Comparing policies: The good, the bad and those with a very familiar ring

The pandemic and memories of Campbell Newman mean the LNP can’t play its natural game against a big government target, writes Robert MacDonald

Oct 06, 2020, updated Oct 07, 2020
The shadow of Campbell Newman will loom large over some LNP policies. (Photo: AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The shadow of Campbell Newman will loom large over some LNP policies. (Photo: AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

If the LNP wins government on October 31 it probably won’t be because of its economic development policies.

Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with them.

It’s just that we’ve heard them before.

Just about anything that sounds like a good idea has either been tried before or already taken up by the ALP.

The LNP has declared its will “back Queensland and buy local” and “ensure government assistance and government contracts are provided to Queensland-based businesses.”

The Palaszczuk Government introduced something similar in August last year with an “enhanced”  Queensland Procurement Policy, which instructed its agencies to buy local where possible.

In July this year, it announced a target of 25 per cent of all government purchases to be from Queensland small- and medium-sized businesses, increasing to 30 per cent next year.

In other words, nil-all on the buy-local front.

The LNP has also promised to “speed up government payments to small business”, arguing that “it’s simply unacceptable that family-owned businesses are short-changed by the government.”

However, the Palaszczuk Government already has an on-time payment policy for government invoices, which says that registered small business suppliers will earn interest on any invoices not paid within 20 days.

So, another draw.

The LNP is also promising to ‘”fast track approvals to create jobs”, unlike “the Palaszczuk Government (which) will find any excuse to delay job-creating infrastructure and projects to appease Greens voters in Jackie Trad’s seat of South Brisbane”

Not so, the Labor Government would no doubt insist (at least since Trad lost the Deputy Premiership in May this year.)

It has issued dozens of media statements highlighting  “fast-tracked” activity of various sorts during its current term of office and just a week ago, announced it had approved the $1 billion Olive Downs coal mine in central Queensland.

Again, a draw unless the LNP can convince voters it has a more efficient way to approve big, almost inevitably controversial projects.

And yes it does, says the LNP, with perhaps its biggest pre-election policy idea – a  new Economic Recovery Agency, “to get Queensland working again.”

The agency would be headed by a second Coordinator-General and be in charge of a new LNP government’s  first-100 day action plan – a long list of big ideas, from delivering the new Bradfield scheme and establishing a new Queensland Dam Company to establishing an Industry Skills council to address trade skills shortages.

Creating new bureaucracies rarely seems the right answer to the question, “how do we get things going again?” but, at least it’s an idea the LNP has on its own.

And so, a narrow win on points perhaps.

The LNP has also offered that staple of all oppositions – a guarantee of no new taxes, an idea that sounds fine but one that could in fact be an own goal for the LNP.

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The Opposition has previously pledged to “stabilise the state’s debt” and on Sunday, Shadow Treasurer Tim Mander said an LNP government would also be aiming to get the State back into surplus within four years.

“It will be difficult to have expenditure below revenue but over the economic cycle, that’s our plan,” he told the ABC.

And how will they do it according to Mander?

“We are going to grow the economy as well and we will increase other taxes as well,” which sounds like the no new taxes promise broken pre-emptively.

But even if you, kindly, assume Mander was just trying to repeat the point he had made earlier in the interview – that he believed the take from existing taxes would rise because of increased economic activity – it still raises the question of how the LNP plans to balance the budget over four years.

Treasurer Cameron Dick says the pandemic has seen a $6.7 billion fall in state revenues and Adept Economics economist Gene Tunny has estimated state debt could keep blowing out, to up to $118 billion by 2023-24.

That gives the Labor government the easy line that the LNP must be planning huge cuts to government services and jobs.

The frustration for the LNP is that after nearly six years in office and a 15 per cent increase in public service numbers,  the Labor Government should be an easy target for an opposition normally philosophically opposed to big government.

Surely there must be fat and waste to highlight.

But the still-searing memory of Campbell Newman’s slash-and-burn administration and subsequent treatment by voters, combined with the pandemic-inspired acceptance of the need for government support in all sorts of areas, means pre-election promises of fiscal rectitude, value-for-money and a review of existing services, will barely get a look in.

And so, the LNP finds itself having to pull its punches and not play its natural game.

Instead it finds itself with a collection of promises that, individually, might win some voters here and there – its commitment to more dams for instance – but which offer little to inspire voters looking for a new economic direction.

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