Budget In Reply

Extract from Hansard - Thursday 16th June 2017

Mr ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (12.33 am): I rise to speak on the 2017 state budget appropriation bills.

The kindest thing that can be said about this budget and this Treasurer is that he does not try to hide the government’s deception. In pre-budget interviews, in the budget lock-up and in the promotional blitz he admitted that this is a pre-election budget, that many of the fiscal outcomes contained in the budget are aspirational and that most of the capital works funding in this budget is directed towards Labor held seats.

How can we expect this government to maintain budget accountability when it cannot even keep its own simple promises to the people of Queensland? All of this before we even consider the big promises such as infrastructure, where Labor has failed to deliver $1.7 billion worth of infrastructure it promised in the 2016-17 budget. If the budget were an episode of the television series The Apprentice, the Treasurer would have been fired.

According to this struggling Treasurer, all the blame for Queensland’s dire budget situation rests with Cyclone Debbie and the federal government. There is no doubt about where responsibility for Queensland’s financial situation rests. It rests across the chamber with those on the government benches, who have had more than two years to do something about it. What have they done? They have done nothing except set up commissions of inquiry to make promises about job creation they have not kept. Despite evidence to the contrary from national reports and Bureau of Statistics data, this government tries to maintain the sham that it is improving the lives of Queenslanders.

Evidence is that unemployment remains high—above six per cent. Government debt is increasing. Expenditure on roads and other infrastructure is decreasing.

It is not good enough for the Treasurer to claim that costs incurred as a result of Cyclone Debbie are responsible for him not being able to produce a responsible budget. Queensland suffers natural disasters almost every year, and treasurers before this one have been able to manage those things in spite of natural disasters.

Nor can we go out and about day after day and say that the government wants to undertake needed infrastructure projects but it cannot because the federal government will not give it the money. The Palaszczuk government is responsible for Queensland. The federal government is not.

The only excuse the Treasurer has not used is that the dog ate his homework. If he had done any homework he would realise that what Queensland needs is less debt so we could have a reduced interest bill, freeing up money for basic services; better targeted infrastructure spread more evenly across the state; greater assistance for small business and agriculture, the areas which produce the jobs the Treasurer is so keen to claim; and a stable and engaged Public Service which provides the services Queensland needs. The Treasurer and his cabinet colleagues refuse to accept any responsibility for the situation they have created through more than two years of inaction and wasteful spending.

In truth, I feel a bit sorry for the Treasurer because I know that this is a budget not of his making. It is not even the Premier’s budget. Ownership of this budget rests primarily with the Deputy Premier and her left wing comrades.

The best example of the Deputy Premier’s influence over this government is the announcement of full state government funding of the Cross River Rail project. Whatever claims the budget papers may make about the benefits of the project to public transport users in Brisbane, there is only one primary beneficiary of this announcement, and we all know who that is. It is all about saving the Deputy Premier.

There is no money whatsoever for the state’s other most significant rail project, the duplication of the rail line to Nambour. This is a much needed piece of infrastructure to cater for the rapidly expanding Sunshine Coast population and to create a more seamless transport linkage between Brisbane and the coast. More and more people are making the daily commute between the two centres. Not only would their lifestyles be enhanced by this project; it is absolutely essential that the project goes ahead. The former LNP government set in motion the wheels to see the project commenced, but that was derailed by the incoming Palaszczuk government.

Earlier this week I heard the Premier describe this budget as a Labor budget. Amazingly, she said that as if it was a good thing. How can it be good to increase government debt, now above $80 billion, not fund essential infrastructure and raise taxes and charges for essential things like car registration and insurance? In a follow-up comment during the same interview the Premier gave the game away. She said that the budget looked after ‘the people we represent’. The people she was referring to are those in Labor held electorates.

The last time I checked the Labor Party had fewer than half the seats in this House, so the best even the Premier can claim about this budget is that it will benefit less than half of the people of Queensland. A real government concerned about current welfare and future prosperity for all Queenslanders would bring in a budget which benefits the whole state. With such a focus on serving Labor held electorates, it is not surprising that this budget ignores the increasing needs of many electorates like my seat of Noosa. It provides little more than ongoing funding for existing services in Noosa with precious little new funding for roads and other infrastructure. I have already mentioned the duplication of the north coast rail line, which is not in my electorate but is essential infrastructure for my constituents.

A stalled infrastructure program which very much affects Noosa constituents is the upgrading of Beckmans Road, which has become gridlocked and dangerous. Beckmans Road is rated as the state’s fourth worst road and planning for essential works has been underway for years. This budget provides a small amount—a very, very small amount—of funding for yet more planning, but there is no construction money allocated in the budget out years. Surely the time has come for planning to be finished and some actual work to be done.

The Beckmans Road delay is typical of this government which has made an art form of doing nothing but establishing inquiries, reviews, planning studies and anything else which helps it avoid actually having to do something practical. How can we expect any action on Beckmans Road when this budget rips $63 million out of road funding from the Sunshine Coast region?

The old Noosa TAFE is another example of this action-averse government. The old TAFE buildings are just sitting. They are not doing anything else other than sitting and they are gradually falling into disrepair. The facility was a white elephant from the moment it was built by a previous Labor government, but this Labor administration refuses to acknowledge that mistake and try and make some worthwhile use of the facility. It sits on the government’s books as surplus to requirements and sits at Tewantin as an opportunity going begging. The buildings can be brought up to scratch and the facility could be turned into something worthwhile, but it requires the government to act. It sits in a prime environmental area, so it could be used as an environmental centre or as some other use providing it is used to train and create jobs—something the old TAFE never did. All it requires is for the government to act. Instead, if it is left to languish and fall into irreparable ruin, the facility will be lost to the government and as such be lost to the community. That would be another monument to the irresponsibility and stagnation of this Labor government.

This is not a budget; it is a ‘fudge it’. Under this government economic growth is weaker, employment growth is struggling and unemployment is forecast to stay higher for longer. This is a budget of promises that the Treasurer knows the government cannot keep but which he hopes will fool enough people for long enough to get the Labor Party re-elected before there is time for the hollowness of this document to show. It is a budget characterised by deception, deferment, distraction and downright trickery. The only thing missing from the Treasurer’s speech was for him, as he has done in the past with his magic tricks, to talk about abracadabra. Unfortunately, not even he can conjure up a better future for the people of Queensland out of the paltry ingredients of this budget. I cannot support the bills.