Toowoomba second range crossing funds frozen
The centre piece of the Newman government’s infrastructure plan for Toowoomba appears to have stalled. Funds for the second range crossing from the federal government were frozen by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport Warren Truss. He informed Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls by letter that he was still awaiting modelling for the much hyped project.
However, Nicholls told the media he had no idea why the funds had been frozen.
“We have been working with the department and in fact, only yesterday, my under-treasurer offered to send two officers from Treasury to go down to work with the department to go through all the projects, to go through all the information that we have provided and to take them through the model again,” he said.
“We are quite disturbed over what the reason is. It hasn’t been made clear to us.”
Truss rejected this response saying that the Newman Government was well aware that it had not supplied updated modelling after requesting more federal money and would benefit 100 percent from the millions of dollars collected from the tollway.
“It also appears that Queensland plans to defer its own expenditure on the project for eight years,” he said.
“It is essential that Queensland’s proposal achieves the best value for money outcome for all Australians, and no such judgement can be made based on the scant information so far provided by Queensland.
“To enable a full assessment, the Australian Government has been seeking access for many months to the funding model Queensland is using to test financing assumptions for this project. This information has not been forthcoming.”
Late Friday, The Chronicle reported that Nicholls was sending “senior Projects Queensland officers to Canberra to work through details of the Toowoomba bypass.”
The project has endured a frustrating cycle of stop/go for many years through successive state and federal governments. Having the same party in power at national and state level doesn’t always guarantee smooth success.
Airs and grievances – LNP MP Michael Crandon gets a better deal
We know LNP MP for Coomera, Michael Crandon’s electricity account is with Origin Energy. We know because he used parliament to detail the problems he was having with their call centre in trying to secure a better power deal. On September 10th, 2014, Crandon used his time in support of a new piece of legislation being read in the house called the, “Electricity Competition and Protection Legislation Amendment Bill – National Energy Retail Law”. The bill is designed to increase competition by allowing more retailers into the Queensland market.
However, Crandon deviated from his support for the bill to explicitly detail the events which led to his dissatisfaction with Origin. He had attempted to switch plans via their website but ended up having to contact the call centre when the online process failed. After progressing through three levels of customer support, Crandon was still unable to move plans. He then contacted the government liason officer at the company. He also demanded copies of the voice recordings he’d had with all concerned. General Manager of Public Policy and Government Engagement Tim O’Grady, refused to release the recordings but offered Crandon a special meeting at Origin offices where he could listen to them.
Is it ok for members of parliament to detail their personal problems with private companies? Queensland Energy Minister Mark McArdle, who’s bill it was being read, thinks so. Crandon’s experience would help “all electricity customers better understand these issues” he told Brisbane Times.
“His contact through the government liaison also helped alert Origin Energy to issues surrounding its customer engagement practices through its call centre,” he added.
As for Crandon, he denied using his power and influence in a personal matter. He was just a “guinea pig”, putting power retailers “on notice” and would continue to “test” them for the betterment of constituents.
“To be absolutely clear, having spoken to three people in Origin Energy customer service, I contacted the government liaison people to alert them to the fact that their customer service people were being less than honest in their dealings with customers, NOT to ask for their help. In fact, I made a subsequent call to Origin customer service, again advised that I was having difficulty with the online connection, and was subsequently assisted in signing up for the 7 per cent plus 1 per cent offer. In other words, I resolved the matter with Origin customer service myself,” he told the media.
Generally speaking, Crandon’s frustrated customer service experience doesn’t seem to different from those experienced by most of the population. However, members of the public are generally unable to voice their problems in such a public way or posses the contact details for company government liaison officers.
If a specific piece of legislation was to come from this that would assist all Queenslanders then the benefit of his public grievance could be justified. If he embarked on a project where he contacted all energy suppliers to “test” them, as he put it, it may be of real benefit to consumers.
We will have to wait and see, but perhaps the lesson here is that everyone should switch to Origin Energy.
Michael Crandon is also famous in #qldpol for the “cut and paste Tweet”.
— Cameron Atfield (@CameronAtfield) September 18, 2014
No asset sales without a mandate but buildings ok
Election slogans don’t always turn out to be what voters interpret them to be. The Newman Government has been at great pains, both before it came to power and after, to reassure Queensland it would not sell state assets without taking it to an election.
However, this week deconstruction on the vacated old Gold Coast Hospital began with expressions of interest for the site on offer to developers. The site is expected to sell for tens of millions of dollars. Similarly, Queensland Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney also announced that two buildings that house the public dental hospital facilities in Brisbane’s central business district (CBD) would also go up for sale as tenants began to vacate the premises. Seemingly in contrast, last week Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls announced that the government was ditching its plan to sell assets in favour of asset leasing.
What can the electorate make of this?
It appears the sale of buildings is outside the rule of “no asset sales without a mandate”. This only applies to “major” assets. Indeed, shortly after the Queensland election in 2012, Nicholls confirmed this when questioned about the sale of a swag of other government buildings in the CBD.
“That is, things like the power generators, the poles that transmit the power, those assets,” he told the Brisbane Times. “Those major government-owned assets.”
We are all familiar with politicians breaking election promises once they gain power. However, simple electioneering slogans tend not to tell then entire story of a political party’s exact intentions. In a Newman Government second term, Queensland may find asset leases morphing back into asset sales.
Winner – Lower transport fares
No surprises ahead of the Queensland election that the Newman Government has chosen to lower transport fares by five percent after “finding” $30 million in savings from the removal of the federal government’s carbon tax. Through use of a dodgy website that allowed multiple voting, a choice was offered between lower fares or increased services. The government was also proud to announce that it had “consulted”.
While it’s great in the short term to lower fares, in the next budget cycle a shortfall in revenue occurs. With lower ticket prices, there’s now less money to cover the rising costs of running transport services, that is, the maintenance, workers wage increases, etc. The government then has to decide to raise ticket prices or meet the subsidy again by supplying another $30 million of taxpayer money to keep fares frozen. Another alternative is to sell or privatise the transport assets and services.
Robert Dow from action group “Rail Back On Track” also explained to Brisbane Times how the Newman Government’s last transport gimmick of allowing the tenth GoCard trip for free after nine paid ones, was causing the system to be rorted.
“There’s a growing trend of city workers taking short bus trips during their breaks, so that by Wednesday they’re travelling for free,” Mr Dow said.
“If people are forced to do that to ameliorate the cost of travel, there is something really wrong with the system.”
Economist and former Queensland Treasury econocrat, Gene Tunny also condemned the decision to lower fares in a series of Tweets.
— Gene Tunny (@genetunny) September 21, 2014
Springborg’s double dipping beat-up
It began with hysteria in July 2013. Millions of dollars were being ripped out of the public health system by private Queensland doctors who were double dipping by receiving an allowance for work they hadn’t performed as public physicians. The Queensland Auditor-General Andrew Greaves had found that the primary reason for the problem was a lack of education amongst amongst the doctors and hospital administrators as to how the system was to be correctly run.
Despite this, Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg launched a full on assault on the states doctors, near enough to infer that they were corrupt. Subjugated, they eventually signed over to individual contracts by June of 2014.
This week the corruption watchdog, The Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) announced that it would not be investigating 12 senior doctors due to there being “insufficient evidence of official misconduct”. As the Auditor-General had also noted, the fault was a lack of understanding of how the system worked.
For a year, the doctors had suffered angst and blame as allegations hung over their heads. The normally loquacious Springborg declined to comment.
More mining job losses.
The obligatory “high Australian dollar and low coal prices” was used this week to explain why 700 jobs will go from BMA – BHP Billiton coal mines in Central Queensland. One of the states largest employers, the jobs will go from seven different mines near the towns of Goonyella, Broadmeadow, Caval Ridge, Daunia, Peak Downs, Suraji and Blackwater. Bandanna Energy also announced it was in voluntary administration with its proposed Springsure Creek coal mine on hold, denying 850 new jobs to the region.
The Queensland Resources Council commented that in general over a thousand jobs have disappeared from Queensland in the past two years.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman assured everyone that more jobs would come from the new Galilee Basin projects. However, these are still many years away.
“Sadly one door is shutting but another one is opening and I know that there are going to be great opportunities for people in the mining sector to go and get employment in the Galilee Basin itself,” he said.
Also this week, an United Nations report by Professor Jeffrey Sachs suggested that Australia could quit the coal business without any adverse effects. Ending coal-fired power generation would still allow the nation to maintain an average annual growth of real GDP of 2.4 percent. Based on that, the economy by 2050 would be 150 percent larger than at present.
Newman rejected the report commenting that, “we are in the coal business and I am proud to support the coal industry in this state.”
“Construction requires steel – steel for reinforcing bars in concrete, steels in structural members of buildings. There is steel required in motorcars and all aspects of our daily lives. Steel needs coking coal, OK? The environmentalists always want to forget this. You need coking coal to make steel and Queensland has the best coking coal in the world.”
Queensland’s trend unemployment rate has risen from 5.5pc to 6.7pc since the Newman Government came to power.
Newman tables medical history of Labor MP
In an act of questionable behaviour, Premier Campbell Newman has tabled for the second time the medical history of Labor MP for Bundamba, Jo-Ann Miller. He was attempting to link conflict she’d had with CCC boss Dr Ken Levy when she worked for him prior to becoming a parliamentarian. Newman saw her role on the parliamentary committee that overseas the corruption watchdog as being used as a personal vendetta against Levy.
However, the information in the file that suggested Miller had once had a nervous breakdown was incorrect.
“Fortunately, I have never needed to deal with a ‘nervous breakdown’, as Mr Newman’s tabled document puts it,” she told Brisbane Times. “However, I find it astonishing that Mr Newman would use his position as premier to attempt to use mental health issues as a political weapon.”
A statement from the Premier denied he had tabled her medical history.
“The reason for tabling the document was made clear in Parliament on the day,” he wrote. “It would seem disingenuous for the Leader of the Opposition to claim to be concerned about the information in the document being made public when she herself is again raising it as an issue in the media. You would also have to question whether the Member for Bundamba is aware of the Opposition leader’s strategy.”
Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said she would need to confer with the Clerk of the Parliament to see if the tabling was improper telling the media Labor was, “now looking at our options about how we can refer this matter”.
If true, it’s another shocking abuse of power by Newman. Presumably, the Liberal National Party (LNP) could source any type of medical information, correct or incorrect, on any Queensland citizen.
Tweet of the week – Premier’s tea party.
Premier’s tea party. pic.twitter.com/bQNNEShzJ5
— Amy Remeikis (@AmyRemeikis) September 24, 2014