Queensland State Budget: Tradies the big winners
REGIONAL tradies will be the winners in this Queensland Budget as Labor unveils a stimulus package it hopes can deliver 27,500 direct jobs and boost the economy.
There will be $10.1 billion spent on infrastructure across Queensland as the Palaszczuk government brings forward its Building our Regions program to the 2015-16 year.
About $4.8 billion of that funding will be spent in rural and regional areas.
There will be $500 million for refurbishments and maintenance at local hospitals and schools - including $180 million spent enhancing regional hospitals.
The education department will give preference to regional contractors to support local employment, with a focus on apprentices and trainees.
There will be a 25% payroll tax rebate until 2018 for apprentices and trainees.
"This year's capital works budget is higher by nearly $400 million, compared to the estimated actual spend last year," Treasurer Curtis Pitt told Queensland Parliament in his budget speech.
"Local projects that will benefit painters, carpenters, tilers and floorers, electricians, plasterers, plumbers and other trades right around the state.
"Local tradespeople will be able to register their interest and become an accredited supplier of works, as part of this $300 million education maintenance boost."
But Mr Pitt came under fire for what he has called his "no-frills" budget - with criticism for a lack of cost-of-living sweeteners for everyday Queensland, re-prioritisation of money making funding increase claims questionable and no mention of electricity company mergers.
Labor has moved funding for an LNP education program into capital works at schools and shifted money from the LNP Safe Night Out program to its own alcohol-fuelled violence reduction program.
"We thought the best way we thought we could assist Queenslanders with cost of living and paying the bills was of course to be in employment," he said.
"We had a very jobs focused campaign which this budget delivers on."
Mr Pitt said his government was forecasting employment growth of 2% on the back of a 0.5% dip under the LNP.
Work on Labor's electricity company merger election promise will happen internally through Treasury and could be revealed in the mid-year review in December.
"We'll be looking at what the best fit for the network versus generation companies will be and we'll be able to provide an update at the mid-year review," Mr Pitt said.
REINVESTING SUPERANNUATION - OR MASKED ASSET SALE?
In his budget speech, the treasurer revealed Labor would look at reinvesting public servant superannuation funds into energy-related government-owned corporations to grow infrastructure.
The derived benefit fund for Queensland public servants is currently invested in a range of interstate and overseas infrastructure.
"The fund is also currently carrying historically high levels of cash that could be responsibly invested in Queensland to deliver much-needed employment and economic growth," Mr Pitt said.
Under questioning from media, he refused to accept the move to invest in energy GOCs could really be an asset sale.
Mr Pitt said investing those funds domestically, instead of abroad, was "an interesting and innovative way" to help Queensland further reduce debt while supporting its own businesses.
He said the GOCs would be "parked within government itself" and not put to the QIC, the state's investment arm, for "any other kind of investment".
"It is already investing in a range of things. There is a very strong view, not just from superannuation funds in
Queensland but superannuation funds right around Australia, about investing in Australia and investing in Queensland," he said.
"What we will be seeing is a situation where Queenslanders will be able to invest in Queensland and making sure they get a return better than what they may even expect through their current investments with QIC.
"If this doesn't stack up and meet any threshold test, it won't happen."
OPERATING SURPLUS BUT DEBT REMAINS
The switch from the LNP focus on fiscal balance to a net operating surplus means the Palaszczuk government expects a $962 million surplus in 2014-15 financial year and is forecasting a $1.2 billion surplus for 2015-16.
Mr Pitt said the government was also forecasting surpluses above $2 billion for both 2016-17 and 2017-18.
Using this measure does not include debt for government-owned corporations - rather assuming they look after their own debt.
In one measure to improve the government's debt figures, the government has shifted $4.1 billion from government debt to government-owned corporations.
In the announcement last week, Labor said the debt gearing for GOCs was lower than market standards and they could handle extra debt.
Mr Pitt said this move would save about $600 million in interest expenses over the forward estimates.
"With these assets staying in government ownership, we have an obligation to make them work harder and more efficiently for the people of Queensland," he told parliament.
Mr Pitt told parliament Labor would deliver a $9.6 billion debt reduction by 2017-18 which will come off the existing $45 billion Queensland debt.
Despite warnings of a drastic nosedive in coal and mineral royalties, the State Budget also predicts a rise in the revenue stream this financial year.
Mr Pitt said the government would receive $3 billion less in expected mining royalties over the next four years.
But a possible sign the worst of the mining downturn is over could be seen in budget figures forecasting a $74 million rise in coal revenue in 2015-16 compared to 2014-15's takings.
Another promising figure was the $648 million worth of LNG exports which Mr Pitt said had left Gladstone Port so far.
PUBLIC SERVANT SUPER AND LONG SERVICE LEAVE
There are 3068 new full-time equivalent public servant jobs - including 2500 new teaching positions and 266 new police.
Labor has also promised 400 nurse navigators and 4000 nursing graduates to meet its election commitments.
But there are 138 less in the agriculture and fisheries department and 498 less in the justice department.
While there will be changes to superannuation and long service leave funding, Mr Pitt assured public servants they would not lose out when these strategies were unveiled during his budget speech.
"This government will never put worker entitlements, including superannuation, at risk," he said.
Mr Pitt said the government would reduce state debt by $3.4 billion through paying long service leave as required rather than holding a central fund in advance.
"This measure will allow us to reduce interest payments by just under $600 million over the forward estimates - without the need for asset sales," he said.
Mr Pitt also revealed Labor would suspend employer contributions to superannuation schemes for up to five years,
He said the defined benefit scheme had an extra $10 billion above the government's obligation.
"No money is taken out," he said.
"Nothing is being raided.
"To suggest anything else is playing politics and scaremongering.
"This measure will reduce state debt by $2 billion over five years and result in lower interest expenses of around $150 million over the forward estimates."
PUBLIC SAFETY AND FIGHTING ICE
Labor says it will provide an extra $20 million over four years for police to tackle organised crime, alcohol-fuelled violence and the drug, ice.
"Ice is an absolute curse on our society," Police Minister Jo-Ann Miller said.
"I have spoken to families from right across Queensland whose lives have been ripped apart by this terrible drug.
"That's why we're committing extra funds to help boost capacity to track down and take action against people who are manufacturing and peddling such a dangerous drug."
There is also $28 million committed for 266 new police over the next year.