Titles first, then Olympic gold in Treasurer’s big budget play

The revalued Titles Registry may have allowed Cameron Dick to deliver a $7.7 billion Debt Retirement Fund (and more) but the next play will also deliver budgetary gold.

Jun 18, 2021, updated Jun 18, 2021
Are the Treasurer Cameron Dick and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk searching behind chairs at The Gabba for more loose change? (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

Are the Treasurer Cameron Dick and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk searching behind chairs at The Gabba for more loose change? (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

Only in recent weeks was Treasury able to finalise a new $7.8 billion valuation for the registry. That was up to $3.8 billion higher than previous estimates, and, combined with some more minor changes, allowed Dick to put $2 billion more into the Debt Retirement Fund than planned.

The Budget also set aside another $1.8 billion for stand-alone funds for housing, carbon reduction, and a treaty with indigenous peoples, delivering tens of millions of dollars each year into the budget.

The Liberal National Party Opposition has questioned whether Dick misled parliament when, at the end of May, he referred to previous estimates of the registry’s value.

But Dick said the revaluation – backed by several accounting and tax firms – had not been finalised at that point.

“I knew the valuation was being revised as part of the budget and I told the parliament this,” Dick said, while declining to say when the revaluation was confirmed.

The revaluation lessened the pressure on government to find other assets and transfers to establish the fund, and, by putting downward pressure on debt, stabilised Queensland’s credit rating. It also allowed Dick to use the separate funds as budget highlights.

The next big play for the fund is the transfer of development rights associated with Cross River Rail station precincts which, ironically, will require the registry to transfer the titles.

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The government had long planned to transfer the as-yet undeveloped precincts into the fund, with an estimated book value of $160 million. But with Brisbane now almost certain to host the 2032 Olympic Games, Dick can expect even another windfall.

The Woolloongabba station, for example, will be a key part of the new Olympic stadium redevelopment, funded by three levels of government, while Roma Street will host the Brisbane Live development with private sector investment. Neither project was a certainty when the fund was first devised, and will partially offset the need for the State to help fund Olympic infrastructure (it remains to be seen whether the State will be able to share the cost of the new rail stations).

These developments come after the government decided against transferring $5 billion of surplus from public service superannuation holdings, initially opting to use only $1 billion. Even that appeared risky last year – Labor prides itself on fully-funding pubic service superannuation – however investment returns have improved to the point where it will now take $1.5 billion.

The government had been running the ruler over certain commercial pipeline and power line assets, but the idea of transferring them to the fund proved too difficult, and unnecessary given the registry revaluation.

The budget plays will be scrutinised in Estimates committee hearings and in an upcoming examination by the Queensland Audit Office, which had previously sought more transparency over the fund.

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