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Dorothy Pratt speaks out against Queensland Government fire sale

Dorothy Pratt, independent member for the rural Queensland state electorate of Nanango in a speech to State Parliament on 18 June, tears apart the Queensland Govenment's justification for its fire sale of publicly owned assets and exposes its past mismanagement of the Queensland economy. Her informative and cogent speech is typical of of many that go unreported by the pro-privatisation Queensland newsmedia.

The speech can be found in Hansard of 18 Jun 09 The pdf document is here and the XML document is here. It is also published on privatisationistheft.net. I have added the headings and footnotes. - JS

Mrs PRATT (Nanango---Ind) (6.03 pm): Before I start with my speech proper, I want to acknowledge that we are going through adverse economic times, but I cannot dismiss the fact that Queensland has been riding on a wave---hanging five, so to speak, and enjoying the ride. But this government has been so engrossed with the ride that it has forgotten that there is always a dumper behind the wave. It is something it has overlooked. I know what it is like when it comes to balancing a budget. I know what it is like to prepare for hard times, because when you are a farmer you know that there is a boom-and-bust cycle continually going on. If you deal on the stock market, it is the same thing. It is just an everyday occurrence. It is boom and bust and it goes on and on.

Unreasonable limits of Parliamentary scrutiny of Budget, privatisation and other bills

I rise to speak to these cognate bills which include the Appropriation (Parliament) Bill and the Appropriation Bill which address the budget of this state---bills that I would have thought would be enough on their own to debate without having to lump them in with other bills. Each MP in this House should be entitled to 20 minutes to voice their opinions on the budget and how it will impact on or benefit their constituencies and the electorate as a whole. But the government has chosen to include other bills---namely, the Infrastructure Investment (Asset Restructuring and Disposal) Bill and the Fuel Subsidy Repeal and Revenue and Other Legislation Amendment Bill. Each and every one of these bills could have and would have in their own right created enormous debate in this chamber for at least 20 minutes each per member, but we have been restricted to just a few minutes per bill if we want to address each one.

Privatisation

Without exception, every single person who has raised with me the sale of assets has been in total opposition to the sale of what they call the people's assets.

These bills have also created a lot of very heated debate in the general public as well. Without exception, every single person who has raised with me the sale of assets has been in total opposition to the sale of what they call the people's assets. Each member in this House should be aware that Labor does not look good. I can assure members that the Premier has not come out smelling of roses and if she came to my electorate---and I know after speaking with people that many other electorates feel the same---she would definitely need her hard hat. As I said, each member in this House could easily use
and should have been given a full 20 minutes for each of the bills that we are debating tonight.

I have some questions that I would like to get answers to, and so would the people. Is there a limit to the eligibility of people or countries that could buy these assets? Will they be foreign owned? ... Where will these assets end up?

Selling off state assets is a serious business and should be treated as such. I have some questions that I would like to get answers to, and so would the people. Is there a limit to the eligibility of people or countries that could buy these assets? Will they be foreign owned? What exactly is involved and what has been decided? Where will these assets end up? It is time the people were told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The unions saw the problems which would come from the sale of these assets ... but I have never, ever seen anybody or any group of people cave in as quickly as they did. They were like soggy white bread. Believe me, I have never, ever seen a group of people cave in in such a quick fashion.

The unions saw the problems which would come from the sale of these assets and I remember hearing the words 'it is madness' when referring to the sale of these assets. They knew and understood that from the beginning, but I have never, ever seen anybody or any group of people cave in as quickly as they did. They were like soggy white bread. Believe me, I have never, ever seen a group of people cave in in such a quick fashion.

I had to ask myself why. What did they trade the security of workers? jobs for? Was it perhaps a political future? Were they told that if they did not pull their heads in they were jeopardising the future of the Labor government because it was election time? What was their price? The price is one the workers will ultimately pay. The sale of these assets will impact on Queenslanders---be it in jobs or in the cost of goods. The union bosses will be okay. I have seen it before in my electorate: the union bosses looked after themselves but it was the workers who paid the price. I have seen it before and I will possibly see it again. They sold out the workers in my electorate once before and they have now sold them out again. As far as I am concerned, any union member should tear up their union ticket to show how disgruntled they are.1

This government has relegated these important bills to the position of what we in the country call a job lot. For those members who do not know what a job lot is, it is a lot put up at an auction which is made up of bits and pieces deemed unable to be sold on their own.

This government has relegated these important bills to the position of what we in the country call a job lot. For those members who do not know what a job lot is, it is a lot put up at an auction which is made up of bits and pieces deemed unable to be sold on their own. It is the case here that they have been put up in a job lot so that these bills can pass through this House in a very short amount of time. Every member in this House who is entitled to speak on every bill for 20 minutes is really only getting possibly five minutes per bill tonight.

The proposed sale of Queensland Motorways will affect everybody, as will the sale of Queensland Rail's haulage business and the port of Brisbane. The sale of Forestry Plantations Queensland will affect my electorate quite substantially. These assets and the Abbot Point Coal Terminal are not job lot assets, and these bills should have been given the debating time that they are due and that they deserve.

These assets need to be recognised as very important assets of the state. They are major pieces of infrastructure. They are important assets of the people and this government has relegated them to being worth but a few minutes debate. I find that particularly shameful. The people may have been appalled on learning that the government is intent on flogging off the farm, but they should be even more appalled by the government?s actions of limiting proper debate on these bills. I have not heard one person who voiced their opinion agree---

Ms Struthers (Ms Karen Struthers, Minister for Community Services and Housing and Minister for Women) interjected..

Mrs PRATT: The members on the other side of the House who are willingly selling our assets can interrupt all they like because the opinion of the majority of my electorate is that the government is not worth two bob at this particular moment. I have not heard one person who has voiced their opinion agree with this asset sale. The people have been bitten before by the promise of low prices brought about by privatisation as there was a promise of more competition.

Ms Struthers interjected.

Mrs PRATT: I know for a fact that you do not sell off your assets. If you sell the cow, you do not get the milk.

Ms Struthers interjected.

Mrs PRATT: You sell the milk and you maintain the cow and you improve on it. You just do not get the milk. You sell the milk and you maintain the cow and you improve on it.

Ms Struthers interjected.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The minister will allow the member to speak.

Mrs PRATT: Thank you, Mr Speaker. We have always been told that privatisation brings more competition and lower prices. To date, in the area that I live I have not seen that. People may see that occur in the city where fuel is a lot cheaper and freight is very cheap, but I have not seen that occur in the rural sector. With privatisation, in most cases competition did not occur and the prices definitely did not come down; they rose quite substantially.

It is expected that $15 billion will be raised from this fire sale, but Queensland will have a $44 billion debt and in four yours time Queensland's debt will be over $80 billion. So I cannot see this relatively paltry $15 billion making much of a difference in the future.

The combining of the debate on these bills takes time away from being able to dissect the budget. I believe it is a devious and sneaky tactic to push all of these bills through the House in one hit. It is expected that $15 billion will be raised from this fire sale, but Queensland will have a $44 billion debt and in four yours time Queensland's debt will be over $80 billion. So I cannot see this relatively paltry $15 billion making much of a difference in the future. It is the people of Queensland who will be asked to pay.

Removal of 9.2c/litre fuel subsidy

It was stated earlier in this chamber that Queenslanders will be required to pay $14 million per day in interest alone on this debt and they will pay it in the form of increased fees, increased levies, increased old taxes and new taxes. The government has stated that the fuel subsidy is to be abolished, but if it were honest it would refer to it in its proper form. It is really the introduction of a new tax. The people will be forking out 9.2c a litre in extra tax.2 For an average household, that is an extra $200. This new tax raises a lot of questions for my constituents and, no doubt, every other rural person who needs to travel for health, medical and other services. Will this government lift the Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme rebate? It is currently 15c a kilometre and $30 per night for accommodation. But I did not see any mention of an increase in the PTSS to assist the most vulnerable in these harsh economic times. All I have seen to date is this government adding to the hard times.

Recently, a small operator stopped me in the street and stated that, with the implementation of this fuel tax, his fuel costs will increase by $1,000 a week. Just in case members do not know, that is $52,000 a year. He has to pass on those costs and will continue to pass on those costs to the consumer. The consumers will pay for this tax through every service they receive, every piece of goods they buy and every bit of food they buy to feed their families.

I would like to quote from a letter that I received from the RACQ. It states---

RACQ's Fight the fuel tax campaign... This new tax, combined with increases in vehicle registration fees of 17 to 22 percent from 1 July, will contribute to making Queensland the most expensive place in Australia in which to own and operate a motor car. In the current recession, RACQ believes it is more important than ever to ensure that motoring is as affordable as possible, especially in a state as large and decentralised as Queensland.

Major industry groups AgForce, Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland, Marine Queensland, Motor Trades Association of Queensland and Queensland Trucking Association, have all lent their support to the campaign because of the major negative impact the fuel tax will have on business. It has been estimated that the increased fuel costs would add about three percent to transport costs, leading to a rise of about one percent in the final cost of goods and services generally.

One per cent may not sound much, but when it is added to all the other increases that will be added over the next few years it will be quite a considerable amount.

Car registration increases

The Premier and the Treasurer are the modern day Fagins---picking the pockets of everyday Queenslanders. But the difference is that, although Fagin was subject to the laws of the day as he picked people's pockets, the Premier and Treasurer are making the laws to allow them to pick people's pockets legally.

Registration is up 17 to 22 per cent, depending on the number of cylinders of the car. That increase is equivalent to the combined increases that have occurred over the past six years. People will pay, pay and pay again. It is this level that people can relate to---the level of the hip pocket. The Premier and the Treasurer are the modern day Fagins---picking the pockets of everyday Queenslanders. But the difference is that, although Fagin was subject to the laws of the day as he picked people's pockets, the Premier and Treasurer are making the laws to allow them to pick people's pockets legally.

The burden of this debt will be felt the greatest by the regional and rural sectors. People in those areas travel more, as there is often no public transport for them. The people in those areas have large vehicles owing to poor road conditions or virtually a lack of roads at times. The freight bills for people in those areas are higher. Their fuel is often up to 10c or more per litre dearer than it is in the city. So yes, people in rural and regional areas will pay. The unemployment that will ensue will impact on the rural sector as well. Members should not think that unemployment will not be exacerbated, because as I speak people in small businesses are laying people off and they and their families are carrying out much of the work themselves.

Ms Struthers: Tell us your answer.

Mrs PRATT: I would not have got myself in this situation, because I have always saved for a rainy day. This government failed to save for a rainy day in the boom times. If the minister cannot save for her own future, she should not start throwing comments across the chamber.

Council subsidies capped

The capping of the annual subsidies paid to councils will be picked up by the ratepayers, too. Some of the shires in my electorate have found that, with the government's insistence on fluoridation, their water systems need to be upgraded. That is going to cost us money. But with this cap on subsidies, how many other services will be lessened, will not be delivered at all, or just shelved forever? Will the government consider, for instance, relaxing the fluoridation implementation time so that the money can be raised in due course? Will the government offer assistance in other forms? Again, the public will pick up the shortfall. The rates will go higher. Just because the amalgamated councils now have a larger rate base does not mean that their overall income will be greater. It will only be greater if the subsidies are increased. Again, the people will pay.

Repayment of debt

If the repayment of this debt does not go to plan---and we have found over the years with this government that most things have not gone to plan and just about everything has doubled in price---I can see my great-grandchildren paying this debt.

We are expected to be in debt until approximately 2017. I am old enough to have grandchildren---and I do have grandchildren---and they will be in the workforce by then and they will be paying off this debt. If the repayment of this debt does not go to plan---and we have found over the years with this government that most things have not gone to plan and just about everything has doubled in price---I can see my great-grandchildren paying this debt.

Unemployment rate

We have a 7.25 per cent unemployment rate---175,000 people. People are paying very dearly for the squandering of the money over the past decade. They are losing their jobs and they are paying more and more in fees, levies, charges and taxes. They are doing it extremely tough and then the Treasurer releases a statement that says that ministers will no longer get free lunches, which will save $28,000 per annum. Can anyone blame the general public for being cynical about politicians? I certainly do not.

Funding of programs in Nanango electorate

At this point I should acknowledge a couple of questionably good things in the budget. One was the annual rise in the electricity rebate for pensioners, which will rise in line with the increase in power prices. So pensioners will not be out of pocket in terms of their electricity bills. The other one was the rise in the stamp duty threshold for first home buyers purchasing land, which should save first home buyers $5,600. I cannot help feeling very cynical. These are good ideas and I commend the government for them. But I wonder how much the first home buyers will save when freight, fees and other charges continue to rise. Will their Australian dream become a nightmare?

The Nanango electorate will benefit from this budget to the tune of more than $200 million, but that funding is primarily for the continuation of Tarong Energy to secure its future fuel supply and to continue the supply of energy to the state. Tarong Energy provides an essential service. But it worries me that in due course even that may be put as a job lot. There are other projects that I will refer to later in this speech but I believe it is necessary to outline that this budget is basically letting my electorate down.

In relation to health, there is 80 per cent more funding than last year, which is definitely needed. There are 646 more doctors and nurses. How many will go to rural and regional areas? The planned Sunshine Coast Hospital has been postponed. In rural areas we dream of having a new hospital and we dream of not having other hospitals closed down. I can see that each day people from my area will be forced onto the congested roads of Brisbane as they try to seek services.

In relation to education, it was pleasing to see in the budget that Kingaroy State High will get $2,600,000 towards the Burnett trade training centre. This is a very worthwhile program and has been beneficial to the area.

Ms Struthers interjected.

Mrs PRATT: It is a perfectly good school and it has got great leadership. That is to be acknowledged. Nanango State Preschool will receive almost $2 million for construction of an early childhood education centre. Their community will thank the government for that. But we do not thank the government for overlooking the Kingaroy 'dump-of-the-month' Police Station. It is only so often one can putty and paint over termite damage and crowd police into small rooms. I believe that if the government spoke to those police officers they would be begging them to give them a decent place to work to do the job of protecting the community as is expected of them.

Registration increases not to be spent on roads

Roads are another major problem. I note that this budget is $300 million down on previous funding. It is mostly federal funding that we are talking about and it is mostly going to the south-east corner. I will not argue with that because I have no problem with roads being built anywhere and I am very grateful when I see them in my area. I do ask: why is it that the government has not been able to keep up many of our bridges on the major highways like the New England Highway, the D'Aguilar Highway, and the Brisbane Valley? Why has the government not kept them as dual carriageways? It has been reducing them steadily to single-lane bridges. These are major thoroughfares in Queensland that are seen by people from other states and visitors from overseas. The government tells me that it is to do with the safety of the bridges and their carrying capacity but it is a retrograde step to let our bridges fall into such disrepair.

Recently the Treasurer stated that there would be a 20 per cent rise in registration costs and that that money would not go into the roads budget as would normally occur but into consolidated revenue. The government also touts very strongly its desire to reduce our road toll. But this money grab, to me and to my constituents, puts the lie to that professed desire to reduce our road toll.

Mr SPEAKER: The word 'lie' is unparliamentary. You will withdraw it immediately.

Mrs PRATT: It puts an untruth to that desire. The government is going nowhere but backwards. If it was possible I would like to see much, much more money going into roads. Those opposite might ask where it would go. The point I make is that it should be spread around a little bit more. The member for Chatsworth was quite honestly standing up in this House and stating how happy he was with the government's performance. I have to say to the member for Chatsworth: you have the benefit of being on the governing side.

Mr SPEAKER: Talk through the chair, please. Do not talk to the member. You will address your comments through the chair.

Mrs PRATT: The member for Chatsworth might be big enough to recognise the fact that he has a distinct advantage over any electorate that is on the opposing side.

(Time expired)

Footnotes

1. Whilst we think Dorothy Pratt's advice to union members that they tear up their membership cards is perfcetly understandable, given the cowardly capitulation of most union leaders before the state Government over privatisation. Nevertheless, we would counsel disgruntled union members to remain as members and fight to replace their current union leaders with leaders who are prepared to stand up for their members' best interests.

2. There is a view amongst most environmentalists that the fuel subsidy was unjustified because it encourages consumption of a resource that can only become increasingly scarce after the world production of petroleum inevitably peaks. Nevertheless, the Labor Party made a solemn promise to retain the fuel subsidy at the 2009 election. Whatever claimed justification for the abolition of the fuel subsidy exists now would have been just as valid prior to the elecctions.

Comments

Great speech Dorothy. Pity you couldn't speak for the urban electorate, since what you said applies as much to them.

Sheila Newman