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Queensland risks becoming the rust belt of Australia

An independent analysis by the Federal Parliamentary Budget Office has uncovered irrefutable evidence which proves that the Queensland Government is spending half as much on infrastructure compared to the governments of New South Wales and Victoria.

Over five financial years ending June 2019, the Palaszczuk Government spent, on average, a tiny 3.6 percent of its annual revenue on infrastructure compared to 8.1 percent in New South Wales and 7.6 percent in Victoria. Put differently, the Queensland Government’s spend on infrastructure averaged 0.6 percent of the state’s annual total economic activity compared to 1.1 percent in Victoria and 1.12 percent in New South Wales.This represents a massive underspend.

If the Palaszczuk Government had kept pace with Victoria and New South Wales, a further $12 billion would have been invested in Queensland. In fact, if it had delivered according to the official forecast of the former LNP State Government, an extra $12.7 billion would have been invested a full year earlier – by June 2018. 

Remember, we are talking billions here, not millions. How many additional schools or hospitals could have been built? How many bridges, ports, roads and rail lines could have been fixed or built anew? How many dams, weirs and pipelines could have been built or under construction?

How many thousands of jobs could have been created? How much additional income could be swirling around local economies? How much better would Queensland’s productivity, competitiveness and business confidence be? And how much more resilient would the economy be to the effects of the global pandemic?

Then there’s the missed opportunity of private investment. State investment in infrastructure typically attracts further private investment, and so a massive underspend by the State means Queensland also failed to optimise private sector funding. As such, the real cost of the Palaszczuk Government’s neglect will never be known. 

Data from the financial year ending June 2020 is not yet available for the Federal Parliamentary Budget Office to model, and so I turned to the Queensland Government’s ‘COVID-19 Fiscal and Economic Review’ to glean insight into their most recent performance. It reported a $1.3 billion shortfall in delivery of infrastructure against the Government’s own plan between the seven months from December 2019 to June 2020.

But wait! It’s all going to change, or is it? The Palaszczuk Government is now pledging an economic recovery from COVID-19 with an enormous stimulus package that “recognises the importance of building vital infrastructure”. As the Premier posted on her Facebook page earlier this week – “Infrastructure is so important – it’s a central part of our economic recovery plan”.

This is misleading. Again, let the numbers do the talking. The Palaszczuk Government’s four-year forecast, which it heralds as the pathway to economic recovery, is $9 billion less than the previous LNP Government’s four-year forecast six years ago. 

I have had my arguments about infrastructure with the Premier and her Ministers over recent years, and it’s the same dance routine each time. I call them out for underspending which they deny, and then they counter-claim that it’s the Federal Government which is failing to invest in Queensland.

They may well attempt the same ‘Two Step’ routine in response to the argument that I am putting forward here. By blaming the Federal Government, their cunning plan is to deflect attention and reframe the issue as ‘he said, she said’ spat between political rivals. But, this time it’s different. Now there’s compelling, hard evidence which has been independently modelled.  

The Parliamentary Budget Office analysis reveals that the Federal Government’s financial contribution to infrastructure in Queensland has been almost double the contribution made to other States and Territories. That’s right – double. As a Federal Government, our share of the funding split for Queensland state infrastructure was 40 percent compared to 21 percent in other states and territories.  

The LNP’s ‘Team Queensland’ – a united force of 29 Federal MPs and Senators – has been delivering. We want to do more and we will do more.

But, a Queensland Labor Government that fails to invest makes our job as a Federal Government harder, not easier. After all, much of our Federal funding, due to constitutional arrangements, is allocated to the State before it can be spent, and the Palaszczuk Government constantly holds up water, road and rail projects.  It is not uncommon for Federal funds to sit, unspent, for years while the wheels of the State Government groan with the weight of ineptitude. 

It is time to lay out the facts and accept the truth. A leopard doesn’t change its spots. If the Palaszczuk Government is re-elected for a further four years in office, Queensland will face a lost decade when it comes to infrastructure.

This prospect would be unacceptable at the best of times, but right now is anything but the best of times. We’re amidst our greatest economic challenge since World War Two and the Palaszczuk Government has no viable path to economic recovery, let alone a return to prosperity.

Ted O’Brien is the Federal Member for the seat of Fairfax

As published in The Courier Mail, 28 September 2020

Download the newspaper version of the OpEd HERE

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