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From time to time MPs have the opportunity to ask Questions Without Notice to Ministers during Question Time in Parliament. The following are the questions Seath has asked of Ministers and their responses.
Q: Can the Treasurer please inform the House on the latest economic news pertaining to Queensland and is he aware of any alternate views?
A: Treasurer NICHOLLS: I thank the member for Pine Rivers for his question. I am not sure that I can match the honourable the police minister in answering questions. I will just 'disperse' (sic) my way through that and move on to the issue. The member for Pine Rivers is vitally interested in the state of the economy. I remember during the campaign leading up to the last election that he and the member for Kallangur both campaigned strongly on what was happening in the economy in their local area. They introduced such schemes as Buy Local and I remember their efforts to repair the A J Wyllie Bridge to increase commerce into their part of the world and to deliver a response that their then local members were unable to. I see the member for South Brisbane there, the democratic workers socialist republic of South Brisbane over there, standing up and yet again offering the response of the comrades from Moscow in the 1950s and that is to do nothing about it, perhaps take a few off down to the back of the building and shoot them for suggesting an idea.
The ‘bolshie'. Did I hear someone say bolshie? I had forgotten about bolshie. What is happening in the Queensland economy and what are people saying about the Queensland economy? What we are seeing is confidence returning to Queensland after a term of Labor that saw confidence ebbing away. As our prosperity ebbed away, as our AAA credit rating ebbed away, as our population growth ebbed away, as all that was ebbing away under Labor we saw a loss of confidence. Now it is coming back. The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment released today shows a seven and a half per cent surge in Queensland this month to be 106.6 points on the positive side and that is the highest level since November 2010 and compares to a national increase of just on 4.7 per cent.
It is interesting to read what that survey says. It noted that the majority of the survey was conducted prior to the announcement of the election result. Westpac pointed to the media coverage throughout the survey period which strongly suggested a coalition victory and then concluded that-
The election result played an important if not leading role in this strong boost to consumer sentiment.
Even the prospect of an LNP victory in Canberra led to an increase in business and consumer confidence throughout Queensland and throughout Australia. The good news does not end there. ABS figures for lending finance released today show that there has been an increase in investor activity in the housing market with the value of finance commitments increasing by $3.6 billion in the July quarter. Queensland-a great state to grow, employ and invest.
Q: Can the Treasurer update the House on the cost pressures facing Queensland businesses and families and if he is aware of any new challenges?
A: Treasurer NICHOLLS: I thank the member for Pine Rivers for his question, another member from this side of the House-although he is over on that side-who does actually pay attention to what is occurring in the economy and is keen to know about what, of course, is one of the big issues being debated at a federal level. I am aware very much of the cost of living pressures being faced by families in Queensland and throughout Australia. In fact, we were so aware of it that the first bill that was introduced into the House by the Newman government was the cost of living reduction bill.
I hear an interjection from the shadow Treasurer there, the promulgator of the mythbusters fact sheet who proudly said, ‘No, we have done everything we can. We have increased car registration. We have made it more expensive to buy a house'. There were cost of living pressures and they were all being delivered by the Labor Party because we know debt and deficit are in their DNA. We took steps in Queensland to do what we could do to reduce it. Our coalition colleagues at the federal level are doing the same thing, having announced today a one and a half per cent cut in the company tax rate to help small businesses, companies throughout Australia, rise to the challenge. They have also agreed to get rid of the minerals resource rent tax, the tax that collects nothing except pain. They will do what they can do to fix it up.
But what is a challenge to business and families in Australia and in Queensland at the moment? The biggest challenge to families in Queensland is the Australian Labor Party and the 43 new taxes they have introduced since taking office in 2007. They started back in 2008 with the alcopops tax. Since the beginning of this year alone, while the Henry tax review has been left to gather dust in the offices of the Treasurer, Labor has introduced 16 new taxes. Only the Labor Party could introduce a tax that barely raises any revenue and spends the money before any of it actually comes in. We have heard that story before. It was the story of the former Labor government in this state that spent money on Mines to Minds before they even had the revenue. Of course, they had the super profits tax. There are $14 billion of unfunded promises on the back of tax receipts from the MRRT that will not be there. We have also got the carbon taxed introduced by a Prime Minister who said, ‘There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'. The carbon tax is adding to the cost burden. And last month Labor also announced plans for four new taxes on families and businesses: a $5.3 billion increase in tobacco excise; a $733 million levy on Australian banks-effectively taxing the savings of everyday Australians; a $533 million increase to visa application charges; a raid on Australian's superannuation and a $1.8 billion hit on the car industry in Australia. Taxes, fees and charges are Labor's specialty.
During the Estimates Hearings on 17th July 2013, I asked questions of various Ministers. The questions and answers can be viewed at each of the following links:
Q: My question is to the Minister for Energy and Water Supply. Regarding the Commission of Audit, can the minister advise what the government's decision in relation to Powerlink, Ergon and Energex means for the future of those businesses?
A: Minister McARDLE: I thank the member for the question. At the outset, can I say how proud I am to be part of a government that is not afraid to tackle the hard questions openly and honestly and, in fact, bring in all LNP members to talk about the issues and talk about the solutions. That is in contrast to the Labor Party in the last sale of assets that they put through this House. In fact, I can recall one member of this House in the Labor Party-in fact, a minister for transport-who was asked a question by the then shadow Treasurer about the sale of QR and who had no idea that it was going to be sold. In fact, she stood here and made the comment, ‘It will not be sold. It will not be sold.' Two days later, what happened? The boom came down. They even excluded their own ministry from understanding the issues, let alone the solutions-'It will not be sold.' It was a bit like a dalek moving forward saying, ‘Exterminate, exterminate.'
I make the comment that when this government inherited Ergon, Energex and Powerlink, it inherited a debt of somewhere between $12 billion to $13 billion. But these entities are important to Queensland. They are important to the four pillars to developing this state so that we can grow the state in conjunction with the people, in conjunction with the business and in conjunction with local government.
But the task will not be easy. The task will be hard. It will be long. We need to make certain that these entities turn up their productivity even higher, turn their focus on the bottom line even harder and make certain that they get the best of their assets for the long-term benefit of Queensland.
It is important that we understand that these entities are commercial entities. They are expected by this government and the people of this state to return a dollar, to return a quality product and to return an outcome that is beneficial for all concerned. This government has made certain they understand that they are expected to turn around the course that they were set on by the Labor Party in years gone by, a course that delivered a $14 billion debt to the people of this state-a debt that we continue to pay on an ongoing basis. There will be no more statements that ‘it is not happening', ‘it is not going on'. We are here to make certain we get the outcomes. We are not going to exterminate assets; we are going to make them profitable. We are going to make certain that they do turn the corner. We are going to make the people of Queensland as proud of Ergon, Energex and Powerlink as we are-as I am. We have good people in this government working hard with those entities to make certain that we do get what we want, they are proud of who they work for, they are proud of who they are and, more importantly, the people of this state are proud of them and what they do.
Q: My question without is to the Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection. Could the minister please outline to the House the major achievements his department has made over the last 12 months to reduce green tape while continuing to protect Queensland's unique flora and fauna?
A: Minister POWELL: I thank the member for his very erudite question and for this opportunity to talk about policy and about what we have been able to deliver in almost 12 months in the newly established Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. My department has been tasked with an ambitious service delivery and policy agenda which will incorporate and has incorporated a fundamental shift in the way our environment and our built heritage is managed.
One year on, I am pleased to say that the Newman government has struck the right balance between supporting sustainable economic development through strong environmental regulation. It does so not by punishing businesses, big or small, by strangling them with unnecessary red tape. In less than a fortnight's time one of the key election commitments of my department to make it easier and cheaper for business and industry to obtain certain environmental approvals without diluting environmental protections or lowering environmental standards will come into effect via our landmark green-tape reduction legislation. At the same time-31 March-20 environmentally relevant activity thresholds will also be deleted from the environmental protection regulation which will save almost 9,400 businesses not only loads of paperwork but $6.18 million in annual fees.
The Newman government and the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection have also kicked into the long grass Labor's business-destroying antirecycling waste tax. We continue to work with industry around an industry driven waste strategy for this state. In Central and Northern Queensland we are working closely with the cane and the grazing industries to establish and implement best management practice programs to protect our Great Barrier Reef.
I take that interjection from the Minister for Agriculture. We have established the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Science Panel, and we are continuing to work with the local community to ensure they understand what is going on in Gladstone harbour.
The member for Pine Rivers was alongside me last week when we announced funding for rescue and rehabilitation services in the area of koala protection. It was fantastic to see three organisations in his electorate receive funding through that scheme. A total of $280,000 rolled out the door last week as part of our $800,000 commitment to rescue and rehabilitation.
We continue to work with councils in streamlining processes following ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald. We have put new members on the Queensland Heritage Council and are exploring new ways to help people who have heritage listed properties in the state. We have released the independent scientific review of the Fraser Island Dingo Management Strategy. We have funded 74 successful recipients through Everyone's Environment grants, and the work continues. I look forward to sharing the ongoing success stories of my department in 2013 as we continue to get the balance right.
Q: My question without notice is to the Minister for Health. I refer the minister to the upcoming World AIDS Day and the Newman LNP government's commitment to build a better future for Queenslanders. I ask: will the minister update the House on how the government is tackling this important health issue after a decade of indifference and inaction by the previous Labor government?
A: Minister SPRINGBORG: I thank the honourable member for his interest in this area. I really appreciate his question and also commend him and other members who are in here today wearing the ribbon which symbolises international World AIDS Day, which is going to be celebrated on 1 December. Indeed, this is the 25th such year of celebration and recognition of international World AIDS Day, and it is a very important to understand that right throughout the world millions of people actually suffer from HIV/AIDS as we sit here this morning. Indeed, many millions of people have actually died as a consequence of this scourge over many decades.
Fortunately, as we have gone forward, we have been able to create a greater environment, a safer environment and a more stable environment for people who are actually suffering from HIV. Fortunately, with regard to the antiretroviral drugs which have been on the market in recent years, we have been able to ensure that people who have tested positive for HIV have been able to go on and live a long and very productive life.
One of my concerns over a long period of time has been the way the HIV/AIDS program and awareness campaigns have been run in Queensland. That necessitated some very tough decisions in recent times and that was to establish a ministerial AIDS advisory committee, which is going about the work now of actually targeting the strategies that are going to make a difference. Indeed, the
Commonwealth government has recently signed up to very ambitious international targets which aim to reduce the HIV diagnosis rates by some 50 per cent by 2015. That is going to be extremely hard to achieve, but they have gone further than that and they are wanting to commit to, say, 80 per cent. As part of that, we need new strategies to be able to arrest this scourge, because last year in Australia 1,137 new diagnoses were recorded for people with HIV. Indeed, there was an 8.2 per cent increase. The ministerial AIDS advisory council, which is ably chaired by Dr Darren Russell, an expert in his field, and many other representatives, are hard at work. Already we are putting in place programs such as rapid testing so that we can actually diagnose people who are positive to HIV. That in itself with our education programs is likely to result in a spike over a period of time as we actually now target and identify and encourage more people to come forward.
The other thing that we are going to be doing is to ensure that strategies such as test and treat-that is, treatment as prevention-are going to become part of the way we deal with HIV/AIDS in Queensland. This is rather controversial but we do know that it does make a difference, because when people are tested and if they test positive they are treated, then that is going to make a difference to further contractions of the disease.
Q: My question without notice is to the Minister for Education, Training and Employment. Will the minister update the House on how the Independent Public Schools initiative is empowering local principals to tackle bullying in schools?
A: Minister LANGBROEK: I thank the honourable member for the question. I know that, as many members do, the honourable member certainly has an understanding of teaching and understands that the best environment to learn is one where behaviour is good behaviour. To improve outcomes and to allow our teachers to teach, we must do what we can to improve classroom behaviour. Each and every student has a right to an education in a fair and friendly school, free of the threat of persecution and threats. I want every principal and every teacher in this state to know that they have my full, unflinching support, they have the Premier's full and unflinching support, they have the cabinet's support and they have the support of every parliamentary member of the LNP to get tough on bullying in schools.
As an example, I endorse the recent stance taken by Principal Steve McLuckie of Southport State High School, in the electorate of Southport, and his team with regard to the suspension of students found defaming publicly the school and its teachers by social media, as reported this week and extensively today. The subject has had widespread media coverage. Principals, teachers, parents and the community at large are all custodians of the cultures of their school, and a positive school culture leads to positive behaviour and positive outcomes.
As Principal McLuckie said to me this morning, education is a partnership. State schools abide by the Code of School Behaviour and are required to have an approved responsible behaviour plan for students, outlining behaviour expectations, supports in place to create a safe, supportive and disciplined environment and consequences for inappropriate behaviour. The code outlines a consistent standard of behaviour for all state school communities, inclusive of staff and parents. The code enshrines the notion that there are consequences for unacceptable behaviour. In short, principals have the tools at their disposal, but for whatever reason they sometimes do not wish to use them. Too often they fear a lack of bureaucratic backup or fear that confrontational parents are not willing to share responsibility.
I note that Southport State High School is an independent public school, and I encourage the honourable member to have schools in his electorate of Pine Rivers apply subsequently. Consistent with this government's dual commitment on empowering principals and engaging parents, we will ensure that principals are empowered to create the positive culture they want in their schools. That is what Independent Public Schools is about: empowerment and backing principals to make the decisions that are right for their students and their communities. Principals know their schools. As educational community leaders they have the right to set high standards for students and expect them to adhere to them. Social media is a powerful force, and it is up to us to make sure that all users, young and old, understand the consequences of misusing it.
During the Estimates Hearings on 10th October 2012, I asked questions of various Ministers. The questions and answers can be viewed at each of the following links:
Q: My question without notice is to the Minister for Education, Training and Employment. Will the Minister update the House on negotiations for the teachers' enterprise bargaining agreement and the level of representation Queensland teachers are receiving from the Queensland Teachers Union?
A: Minister LANGBROEK: I thank the honourable member for the question, because many of the other new members in this House and many of the ongoing members in this House believe that hardworking teachers in our state deserve to have a pay rise. They do great work in our schools throughout the state sector, the independent sector and the Catholic sector. Any pay rise that we give in the state sector will pass through to the independent and Catholic sectors.
It is a very good question, because so far I think the teachers throughout this state have not necessarily been getting the best representation from their leadership in the Teachers Union. The question ties in with some of the other questions and answers that we have had today about whether there have been inappropriate people placed on boards. As I think about my own portfolio, I know that I keep seeing unionists, who also do not understand business, being placed in a number of business units and on a number of different boards, throughout my portfolio and in others. Clearly, these are people who have no concept of business and, therefore, have contributed to the debt and the situation that we find ourselves in at the state level-people like Andrew Dettmer, Bill Ludwig, Grace Grace and John Battams, just to mention a few. Surely, they have contributed to the situation that we find ourselves in.
The executive of the Teachers Union is exactly in that situation today. When we talk about the offer of 2.7 per cent that we have made in the current economic climate-an economic climate that, of course, we know is the legacy of the Labor Party here in our state-the QTU has been disingenuous in relation to the EB negotiations. It would rather engage in political grandstanding than act on behalf of its members on these pay outcomes. There was a rally outside the parliament at which they asked us to look at these EB negotiations and to take more urgent action. Since then we have had three more meetings. We had 25 meetings before those three. There have been 28 meetings about negotiations on this enterprise bargain and the president and general secretary of the union has been at not one of those meetings.
So I ask teachers around this state whether the representation they are getting from their union leaders is appropriate. The union leaders are confusing on many issues for which they initially expressed support. The issue of the independent public schools is a classic example. They expressed support but suddenly, when it comes to an EB negotiation, they are saying to their teachers and principals, ‘Don't be involved in independent public schools.' But they are not saying the same thing to their own side. Peter Garrett is empowering local schools. There has been silence about that from the Teachers Union. Yesterday morning they were for reviewing the OP score. By the afternoon, the Teachers Union was saying it was against reviewing OP scores.
Q: My question without notice is to the Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection. Can the Minister outline the progress this can-do government has made in amending the bilateral agreement with the Commonwealth to ultimately provide greater economic certainty and environmental protection in Queensland?
A: Minister POWELL: I thank the member for the question. Like me, I know the member for Pine Rivers is very concerned about ensuring we get the balance right between economic certainty and environmental protection. This gives me the opportunity to outline the can-do government's commitment to ensuring that environmental assessment processes are carried out in the most efficient way possible, avoiding unnecessary duplication while maintaining the highest of environmental standards.
Much has been said and much has been reported in the last few weeks about Alpha coal and the concerns raised by both jurisdictions. I am able to report today that we were right all along. This was an issue of process not of meeting high environmental standards. In the last couple of weeks the Deputy Premier and I have worked with Minister Burke to resolve these issues through amendments to the bilateral agreement dealing with the environmental assessment process in Queensland. In short, the previous bilateral agreement aimed to streamline the assessment process but it failed to meet its most fundamental objective.
I am pleased to inform the House that the matter has now been resolved. Queensland has an amended bilateral agreement. The changes we have agreed to with the Commonwealth are a major step forward and introduce a sensible project management approach to the process. Amongst other things, the new bilateral agreement includes the setting of defined milestones, it provides proponents with a service delivery charter, it includes a separate chapter on matters of national environmental significance and it has improved governance arrangements. These changes will provide certainty to project proponents around the environmental information and the analysis required for assessments and-I stress this-it will reduce overall approval process times.
I am pleased to inform the House that Minister Burke actually flew to Brisbane last week and signed the new bilateral agreement between Queensland and the Commonwealth in my office on Thursday, 14 June after the Deputy Premier also consented to the same. I take this opportunity to thank the staff of my department as well as the staff from the Deputy Premier's department, the Coordinator-General and his staff and the staff from the Premier's department who have worked long hours to ensure this outcome has been achieved.
At the end of the day, this government will once again energise business in Queensland. We will restore investment confidence in this great state. We will facilitate major projects to help balance the books. We will achieve all of this through practical, sensible initiatives such as reducing green tape, including duplicated Commonwealth approval processes, while ensuring our environmental standards are not compromised.