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Is the Queensland Government at war with business on purpose or is it just by accident?

Business

The Queensland Government has managed to upset the state’s coal miners, pubs and clubs, the gambling industry and food delivery companies all at once. Deliberate strategy or incompetence? asks Robert MacDonald.

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Has the Queensland Government deliberately declared war on large swathes of the state’s private sector?

Or are its current skirmishes with Queensland’s coal miners, pubs and clubs, the gambling industry and food delivery companies just the result of a third-term administration suffering from indifference, complacency, arrogance and incompetence, or a combination of all four?

One of the first things Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk did when she unexpectedly won office in early 2015 was hold a reception at Parliament House for 60 or so business leaders.

Palaszczuk and then-treasurer Curtis Pitt promised to work side-by-side with industry “in order to create jobs and grow the economy”.

“My government will consult with all stakeholders and listen to their views and concerns,” she said.

Seven-and-a-half years on, the Queensland Resources Council is running TV ads publicly attacking this same Government for bumping up coal royalties in its recent State Budget.

“A kick in the guts” and “a government grab for cash that puts regional jobs and businesses at risk,” it says.

A big concern of the QRC?  Lack of consultation.

The on-line betting industry – collectively calling itself Responsible Wagering Australia – is similarly outraged at a recent tax hike, which it brands “dodgy” in a full-page Courier-Mail ad on the weekend.

It, too, says there was no consultation.

For their part, Clubs Queensland and the Queensland Hotels Association are objecting to the Government’s plans to give the gaming regulator more unilateral power to introduce tougher gambling harm-minimisation rules.

And again, their big beef? No consultation.

Australia’s food delivery operators – Uber, Menulog, Doordash and the like – are also cranky that the Government is proposing new entitlements and conditions for their drivers without first consulting the industry.

So what? you might say. Why shouldn’t the Government bump up coal royalties to recognise the recent unprecedented surge in coal prices?

And doesn’t it make sense to increase taxes for on-line gambling companies to level the playing field for once-State Government-owned, land-based gambling operator, Tabcorp?

And surely the Government should be doing everything it can to minimise harm to problem gamblers and the potential exploitation of independent food delivery drivers?

Well, yes but the problem is less about what the Government is trying to achieve than how it is going about it.

Palaszczuk’s long-ago promise to “consult with all stakeholders” has been forgotten. The Government is barrelling through these changes without first negotiating with those businesses and industries most affected.

The result is warfare with the private sector across a range of fronts, which the Government didn’t need to have.

What harm would have come from consulting first? Giving the affected companies and industries the chance to put their case and to horse trade would have gone a long way to spiking their guns.

It would, for instance, have removed at least one of the arguing points being used by the on-line gambling lobby – that the Government refused to see its members while having more than 40 meetings with Tabcorp’s lobbyists.

Talking with the food delivery company operators might also have helped resolve the obvious challenges of meshing state-based remuneration and entitlement conditions for independent drivers with existing national road transport regulations.

As the AI Group says, echoing the concerns of Uber and the food delivery sector: “Consideration of any regulatory changes for platform work needs to be led by the Commonwealth, in collaboration with the States and in consultation with stakeholders.

‘It would not be in anyone’s interests for legislative or other changes to be introduced at the State-level when all the major platform businesses operate nationally and when Australia has a national workplace relations system.”

So, has the Queensland Government embraced this no-consultation strategy on purpose?

In the case of higher coal taxes at least, you’d have to think so. How else to explain the Government’s recent ad blitz justifying the royalties hike, which has incensed the miners?

It’s as if the Government were itching for a fight.

You could imagine the Government strategists – assuming there are actually any – thinking Treasurer Cameron Dick clearly needs the money and where’s the political harm in beating up greedy multinational mining companies from time to time.

But I think there’s also a degree of incompetence involved.

How else to explain the rather extraordinary public attack on the Government’s new tax hike by Japan’s ambassador to Australia, Shingo Yamagumi, at a recent Queensland University address.

This suggests Japan, Queensland’s most important partner in the state’s coal industry – as both investor and customer – didn’t know the change was coming.

And that in turn suggests the money men and women in Treasury didn’t think to get Queensland’s long-serving and well-connected Trade Commissioner in Japan, Tak Adashi, to smooth the way before the official announcement.

Evidence for this theory was the speed with which the Government organised a hand-shaking-and-smiles photo-op between Treasurer Dick and the ambassador, just days after the ambassador’s speech.

But then again, it’s probably inevitable that a seven-and-a-half-year-old government, now in its third term and still ahead in most polls, gets complacent and indifferent from time to time, if not downright arrogant.

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