KAP is calling on the government to create a Budget Equity Board for North Queensland, to stamp out unfairness and make sure the state’s north is properly considered at this, and future, state budgets. And it is urging the LNP to back the idea and show its commitment to North Queensland.
KAP is also calling on the government to commit to reducing unemployment in North Queensland to six per cent by 2020, and to immediately quarantine all uncommitted funds in the State Infrastructure Fund – estimated to be more than $1 billion – for investment in projects in North Queensland. They also want the government to immediately reduce regulated electricity charges for households and businesses by five per by removing unnecessary margins applied by the QCA.
KAP’s Robbie Katter and Shane Knuth will vote against the budget if the government refuses to show commitment to North Queensland by creating the Budget Equity Board, committing to reduce unemployment, investing infrastructure funds in North Queensland and reducing electricity prices. “North Queensland is in crisis. If the LNP cares about North Queensland, it will sit with us to vote against the budget until the government agrees to negotiate,” Robbie said.
Robbie said the North Queensland Budget Equity Board should be apolitical, and was critical to unlocking the economic potential in North Queensland and creating desperately needed jobs. “We are tired of seeing budget after budget being focused on chasing votes in the south east. And if there is spending in the North, you can usually be sure it will be in a marginal seat right before an election. Not only is it not fair, if you don’t invest in these areas, it affects the entire state’s economy,” Robbie said. The board should be based in North Queensland, be hosted by local government, with representatives from each of the Northern electorates, industry and remote communities. It would need to be properly resourced with research, policy and administrative staff and a chief executive officer, with an operating budget of $1.5million per year.
“This is not about blocking the budget, this is about negotiating,” Shane said. “If the government cares about North Queensland and its future, it will see that only positive can come out of creating the Budget Equity Board. We want to safeguard North Queensland from this and future governments which seem to be more and more out of touch with the world outside of Brisbane. There is so much potential in the North that just isn’t being realised,” Shane said. “Unemployment rates are out of control. They’re 14% in the electorates of Townsville and Cook, 10.2% in Cairns, 9.2% in Mount Isa and 7.9% in my electorate of Dalrymple. This is compared with 6.1% across the state. If Brisbane was experiencing unemployment rates like we have across North Queensland, the government would pour money into the problem.”
Robbie and Shane said the Budget Equity Board would be tasked with reviewing the budget in regards to spending in North Queensland. “More than that, in future years it would be proactive, as well as reactive, investigating where and what North Queensland needs to see it thrive, and making recommendations to the government ahead of budgets being developed. An important part of this would be engaging with local government, and prospective investors, to see what is needed to unlock the economic potential in the North,” Robbie said.
The North Queensland Budget Equity Board would review infrastructure spending, social indicators and unemployment figures and develop policy and identify projects to create jobs. This would include policy to address Queensland’s energy crisis, which is having a serious impact on both major investment confidence and small business bottom lines.
“Of course we want equity for the North, but it’s about much more than that. It’s not as simple as giving the same amount per capita to people in the North as in the South. It’s about showing some vision and investing in infrastructure that will unlock enormous potential in North Queensland – generating jobs, of course – but also revenue for the whole state,” Robbie said.
Fellow crossbenchers Rob Pyne, Billy Gordon and Steve Dickson said they would be sitting with Robbie and Shane to vote against the budget if the government wouldn’t come to the negotiating table.
“Queensland is the only unicameral government in the country,” Rob Pyne said. “Each other government has to negotiate in good faith to pass its budget through the upper house. Just because we don’t have an upper house doesn’t absolve the government of the responsibility of negotiating.”