Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (11.34 am): I rise to speak on the Debt Reduction and Savings Bill 2021. The aim of this bill is to ostensibly reduce debt and make savings. There is nothing in this bill which is really about debt reduction. There is nothing about savings. The title is neatly packaged up by the government’s spin teams to create a sleight of hand. It is a con being perpetrated on the taxpayers of Queensland. This omnibus bill amends or repeals 18 separate acts and regulatory instruments across a myriad of portfolios. The policy objectives are to abolish or transfer various agencies, change the governance structure of another, streamline the annual indexation of regulatory fees, remove the obligation to publish public notices in printed newspapers and make changes regarding regulations in the tattoo industry.
The Treasurer’s introductory speech claimed that $3 billion in savings will be made over the next four years, yet at the public hearing the Under Treasurer could only commit to $3 million in savings. According to the forward estimates, we now know debt will hit an eye-watering $130 billion and the government’s only solution is sneaky accounting tricks rather than dealing with the hard decisions. It is valuing our titles office at $4.1 billion and assigning that value to the Queensland Future Fund. It is a dubious valuation designed to make the books look better and just puts off the hard decisions. There will be a day of reckoning.
The New South Wales titles office is valued at $2.6 billion and Victoria’s at $2.85 billion. How is Queensland’s worth so much more? It looks suspiciously like a con trick—value high as you transfer it on the books. The titles office currently manages land and water rights which are essential for successful agricultural businesses. Approximately 60 per cent of Queensland is still owned by the state and leased for primary production, and there is a complex web of tenure arrangements and conditions which affect each lease. AgForce opposes this proposal. It submitted—
With these leasehold arrangements, plus other very valuable agricultural assets such as water allocations and survey plans stored in and managed by the Titles Registry,
… concerned with any moves to alter long-standing and proven management arrangements.
The Treasurer stated that this measure would—
… improve our debt-to-revenue ratio by approximately nine per cent when taken into account by rating agencies when assessing Queensland’s debt burden.
The transfer of this asset is being used to offset debt. It is not being used to pay down debt. It is being done simply to improve a debt-to-revenue ratio for the satisfaction of the credit rating agencies. The government is passing debt on to future generations. AgForce said—
… we believe the stated quantum of those savings are minimal when considered in light of the significant value of the assets that sit within the Registrar. The risks of outsourcing are difficult to articulate and foresee however, we believe that these secure title arrangements are so important to the Queensland economy that these should be directly managed by the government as a public service. We also hold concern about what will happen over time as the commercial imperative to shareholders will increasingly drive decision making in this area, potentially over the interests of the public good.
This bill will integrate the functions of the Queensland Productivity Commission into Treasury. It will be absorbed into the ever-expanding bureaucracy and lose its independence. The QPC is an independent economic review body which reviews complex economic and regulatory issues and proposes policy reforms. It has investigated serious issues such as electricity prices, service delivery in remote Indigenous communities and improving regulation. Last year it delivered a report demonstrating that productivity had declined since 2015. Despite being a 2015 Labor election commitment, the number of inquiries under the QPC since 2017 has seriously shrunk. Only six matters were looked at in 2017 and only five since then. Last year only one issue was referred to the QPC. Clearly, the government is silencing the messenger because it does not like the message.
The QPC has called out the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries regarding the highly contentious fisheries regulations and amendments. In 2019 the QPC said—
As the proposed amendments may result in adverse impacts they require further analysis under the guidelines … the Commission does not consider the analysis and process, including the proposed discussion paper and impact statement to be equivalent to the requirements under the guidelines.
For example, the guidelines set out requirements for systematic analysis and assessment of the costs and benefits of the amendments (including the cumulative impacts) compared with alternative options for addressing the policy problem.
This should include analysis of direct and indirect environment, competition, and consumer/community impacts to provide sufficient evidence to decision-makers that any recommended regulation delivers the greatest net benefit to the Queensland community.
Given this, further analysis and consultation in the form of a Consultation RIS is required under the guidelines.
The agriculture minister ignored the QPC advice, refusing to undertake an RIS. In October last year the Queensland seafood industry wrote to the QPC regarding the impact of the changes. The QPC’s principal commissioner said—
I can advise that between 1 April 2019 and 22 September 2020, … the Office of Best Practice Regulation reviewed several of the measures included in the Amendment Regulation, at the request of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (the department).
The OBPR advised the department that due to likely significant adverse impacts of some of the proposed amendments, further regulatory impact analysis was required … the Queensland Government decided not to complete a regulatory impact statement.
It demonstrates the minister’s lip-service when it comes to accountability and transparency. AgForce said that independence is critical to the success of the QPC which had worked ‘without fear in assessing and providing scrutiny on Queensland legislation … including particularly on issues such as vegetation management in Queensland and regulation of our sector’. It opposes the abolishment of the QPC because it ‘will hamper their ability to undertake independent review and provide frank advice to government—and, in doing so, provide transparency’.
Regional areas rely on their local newspapers. The government proposes removing the need to publish public notices in printed newspapers. It says publishing them on the social media pages of the relevant government department is enough. This is arrogant and an ignorant move. Publishing public notices is important to maintain transparency about changes in our communities. The Queensland Country Press Association said that this proposal poses a ‘risk of government transparency around sensitive decisions, such as land use, mining leases et cetera where departments and corporations could opt to place notices online, where they would fundamentally be “hidden” from general gaze’.
This measure also withdraws support for local printed publications. It is clear there is a whole world of printed publications that the Brisbane-centric government arrogantly assumes do not exist. The government assumes that because they do not read them, they must not exist. Nothing is further from the truth.
The Treasurer justified this proposal by saying that several regional and rural locations no longer had a print newspaper. However, all the locations that the Treasurer listed have locally printed independent newspapers. In my own region, locals found that as the Gympie Times transitioned to online in July last year, a new Gympie Today emerged in print form. Locally printed newspapers rely on publishing public notices as part of their revenue base to stay afloat. QCPA President Phil Le Petit told Gympie Today that the Treasurer’s comments were misinformed.
In the last year the QCPA has expanded to 47 print publisher and 29 online publisher members with the addition of 22 new newspaper members. They are mostly startups in centres previously serviced by News Corp regional newspapers. The government should be welcoming and supporting the emergence of new fledgling businesses rather than finding ways to make it harder for them to exist.
The QCPA submission stated—
This a time when the Queensland Government should be celebrating the strong resurgence of independent newspapers in regional areas, where there are now more independent publishers than there has been for decades.
This growth belies a key reason—loss of local newspapers in regional areas—provided as justification for the change to the advertising regulations.
I oppose this bill.