Hon. GW ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Premier) (3.21 pm): Government budgets must reflect the times they are formulated in. There is not a government or a Treasurer who would not prefer to bring down a budget which hands out increasing amounts of money to community groups and for government services. That would be very popular, but this year it would also be very irresponsible. It is not unreasonable for governments wanting to be popular, but the greater driving force for any government must be as a responsible steward of the state’s finances.
A competent budget finds the balance in providing the services people need at a price they can afford to pay. A competent budget recognises that the limits of revenue must be reflected in the range and extent of services that can be provided. A competent budget makes the most of limited funds through more efficient and appropriate service delivery. This is a competent budget. It is a budget for the times, making the most of diminished revenues and accommodating service delivery demands. Slow economic conditions around the country and around the world mean that the predicted state government revenue has not been realised.
Putting together a state budget is no different from formulating a household budget: you have to balance what you spend with what you earn. If you need to go into debt for significant purchases, you need to do so thoughtfully and only as far as you can afford the interest payments. Under Labor, interest payments on state debt were out of control, getting closer every week to about $100 million per week. An essential part of the early days of the Newman government has been to get the runaway financial situation under control—to bring debt back to a reasonable level so that we can spend money on services and not interest payments. That is what our first budget started and that is what this budget continues. Unfortunately, there will be a very small deficit for this budget, largely due to spending already locked in under the previous Labor government and revenue shortfalls. In this budget we have had to make some tough decisions but will continue to deliver the services Queenslanders need.
Every line of this budget has been compiled with the best interests of Queensland and Queenslanders in mind. In my own portfolio, the budget has maintained a focus on better coordinated services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Queenslanders and on the development of programs that cater for emerging multicultural groups. The budget includes additional funding so that Queenslanders will be able to take part in and celebrate our cultural diversity through a new funding program for multicultural events across the state. At this point I pay my respects and thank to my two assistant ministers: the honourable member for Brisbane Central, who is in the House at the moment; and the honourable member for Cook, who is the Assistant Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. I thank them for the work they have done over the past 12 months in their respective portfolio areas.
Grants of up to $20,000 are available under the Valuing Diversity program for multicultural community events to be held in 2014. The 2013-14 budget also includes $4.14 million to continue the Cape York Peninsula Tenure Resolution Program, which transfers state land to Aboriginal ownership and/or management; $5.7 million to extend the Cape York welfare reform trial to the end of 2014; and a further $815,000 to improve retailing facilities in six Indigenous communities.
The Newman government’s Indigenous agenda is focused on overcoming disadvantage by providing support and structures which promote better social and economic outcomes in health, housing, education, employment and other areas. An innovative Indigenous community welfare program, which is operated as a trial on Cape York, is being extended for a further 12 months.
The Cape York welfare reform trial, for which the budget includes $5.7 million, has at its centre the Family Responsibilities Commission. The FRC continues to be a crucial component of the Queensland government’s involvement in the trial, which operates in the communities of Hope Vale, Aurukun, Coen and Mossman Gorge. The Cape York welfare reform trial is an example of the significant government funding which has gone into Indigenous communities in the past. Since 2008 more than $100 million in combined state and federal funding has been injected into the four trial communities. This government wants to see successful components of the trial extended, where possible, across all Indigenous communities in the state. We want to see Indigenous funding and services directed towards building more resilient communities. Consultation has commenced this week with the four communities on how the trial might be continued. As part of the 12-month extension we will be looking at further development of successful components, introducing new initiatives and reducing those which have not shown positive results.
The Newman government is committed to alleviating the disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Queenslanders across so many aspects of life. We are committed to doing that in conjunction with Indigenous people and their elected representatives through responsible programs, services and actions. It has always been the intention that lessons from the trial should be applied to the benefit of other Indigenous communities. That remains the intention of this government. We will take the time during the next 12 months to properly assess it and to plan how results from it can benefit more Indigenous communities from 2015 onwards.
Queensland is proudly a very diverse state. A significant part of Queensland culture derives from our very long history of migration. Our culture and lifestyle are made all the richer by the contribution of migrants who have chosen to call Queensland home. The budget includes additional funding for a Valuing Diversity grants program for multicultural community events to be held in 2014. Nominations for those grants opened this week. Funding will be available in two categories— significant events and culturally diverse events—providing grants up to $20,000 and $10,000. Signature events are typically the major events with proven track records, such as Paniyiri and Italian Week and other multicultural festivals around the state. Culturally diverse events will be focused on events which promote broader acceptance and understanding of the culture and heritage of small and emerging cultural communities.
Queensland has a richly diverse ethnic composition, and this government wants to be sure that diversity is recognised and celebrated in appropriate ways across the state. These community based events give Queenslanders the chance to share, acknowledge and respect our differences. Queensland is a multicultural state and home to people from around the globe. In the 2011 census some 20.5 per cent of Queenslanders identified as being born overseas, compared to just 17.9 per cent in the 2006 census.
The Newman government is committed to supporting the development of strong, multicultural communities in all areas of Queensland. While we are operating in a tight fiscal environment, we are determined to support events promoting positive community relations that help Queenslanders realise the long-term social and economic benefits of cultural diversity. The multicultural grants program ensures Queenslanders have the opportunity to celebrate the wealth of cultural diversity through a variety of great events. My portfolio also includes funding for managing the environment of Cape York in partnership with traditional owners. The budget includes $4.14 million to include the important work of the Cape York Peninsula Tenure Resolution Program, which assists the transfer of state lands to Aboriginal ownership and/or management. The program also works with traditional owners in the designation of new national parks over areas of high-conservation significance under joint management arrangements with Aboriginal people.
My electorate of Noosa has also benefited from this budget, which is focused on growing our economy, rebuilding Queensland and making our communities more resilient for the future. The Coolum State High School will receive $1.9 million for new classrooms and associated facilities to help with the transition of year 7 to high school by 2015. Construction and planning for the project is expected to commence this year and will ensure that Coolum State High School students have access to top-class facilities. There is also $352,000 for the refurbishment at Sunshine Beach State High School. This is part of the Newman government’s commitment to delivering a quality education system for all students—a commitment reflected in a significantly increased overall Education budget.
In other funding for the Noosa electorate, $1.26 million has been allocated to Energex to improve electricity supply and reliability by upgrading high-voltage powerlines. There is also—as I refer to it—$7.7 million for social infrastructure throughout the electorate, including $268,000 for the Noosa Home Assist Secure program, $2.3 million for child safety services, $4.5 million for disability services and $621,000 for social inclusion projects. Additionally, people within the electorate of Noosa will benefit from other budget initiatives within the region-wide application, and they include $640 million for the Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, $7.9 million for upgrades to public and community housing properties, $4.7 million for disaster recovery initiatives and $1.4 million to ensure adequate supply of resources to public libraries, which will really be a boost.
This is a budget with a focus on the present but an eye to the future prosperity and amenity of the state. It is a budget which respects the needs of people from all over the state but does not shirk its responsibility to act for the collective good. This budget is a demonstration of our commitment to fix the state’s finances and grow a stronger Queensland economy so that we remain a great state with great opportunities for all. Rebuilding the state’s finances is vital if we are to deliver better services the people of Queensland expect and deserve. I congratulate the Treasurer on bringing down a budget which is appropriate for the times and gives taxpayers the greatest value for money. I am proud to be a member of this first Newman government which takes seriously its responsibility to manage the state’s finances in a way which makes the best of the current difficult times. This budget is grounded in the present but sets a course to take the state positively into the future. I commend the bills to the House.