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Our lightbulb moment: Why Qld has never been more ready to back great ideas

Opinion

The Queensland Government has the machinery in place to “champion economic recovery across key industries and sectors”. But the private sector has to give them something to work with, writes Robert MacDonald

Print article

Any company with a good idea for moving the Queensland economy along should contact the State Government right away.

You’ll rarely get a better chance for a good hearing – a new, pro-business treasurer, Cameron Dick, and a government getting close to the bottom of its own bag of tricks for keeping things ticking over during the COVID-19 shutdown.

The Government has fired its big guns – $3 billion worth of cheap money, tax concessions and assorted licence, permit and registration fees.

Public servants – using mechanisms honed by decades of dealing with recovery from natural disasters – have done a remarkable job getting that money out to companies hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Queensland’s Rural and Industry Development Authority had, by last Friday, approved $455 million worth of loans for COVID-19-affected businesses under a scheme launched barely six weeks earlier.

Interest in the 12-month interest-free loans was so strong, QRIDA had to close the door to new applications on 18 April, barely three weeks into the program, and months before the original deadline of 25 September. The Government has also just doubled its initial $500 million loan pool – with funds sourced from the Queensland Investment Corporation.

During the same period, Queensland Treasury has approved about $450 million of payroll and land tax relief.

The Government has also delivered a string of other concessions and support for specific industry sectors, from three-months free rent for start-ups at The Precinct innovation hub in Fortitude Valley to the deferral of gaming machine taxes for clubs and pubs.

But there’s only so much a government can do to restart an economy, especially a government looking at $100 billion or more of debt in the wake of COVID-19.

It can offer short-term relief by way of cheap loans and moratoriums on licence fees and charges but it’s the private sector that has to come up with the new investment essential for creating jobs and economic growth.

What next then, as we tiptoe our way out of the lockdown?

The public record offers some, limited, guidance.

Parliament’s Economics and Governance Committee, which is inquiring into the Queensland Government’s economic response to COVID-19,  heard evidence last Wednesday from two of the senior bureaucrats leading the state’s recovery plans; Under-Treasurer Frankie Carroll and State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning Director-General Rachel Hunter.

Hunter chairs the Economic Functional Recovery Group (EFRG) which was convened in early February following the declaration of Queensland’s state-wide public health emergency on 29 January “to coordinate the immediate economic response”.

With that initial work now largely identified and delivered, the EFRG has expanded its brief to looking at the long-term recovery of the economy.

It now includes the directors-general of the State Government’s economic agencies and the bosses of the Queensland Reconstruction Authority, Trade and Investment Queensland and the Local Government Association of Queensland.

To quote from the departmental briefing note prepared for last Wednesday’s Economics and Governance Committee hearing:

“The EFRG has been refocussed and reformed to respond to the scale of the recovery required.

“The EFRG will champion economic recovery across key industries and sectors including transport, agriculture, international education, tourism and events, mines and energy, trade and investment, environment, small business, supply and logistics, and manufacturing.

“Additional focus will be applied to cross-cutting elements such as infrastructure through the Infrastructure Industry Steering Committee, and skills and innovation in recognition of the transformative nature of recovery required.

Which, I think, means the government’s economic agencies have processes in place to help the private sector get back on its feet.

But they’ll need something to work with.

So, if you’ve got a great idea, here’s your chance.

But first, some advice, based on some time spent years ago working as a business advisor to then-Premier Wayne Goss.

Have a very clear idea of what you actually want from government. For example, don’t just complain about red tape. Identify the specific rule or regulation that is holding you up. You have to give the bureaucrats something to work with.

Don’t just ask for money. If you are looking for financial support or relief of some sort, have a good argument for why it would be in the public benefit for your business to get special treatment.

And have a very clear idea of what you’re offering government. And right now, what it will be looking for are projects and investments that can create jobs as quickly as possible.

So get cracking.

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