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Premier's deep freeze: Public service to foot bill for $500m stimulus package

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has confirmed a public service pay freeze will save the government half a billion dollars in a financial year so tumultuous there is still no budget.

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Palaszczuk told reporters Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace would introduce legislation this afternoon to impose the freeze, avoiding an unlikely scenario whereby unions would ask members to vote in support of the measure.

Tight-lipped on the details, Palaszczuk said it would honour her commitment to freeze public service wages from July 1 and allow the government to redirect around $500 million into stimulus. There will also be no water and power corporation bonuses and MPs will likely have their pay rates frozen too.

“We will actually have the money in the financial year in which we need it the most which is now,” Palaszczuk said, appearing to suggest that the negotiated pay rises would be delayed until 2021-22.

“People have lost their jobs, people are hurting and my government is committed to job security but we know that everyone has got to experience a bit of pain as well.”

The move denies teachers, police and other workers pay increases in 2020-21 that their unions had secured through enterprise bargaining negotiations. Other workers, including nurses, have already received their increases due to the earlier application of their negotiated agreements.

Palaszczuk declined to urge unions against industrial actions but sought to remind them that the former Newman government had cut public servants. She said everyone had to work towards Queensland’s economic recovery.

Earlier, Palaszczuk told parliament that the next stage of the government’s economic recovery plan would cost $267 million and support more than 6,000 jobs.

The new funding includes $50 million for “shovel ready” council works and a separate boost for the construction industry, with the $15,000 First Home Owners grant for new homes extended and with an added bonus of $5,000 for regional homes.

“The housing and construction sector is a critical employer in Queensland,” Palaszczuk said.

“It is a sector that employs both skilled tradies and is also able to take on workers from other industries when their work dries up.”

The government will also fund fast-track $100 million in social housing projects in a Works for Tradies program, and spend $10 million on renovations to support seniors or people with disabilities.

As flagged, the government will take applications from small businesses for another round of grants under a $100 million program. Again, a significant proportion of the funding will be directed into regional areas, with Palaszczuk and senior ministers travelling outside of the south-east more often ahead of the October state election.

The arts sector will receive a $22.5 million “rescue package” that will help fund live music events, temporary outdoor venues, First Nations’ art, and general support for operators.

The embattled tourism sector will benefit from another $15 million, this time for airline route development.

“One in four jobs have been lost in accommodation and food services in the fallout of COVID-19 restrictions,” Palaszczuk said.

“The impact from the closure of international borders cannot be understated.

“We now have more people on JobKeeper in Cairns than in Brisbane. It’s why the extension of JobKeeper must happen to continue to support our tourism operators while international borders remain closed.”

In question time, Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington sought to pressure Palaszczuk over the border closures, which Frecklington said were “closing businesses and costing Queensland jobs”.

The Premier reiterated that she had to prioritise health concerns, with July 10 still the likely day for border restrictions to be eased. She later clarified previous statements by saying there was no definitive period of time, in which southern states had to reach certain milestones in their COVID-19 response, for the border to reopen.

After Frecklington accused Palaszczuk of “flying blind” on the economic impact, with no economic modelling having been conducted on the drop in interstate travel, the Premier pointed to a High Court challenge to the border closures and suggested the Liberal National Party, One Nation, Clive Palmer and their political donors were “fighting against Queensland”.

In other funding announcements, the agriculture sector will receive $5 million in funding to boost trade opportunities, while $5.5 million has been set aside for digital technology and product tracing.

The government has also committed $10 million in mining exploration funding focussed on supplying minerals for new technologies, and will contribute $17 million towards a new Renewable Energy Training Facility in Brisbane.

National parks will receive $8.9 million to improve visitor infrastructure.

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