Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (4.57 pm): I rise to speak on the 2021 budget. This budget is an exercise in accounting trickery, spin and grand announcements that are not backed up, with missing budget allocations or lines. In Gympie it is full of reannouncements and recycling. This budget is glaring proof that, a month after trying to bask in reflected glory from Beef Week, the agriculture minister is failing to stand up for the industries he is supposed to represent.
The government sees the budget as merely a cynical PR exercise in political manipulation. The reality is: if it is not in the budget, it does not exist. Some $4 billion has been cut from the infrastructure spend in whole dollars. Adjusted for inflation, the cut is closer to $6 billion. Minimal new money is being invested, with most of the announced funds either repackaged or closed. The government has reduced, re-used and recycled. Queensland’s infrastructure spend is way too low, at 12 per cent, compared to nearly 25 per cent in New South Wales and Victoria. The ministers have hung up their high-vis vests and helmets and ditched the Akubras and RM Williams. They have adopted the white shoe brigade look. They have pulled a rabbit out of the hat using dubious valuations and indulged in showy announcements with no substance.
The government sold the titles office to itself at an inflated price to wipe debt from the books. No money changed hands, only figures in columns. The debt figure was reduced without actually reducing the level of debt Queensland taxpayers must repay. Three weeks ago the Treasurer said the titles office was worth $4.2 billion. He now says it is worth $7.8 billion. In only three weeks it has miraculously risen by 85.7 per cent. An 85.7 per cent increase in less than a month is taking your cues from the white shoe brigade which shops for a valuation based on whether you are buying or selling. It has been described as like selling your car to yourself at four times its worth and going to the bank and asking to borrow more because your asset—the car—is supposed to be worth more.
The Treasurer made nearly $6 billion in announcements that cannot be delivered in this term of the parliament. They cannot be delivered in the next 3½ years. There is nothing for the promised $2 billion Hospital Building Fund, $1 billion Housing Investment Fund, $300 million Path to Treaty Fund or the $500 million Carbon Reduction Investment Fund. The $1.5 billion Renewable Energy and Hydrogen Jobs Fund is missing $1 billion.
Following media reports two months ago about a proposed pumped hydro scheme at Borumba Dam in the Mary Valley, I requested a briefing from both the Minister for Energy, Renewables and Hydrogen and the Minister for Water. Despite numerous contacts with both offices, there is only silence. It is not silent in my community. Last week the Premier, the Treasurer and the minister for renewable energy announced in a press release $22 million for a detailed design and cost analysis for the project. Constituents contact me asking what is happening. They will not be fobbed off with press releases and little detail. They are concerned it is cloaked in secrecy and a lack of transparency.
People still recall the last time a Labor government came to the Mary Valley. In a three-year fiasco, it wasted $500 million—half a billion dollars—on the failed Traveston Dam project. The Premier, the Treasurer and the minister for tourism should remember. They sat around cabinet tables during those three years. We read about a pumped hydro scheme but nothing about numerous calls to start investigation works to raise the dam to provide water security for Gympie. The community needs genuine, up-front, honest consultation and transparency, not lip-service and secrecy.
Recycling and reannouncements are Gympie’s share of the budget. The government has hitched a ride on federal or council projects. It has made an art form of recycling, rebadging and announcing projects primarily funded by the federal government or delivered by the Gympie Regional Council. I welcome the return of the Rainbow Beach Auxiliary Fire and Rescue Station which has perennially bounced in and out of six state budgets. It has been in, out, in, out and now it is back. It was first promised in 2016 but then disappeared the next year. The funds were redirected to Bundaberg to prop up the disgraced state Labor member and former agriculture minister whose credentials were growing her own fruit and vegetables and owning a fish tank. It was appalling pork-barrelling at the expense of the Rainbow Beach community. The announcement reappeared two years ago in 2019, only to be taken away in last year’s budget, which was delayed until after the state election. Six budgets later, it has been dusted off to reappear in the latest glossy brochure. It is a gold medal recycling commitment. I welcome its return and hope it is completed this time.
I welcome the $500,000 commitment to improve water supply at the Mary Valley State College. The funds to start construction on the Cooloola Coast Esplanade Revitalisation will be delivered by the Gympie Regional Council. The state is making a part contribution to a council project. The funding for the Bruce Highway (Cooroy to Curra) section D is part of an ongoing commitment to deliver the project. The Gympie bypass must be one of the most recycled announcements ever made. They have been constructing it for ages. The federal government funds the bulk of this project, or 80 per cent of the total $1 billion spend.
When existing projects become the highlight, you lack vision. Despite eye-watering borrowings and debt, there is no vision for Gympie’s future. I frequently raise with ministers and the Premier and in the parliament local projects which need support. The government missed many opportunities like planning to build the new Gympie fire and rescue station, which has outgrown its current site, and planning for new high schools. Enrolments are almost at capacity at James Nash and Gympie state high schools, with private schools picking up the slack.
The government has thrown a net over business-as-usual health costs and called it a health building fund. There is no new money. As population grows and with inflation every budget should be a record. It is about what you deliver. Labor’s health record is one of the longest surgery waitlists of 55,000 and highest ambulance ramping numbers in a generation at 40 per cent. It has not released the Sunshine Coast HHS’s review of Gympie’s health needs. It was due in February last year. Phase 1 of the clinical master plan was due in March last year. We were supposed to see the clinical plan in December, yet still nothing. Gympie’s paediatric unit no longer takes care of sick children. There are no beds for sick kids. Families are forced to drive sick and injured children almost 100 kilometres to the Sunshine Coast. Constituents and the medical profession are constantly contacting me concerned about the declining services, and in some cases the removal of services altogether. A delegation of doctors came to me concerned about the reduction in surgeries at the Gympie Hospital and loss of specialist services. No-one finds out until they notice a change in what is provided or a loss of services. Whenever you ask questions, you meet secrecy, cover-ups or stalling. The government needs to upgrade Gympie Hospital or start planning for a new hospital. It is on a constrained site on top of a steep hill with poor parking.
Glenwood needs an ambulance station. More than 6,000 people from Glenwood and the surrounding towns wait up to 40 minutes for one to come from Gympie or Maryborough. The Cooloola Coast needs a new police station. The Imbil Police Station needs upgrading. We need improved train services from Gympie North to the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane, more public housing and a multipurpose facility. Road and bridge infrastructure needs upgrading, including overtaking lanes on Tin Can Bay and Rainbow Beach Road; bridges on Glastonbury Road, including Eel Creek Bridge; the Mary Valley Highway; and improved streetlighting at the intersection of Rainbow Beach and Queen Elizabeth Drive at Cooloola Cove.
Despite eye-watering borrowings and record debt, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, DAF, is going backwards in funding and staff. DAF’s operating budget is cut by more than 10 per cent from $586,733 million to $522,630 million this year. That is a cut of more than $64 million. DAF staff numbers are cut. DAF is losing staff while more than 30,000 extra Brisbane bureaucrats are on the government’s payroll. DAF staff numbers have been falling year on year. This year they will fall by 10 and there will be one less in biosecurity. Other departments grow; DAF is declining. Front of counter services are cut, DAF offices are closed, extension services have all but disappeared and research and development is being left to others.
DAF’s budget neglects to consider valuable innovation and technology advances in agriculture. There is no mention of capital funding for agtech and no mention of investment to incorporate world’s best practice sustainability and technological development. Pest and weed management is barely mentioned. Most shamefully, DAF’s assets are being sold. The agriculture minister says that he is spending funds to finalise long-term decisions about agricultural education assets. He is working out what he is going to do after he shamefully closed Queensland’s agricultural colleges. The government has already sold agricultural education assets. The spend is spread over five years. It equals about a third of what it has made from the recent asset fire sale of only one property, that being Berrigurra.
With 65 per cent of the state in drought, farmers continue to struggle with high power and water costs and an unlevel playing field for water costs. AgForce CEO Michael Guerin said—
… discrimination is alive … when it comes to water use for farmers.
… the State Government … has established what is essentially a first and second-class system for water use for farmers.
DAF has already identified a shortage of between 4,000 to 9,000 seasonal workers in horticulture across the state. The budget has no detail on assistance for quarantine costs for foreign workers who are desperately needed on farms. Growcom Chief Executive Stephen Barnard said—
… this shortage of workers … didn’t rate a mention by the Treasurer. The upbeat tone taken by both the Premier and Treasurer … doesn’t match the reality growers are living.
The only announcement relevant to seasonal labour was $2.6 million for implementing the Australian government’s Pacific labour programs. We expect this will be spent in head office and doubt it will directly result in one additional worker arriving in Queensland.
The budget has not delivered. The only thing that has been delivered is a press release with little detail. The Queensland Farmers’ Federation called it underwhelming and said that it appears to be all style and not enough substance. CEO of the Queensland Farmers’ Federation, Dr Georgina Davis, said that the budget’s headline numbers could not disguise that it was again a missed opportunity to address some critical productivity issues and exciting growth opportunities. She said—
Without more targeted and deliberate action from government, agriculture will not fully capitalise on the exciting opportunities that are unquestionably available.
In today’s Queensland Country Life, QFF President Allan Dingle said it lacked substance. The minister loves tabling the Queensland Country Life when his picture is on the front page. With 65 per cent of the state in drought for some years, Queensland Country Life noted the Treasurer mentioned agriculture and drought only once in the 40-minute speech, and it was not announcing specific commitments. Other than a passing mention that drought relief assistance was a concession, the Treasurer said—
… industries, like agriculture and mining, have been key to our economic recovery … keeping Queenslanders working and our economy moving …
It is a sign of sensitivity and desperation that the minister could only compare figures from seven years ago with DAF’s current budget and to repeat the media spin of his press release. In today’s Dorothy Dixer from the member for Mackay, the minister even admitted he has cut DAF’s budget in the last three years, meanwhile other departments have record increases. It is clear agriculture is not on the government’s radar. It is clear no-one is listening to the agriculture minister. DAF’s budget has provided nothing and no vision. The only extra funding is for red and green tape—extra regulation that chokes industry. The minister has lost the confidence of the commercial fishers with the implementation of the onerous fishing reforms. There is no detail in the budget. The minister ignored the advice of the Queensland Productivity Commission which said a regulatory impact statement was needed into the fishing reforms. Instead, the minister supported the abolition of the Queensland Productivity Commission.
We have waited 19 months for the minister to appoint the Timber Advisory Panel. There is now little confidence that it will provide the answers for the security of the industry’s future. The minister clearly is not and cannot stand up for the sectors he is supposed to represent around the cabinet table. DAF’s budget is clear evidence Labor does not care about agriculture, fishing and forestry other than turning up for a photo opportunity. The minister talks a big game, but when it is time to deliver he has failed.