“Twelve months ago, this Government took the decision to fight for jobs, above all else.” These were the words Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser began his 2010 budget address with. Fraser is a hard-working and earnest young man but I wonder if it crossed his mind that others might wonder if the jobs they fought hardest for were their own. The Anna Bligh government has been on the nose for twelve months or more and the latest Galaxy poll in the Courier-Mail on Monday showed a 55-45 lead to the LNP on a 2PP basis.
On Monday Fraser claimed he would not be distracted by the poll and in his budget speech he recommitted the Government to what he called its “true task, providing Queenslanders with a chance at the dignity of work.” Given that the unemployment rate in Queensland is 5.6 percent, Fraser may be taking a gamble in his “first commitment” which does not address the other 94.4 percent of adult Queenslanders who either have jobs or who are not registered with Centrelink.
But Fraser did have good economic data to report. He spoke of a better than expected growth rate of 3 percent which was still “below trend” but was better than the national 2 percent rate. The recession-busting construction spree represented 7 percent of the State economy and 120,000 jobs with a predicted 2.75 percent increase in 2010-11. They will continue to pour money into infrastructure promising $17.1 billion this financial year though disappointingly, roads still get the lion’s share of the funds.
The State deficit has been reduced to $287 million which is well down on the $2.3 billion Mid Year forecast and a measure of how the resources boom has contributed to state coffers. Fraser said they are on target to deliver “a solid surplus” by 2015-2016 but the revised estimates suggest it will be happen a lot sooner than that.
Despite his money worries, Fraser still has the ability to dish it out to various constituencies. Pensioners do well as usual, a form of largesse that governments may need to reconsider as the country gets older over the next 20-30 years. Fraser gave them another $90 million 50 percent concession on Compulsory Third Party insurance and an increased electricity rebate worth $50 million. As worthy as these sound, I wish governments became more creative with their grants by either supporting a move towards the consumption of renewable energies and providing incentives to use more public transport instead of subsiding private vehicle use.
There are some sops to environmental concerns. There is $60 million for the popular Solar Bonus Scheme (which 22,000 people have signed up to already) $35 million for the Kogan Creek solar boost project (matching a similar amount from the Federal Government) to install a solar thermal addition to increase its capacity by 44 megawatts at peak solar conditions and improve plant efficiency.
The budget also has $300 million for education and training including funding for up to 316 new teachers and teacher aides and five new schools and 40 kindergartens. There is also $10 million for training in the booming Coal Seam Gas and Liquefied Natural Gas industries. There is an additional $72 million to provide disability support with good programs including autism services in regional areas, helping people with spinal cord injuries and transitioning disabled young people out of school. He also announced a new tax measure by excluding homes purchased through a disability trust from stamp duty. In Health the budget has increased from $5.35 billion to $10 billion in five years. The government will add 1,200 doctors, nurses and health professionals as well as building or upgrading 22 hospitals.
The government estimates that 100,000 people will move to Queensland in the next 12 months. That's a lot of people and Fraser said “we have to cater for that growth”. He announced a new Regional First Home Owner Boost, an extra $4,000 on top of the existing state funded $7,000 First Home Owner Grant to encourage people to move out of the South East. He also announced a $450 million new police academy as well as over 200 new police officers and spent $240 billion on yet another backwards looking project - the Gateway motorway upgrade south extension. Other roads to do well in the cash grab were the Port of Brisbane with $330 million, the Ted Smout Bridge to Redcliffe $315 million, the Forgan Smith Bridge in Mackay $148 million and the $190 million Port Access Road in Townsville.
Queensland’s 150th budget is much like the 149th that came before it. It is a carefully crafted grab-bag of token initiatives, old solutions and outright bribes that paper over the economic cracks but do little to address the State’s longer term needs: how to move to a 21st century economy as the population grows daily older. It will take a government with a lot more vision than the cautious Anna Bligh/Andrew Fraser administration to deliver on that promise. Such a government is nowhere in waiting in Queensland, however.