Federal cash splash puts pressure on Queensland to be ‘shovel ready’

Queensland’s industry heads and advocacy groups give mixed reviews on the state’s share of the federal budget with Queensland’s future state government urged to make the most of the hefty infrastructure “cash splash”.

Oct 07, 2020, updated Oct 07, 2020

Queensland job vacancies are at an all-time high. (Photo: AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Queensland job vacancies are at an all-time high. (Photo: AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Pressure will be on the next Queensland Government to get road projects “shovel ready” after the Federal Government unveiled national “use it or lose it” funding to drive jobs.

An expected $1.3 billion was committed for transport infrastructure projects across the state in last night’s federal budget, handed down on the same day Queensland’s election campaign kicked off.

RACQ’s Dr Rebecca Michael said she always expected a “good old-fashioned cash splash” to alleviate the economic fall-out of COVID-19, but said the state had fared well in the Federal Budget.

“Queensland has received about $2.6 billion in funding, which is up almost $1 billion from this time last year,” Michael said.

“While we expected a large amount, we’re really pleased to see where it’s to be invested.

“We think it’ll reduce our congestion in southeast Queensland and save lives in regional Queensland.”

Michael said the state would also benefit from a slice of the $2 billion national road safety program — a “use it or lose it” funding arrangement — because there are so many regional roads “in dire need of upgrade”.

“[But] we’d call on those state bureaucrats to actually do the planning now and get those projects shovel-ready and make sure we’re ready to go on the first of November so we don’t miss out on that funding,” she said.

Amanda Rohan of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) said budget measures, like wage subsidies and tax breaks, were positive for Queensland businesses.

“That’s definitely headed in the right direction of what we’d expect to see for a government that needs to help lift Queensland businesses and help lift our nation through this economic recovery,” she said.

The budget also allocated just shy of $250 million to investment in recycling infrastructure and waste reduction — an investment she encouraged a future state government to support.

“CCIQ, heading into the state election, has called on the State Government to invest in smart infrastructure that will really uplift this resource of sustainable practices and the business ecosystem that feeds into that,” Rohan said.

“We’d like to see the major parties committing to similar initiatives at a state level.”

The budget also flagged funding to “progress to a final investment decision” for the CopperString 2.0 project, which would connect the North West Minerals Province near Mount Isa to NEM near Townsville.

‘The proof will be in the pudding’

Meanwhile, almost $20 million has been committed to extend the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency for another year.

A further $3 million has also been pledged over two years for the North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority.

“We know Queensland needs to be resilient in the face of droughts and floods,” Rohan said.

“We would expect any State Government coming in to really put some strong, smart investments on the table to compliment the federal budget announced tonight.”

Rohan was cautiously optimistic about an asset write off scheme, which would allow over 99 per cent of businesses to write off the full value of an eligible asset.

“It is a great initiative — we do know that the take-up has been there in the past,” Rohan said.

“I guess the greatest concern for the moment is having the cash in the bank for businesses to actually spend on those capital investments.

“I think the proof will be in the pudding just to see how much bandwidth businesses have to invest in capital and seek that instant asset write off.”

‘Languishing’ commercial builders miss out

Master Builders Queensland’s Deputy Chief Executive Paul Bidwell said while the Budget went in “boots and all” on home construction, commercial builders missed out.

“The commercial builders that are languishing around the state were looking for governments to do something similar to what they’ve done in the housing sector with the home builder grant, but for the commercial sector,” he said.

“In some respects that was a vain hope.

“The $1.2 billion wage subsidy for apprentices is a good initiative, but the reality is if builders have more work then they’ll employ apprentices, they’ll take on trainees.”

Bidwell said the extension to the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme and an increase in low-cost finance would further bolster home construction, which was “going gangbusters” in Queensland.

Queensland’s tourism sector is worth about $27 billion to the state’s economy but has been crippled by COVID-19.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council’s Daniel Gschwind said he welcomed the commitment for $11.6 million over three years to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

The Budget also committed a further $51 million for a national fund for regions stricken by international border closures.

Gschwind said the amount allocated to boost business and consumer confidence was “enormous” and hoped some of the extra cash set to flow to people’s pockets would circulate into the tourism economy.

“The wage subsidies for youth workers was [also] something that could benefit the tourism industry,” he said.

But he said ongoing support was needed for the industry which had been heavily exposed by the lack of international visitors.

“We are an export-focused industry and that damage will last a lot longer … so we will probably look for some additional and ongoing support on that front,” he said.

AgForce Queensland’s General President Georgie Somerset said the Budget delivered “some strong positives” for rural and regional Queensland, although they had hoped for more funding around biosecurity.

“We know the regions are going to be where we drive the economic recovery and we’re saying people need to think about regional Queensland,” she said.

But other advocacy groups were more critical in their assessment.

‘Diabolical consequences’

Queensland Council of Social Services CEO Aimee McVeigh said overall it was a “disappointing budget”.

“There is a glimmer of hope in that there’s support for young people in terms of the wage subsidy,” McVeigh said.

“Certainly it’s good to see that because we know young people have been disproportionately impacted in terms of the crisis.

“I think the really disappointing thing is we’re not seeing an increase in the JobSeeker payment.

“We know that our Treasurer has predicted that by Christmas we’ll be hitting 9 per cent unemployment in Queensland, we know that we have got about 365,000 Queenslanders currently relying on JobSeeker.

“Based on this Budget, it looks like there’s no plan to lift that payment from $40 a day and we think that will have diabolical consequences for Queenslanders.

“When you have that many people living in poverty, you have huge numbers of people that aren’t able to go out and spend money in their local economies.”

Queensland Conservation Council’s Campaign Manager Dave Copeman said the Budget measured up “poorly” when it came to the environment.

“We wanted a Budget that took advantage of the opportunity to build back better,” he said.

“We wanted something that would stimulate the economy and would also transition us to be on the road to being a renewable superpower and protect the places we love and the species that are endangered by climate change.

“I feel like Queensland has just missed out.

“There’s just not a significant investment in renewable energy.”

While he said he was happy to see funding allocated for mangroves in Queensland other efforts were “negligible” in light of a near $1 trillion debt overall.

“Whoever is elected, they have to fight for Queensland because there is a Federal Government playing favourites,” Copeman said.

“I’d really like to see a united voice from two major parties … or from all parties … to see we’re not happy with what we’ve seen from the Budget for Queensland and we want to see greater investment.”

He said he was surprised to hear Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg begin his speech discussing the history of fire and flood, but then provided “nothing in there [the budget] to really address the crisis of climate change”.

– ABC / Kate McKenna and Tim Swanston

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