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LNP says Labor plunging state deeper into debt, no plan to get back out

Politics

The last parliamentary sitting week before the October 31 election has descended into an argument over the budget – or lack thereof.

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After Treasurer Cameron Dick gave a long-awaited budget update on Monday, following the postponement of the budget proper, the Opposition questioned the government’s economic record and priorities.

Dick confirmed government revenue was falling, along with the state’s tax take, and borrowings were increasing.

The headline public sector borrowing figure is set to surpass $100 billion for the first time, and the government is leveraging its assets more, in line with Labor’s position against privatisation.

Dick also used the budget update to announce a further $4 billion in targeted economic stimulus, again funded by borrowings, to be allocated “up and to the election”

In Question Time today, LNP leader Deb Frecklington took aim at Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, saying Labor did not have a plan to restore the budget and sustain economic growth. Frecklington said the budget fundamentals were weak before 2020.

Dick’s update gave shorter term forecasts than normal, which he attributed to uncertainty over the recession, and he has only promised to deliver a full budget after the election if Labor holds power.

Labor’s budget would be handed down on December 1, whereas the LNP has promised a budget within 100 days of the election if returned to power.

Frecklington challenged Palaszczuk to reveal Labor’s “secret plan” to increase taxes after 2021 to pay for its economic mismanagement and pork barrelling before the election.

Palaszczuk insisted “there is no secret plan,” instead referring parliament to public statements and reports. She reiterated that the government’s health response to the pandemic helped safeguard the Queensland economy.

“This virus is deadly, and this virus has long lasting implications for economies not just in Australia but around the world,” Palaszczuk said.

When Palaszczuk noted the pandemic had cost lives, health, and jobs, Frecklington interjected that Labor was “planning for another 72,000 of them,” referring to the Treasury forecasts contained in the budget update.

Palaszczuk insisted she lay awake at night thinking about the implications of the pandemic and the responsibilities of government.

Opposition treasury spokesman Tim Mander accused Dick of underplaying the debt problem by not incorporating into the headline figures his “$4 billion debt-funded election slush fund”.

Dick told parliament he was reluctant to borrow money but not if it helped support the economy and keep people in jobs. He said that, due to low interest rates during the recession, the cost of servicing the increased debt would be $800 million lower than when the LNP was in government.

Dick and other ministers joined Palaszczuk in suggesting the LNP would repeat the job cuts and efficiency measures seen under the Newman government. They questioned how the LNP would fund $23 billion in election promises, including a new Bradfield scheme.

“Just as now is not the time for new revenue measures, now is certainly not time for austerity measures,” Dick said.

“That would only make things worse.”

Deputy Premier and Health Minister Steven Miles suggested LNP cuts would likely include the health system that had kept Queensland safe this year.

Dick later introduced appropriation bills to keep the government, and parliament, running until the next budget. The move would see almost $30 billion transferred from the consolidated fund for departments to cover 2019-20 expenses. Amid Opposition complaints of a lack of time to scrutinise the bills, or the budget update, Dick insisted there was nothing untoward and, again, no “secret plan”.

The Treasurer’s previous complaints that Mander misrepresented budgetary issues in parliament have been referred to the ethics committee by Speaker Curtis Pitt, who found the Opposition treasury spokesman may have a case to answer. Pitt, a Labor MP, emphasised that it was not his role to judge such matters.

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