” because these laws will mean that Queenslanders must treat gel blasters as seriously as a firearm.
For those who are unfamiliar with gel blasters, they are essentially a water pistol that fires colored, water-based, gel pellets. When you get hit, you are tagged by the colour, so you know which other player got you.
Groups of friends and even whole families have discovered the full-on fun of playing a sort of “hide and seek/ chasey” with these toys.
Why Play Outside When You Can Play on a Screen
But the ALP has now passed laws that mean you will have to belong to a club in order to own one. You will have to store that toy in an actual gun safe and you can only discharge it in “approved” areas – in other words, gel blaster ranges.
I guess Labor prefers us to just sit inside playing a video game version instead. Talk about a nanny state.
Question Time, Not Answer Time
And once again, the ALP’s Merry Ministers gave a masterclass in how to avoid answering any questions in Question Time.
The best one was a “Dorothy Dixer” from the ALP Member for Cairns, concerning the return of international students to Queensland for Semester 2.
The Minister for State Development, Tourism and Innovation managed to speak for the allotted time while going nowhere near the topic. You can read her answer here.
The day before, the InQueensland online news website ran a headline – Queensland’s Grand Plan to Lead the Return of International Students.
The report said the State Government had confirmed Study Queensland had finalised documentation for consideration by Queensland’s Chief Health Officer for the return of full-fee paying international students to Queensland campuses.
Now I understand the need to find a safe way to do this eventually, but I question why Queensland would agree to be the trial state for this when the ACT government postponed its plan.
The ACT hoped to have Asian students return to the Australian National University and the University of Canberra for semester 2 but has shelved these plans due to COVID19 fears.
Such a plan is even stranger because it would involve opening our international border at a time when we are spending a fortune to patrol our state border. Furthermore, most unis have announced plans to continue their courses on-line next semester.
Unfortunately, Minister Jones left us all none the wiser.
Doctor Housing in the Central Highlands
I took the opportunity in yesterday’s Question Time to ask the Health Minister about disturbing evidence I received that public hospital doctors on the Central Highlands are to be evicted from their housing, along with their families, over the coming Christmas break.
Minister Miles blamed the Health and Hospital Service, he blamed the Newman Government’s health record, when we all have a clear memory of Lawrence Springborg reforming a health system that was so wrecked Anna Bligh was going to close the entire Health Department.
Eventually Mr Speaker intervened saying “ Minister, I have given you a little bit of latitude. I was hoping you would come back to the question. You have not done so. You have answered that you will take that under consideration but, as I said previously, it is not an opportunity to debate the member; it is an opportunity to answer the question.”
Even that didn’t help extract an answer.
Back to the Future
Rest assured I will be pursuing this. I suspect this is seen as an easy way to save the cost of the housing subsidies received by the doctors. These subsidies were put in place because of the high cost of living in mining areas. This issue meant the Highlands suffered years of chronic doctor shortages.
I can tell you exactly what the consequences will be. Back to 1996. This is a dreadful backward step which will have dreadful outcomes for my constituents.
Tropical Sunshine for the Whole Team
The Premier also announced a tropical break for the whole team when she holds a “community” cabinet in Cairns from August 24 to 26. The Queensland taxpayer will foot the bill, of course. Luckily, Cairns is enjoying a perfect tropical winter.
Check out the community noticeboard on my website. At the moment you’ll find schedules for the following health services across Gregory: Well Women’s clinics, the QCoal-RFDS mobile dental clinic and the Heart of Australia mobile specialist consultations.
There is also information about some upcoming power line inspections in Gregory. These involve low-flights which can startle stock, so if you are in Duaringa or Lilyvale, check the notice.
Scholarships for 2021
With the first week of Term 3 behind us, I wanted to remind Year 11 and 12 students and their families that they can find a great list of scholarships for Uni and Tafe on my website here.
I know some families are anxious that their children will be graduating into an extremely challenging economy. The best way we can help is to ensure they are pursuing the study or training that offers them the best chance of being gainfully occupied. I hope this helps.
Keep Safe by Keeping up your Personal COVIDSafe Routines
Remember, we have no cure and no vaccine for the corona virus. The only prevention we have is hygiene. We mustn’t get lazy about washing our hands and staying out of each other’s “splash zones”.
When out and about, please follow the social distancing rules. Use the floor stickers that many businesses have in place to help you with this. When you go to talk to someone, first take one big step back and then a step to the side for good measure.
Help our local businesses to comply with their COVIDSafe checklists – and be kind to them. It is very stressful when the rules keep changing.
Thanks for Reading
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Kindest Regards – and keep safe,
Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory and
Shadow Minister for Fire, Emergency Services and Volunteers.