Monday, 18 June 2007
I am very pleased to be speaking in the grievance debate today. I want to bring to the attention of the House my concerns about the different standards of financial management evident in Australian governments, especially the situation in my home state of Queensland. The current prosperity of that state, encouraged by the policies of the Howard federal government, is being squandered through the Beattie government’s poor planning and lack of foresight. Just contrast the recent examples of financial management through the budget process. The federal government budget delivered by Treasurer Peter Costello last month not only balanced the books but also cut tax and further reduced debt. The Howard government has now paid off the staggering $96 billion debt it inherited from Labor way back in 1996. We are now putting money in the bank and we have funds for the rollout of vital road and rail infrastructure, and education programs. I refer particularly to our road funding through the AusLink 1 and AusLink 2 programs.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Queensland state government under the stewardship of Premier Peter Beattie. It pains me as a Queenslander to see the Queensland economy going in the opposite direction to that of the national economy under the federal leadership. It is absolutely appalling that Premier Beattie and his Treasurer, Anna Bligh, seem unable to balance their budget and, in fact, are slugging Queenslanders with new taxes to pay for things which the government should have been able to pay for already. The Queensland government will receive a staggering $8.38 billion in GST revenue from the federal government in the 2007-08 financial year as well as the revenue generated under its own powers, but it is still unable to balance its books.
Premier Beattie recently referred in the media to his Treasurer as ‘Bligh the Builder’. I would prefer to think of her as ‘Bligh the Blunderer’. The Beattie government is blundering. It has become the highest taxing government in Queensland’s history, with state taxes up a staggering 12 per cent in one year. In recent years Queensland has lost its long-held status as Australia’s lowest taxing state. Tasmania and South Australia now have that mantle, with Victoria not too far behind—and I see agreement from the honourable member for McEwen and Minister for Small Business and Tourism, who is sitting beside me.
By 2010, under current projections, the Queensland government will be paying back $3 billion in interest payments based on the Queensland Treasurer’s borrowings. Under the Commonwealth-State taxation arrangements, when the GST was introduced it was always expected that the majority of state government revenue would be derived from the GST and this would allow for several state taxes to be abolished. In Queensland, revenue from state taxes exceeds GST revenue, so it is clear that my fellow Queenslanders are simply paying too much tax to the Beattie government. When the GST was introduced, all state governments pledged to abolish mortgage duty. Then we waited for the pledge to translate into action—and waited and waited. Some seven years later, the Queensland Treasurer is only now trumpeting the fact that her government has now abolished this tax. Instead she should be apologising to Queenslanders. All of her state Treasurer counterparts got rid of mortgage tax in their respective states some 12 months ago, but the Queensland Treasurer has only just done so and she has received an extra 12 months worth of revenue at our expense. It is simply not good enough.
I wonder where all of this money is going. We have had several years of poor economic management, a longstanding reluctance to fund critical infrastructure, such as the Wolfdene dam in particular, and record levels of borrowing by the Beattie government to pay for infrastructure that it should have built years ago. Car buyers in Queensland are the poorer, as they will have to fund a $528 million increase in our mental health spending by paying increased stamp duty on all vehicles purchased from 1 July this year. This means that stamp duty on vehicles will be raised from two per cent to three per cent for a four-cylinder car, to 3.5 per cent for a six-cylinder car and to an outrageous four per cent for a V8 vehicle. This means that a new six-cylinder Holden Commodore will cost $760 more to get on the road in Queensland from 1 July this year. That is absolutely outrageous. It totals an extra $200 million directly out of the pockets of my fellow Queenslanders.
But that is not all. The budget includes an overall 13 per cent increase in state taxes, a 25 per cent increase in transfer taxes and an absolutely whopping and incredible 12 per cent increase in payroll tax. The Minister for Small Business and Tourism, who is still at the table, would be appalled at how small businesses, the greatest employers of people in the economy, are being slugged by a tax on employing people. I think that is absolutely outrageous. It is a blatant tax grab by an increasingly desperate Queensland government. Thanks to the Howard government, the Australian economy is the strongest that it has been for decades, and the thirst for Queensland resources has provided a boon for that state. But Queensland’s Premier and Treasurer are still unable to prudently manage their state’s economy and are making Queenslanders pay for their mistakes.
There are also substantial borrowings in the Queensland Treasurer’s budget for infrastructure and basic operations which come to some $8.5 billion. But do not worry, because the state Labor Treasurer says that her government can afford the borrowings because it is riding high on the back of the mining boom, which she expects will continue for some time. That is a really intriguing claim from her, considering that her federal Labor colleagues are keen to tell Australians at almost every opportunity that the mining boom is ending and that you cannot count on it for future prosperity. The Queensland Labor Treasurer is quite literally banking on the mining boom continuing and has borrowed billions of dollars on the strength of it. So which is it: boom or bust? The Labor Party cannot have it both ways.
The Queensland Treasurer’s federal Labor colleagues in this House are also attacking the strong economic record of the Howard government since it took office in 1996. What part of that do they do not support? Do they not support the fact that we have had the lowest unemployment rate since November 1974, at just 4.2 per cent? Do they not support the fact that industrial disputation is at its lowest level since records started? Do they not support consumer sentiment being at an all-time high? Do they not support economic growth growing at 1.6 per cent in the March quarter and now being 3.8 per cent higher than it was 12 months ago? Do they not support the Australian dollar reaching 85c against the US dollar? And what about low interest rates, which are great news for the family budget?
Despite the Queensland Treasurer’s record taxing budget, services and infrastructure in Queensland remain stressed by a lack of resources. My local public hospital at Redcliffe remains in crisis—and I do not use the word ‘crisis’ lightly. On a daily basis I have constituents ringing my office about the appalling waiting list at the hospital. In some cases they have to wait up to 18 months for an operation. They are told by hospital staff: ‘Don’t bother contacting your local state member. She’s not going to do anything to help you. Contact your federal member. She will help you.’ I do not know how I can help them with the appalling hospital waiting lists that the state government is running at the moment. I hear stories, day in and day out, about these waiting lists and the capacity that they have to ruin people’s lives. The people on the Redcliffe peninsula deserve a better health system. An enormous amount of GST is going to the Queensland government. How about spending it in our hospitals to make sure that those hardworking staff members, the nurses and the doctors, have the resources and the ability to service the people of Redcliffe.
The state government is now trying to make one final grab. It wants to reduce its costs by amalgamating. I know that the people of Redcliffe will keep fighting this. They do not want their local government association taken over by the Beattie government. They have a strong council in Redcliffe and amalgamation will lead to the death of their community. They are doing everything that they can to stop the heart being taken out of their local community.