Commonwealth Grants Commission


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (19:01): This is an important document and, as both the previous speakers have mentioned, it is certainly an arrangement which has served Australia well over many years. In prefacing what I have to say, I acknowledge that, in the fifties and sixties, what we now call the rust bucket states of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia supported the more remote states, like Queensland and Western Australia, and that was under the same arrangement. As this report says, the distribution of GST revenue among the states for 2012-13 is meant to give each state the same capacity to deliver services, to acquire infrastructure and to hold financial assets. It says that it does that using unchanged methods but with updated and more recent data.

What Senator Cash says about Western Australia deserves considerable consideration. Western Australia has become a boom state because of the energy and activity of Western Australians and, particularly, their government. I note in passing that most of the wealth of Western Australia comes from the north, as indeed does most of the wealth of Australia, or if it does not now it will in the not too distant future. My own state of Queensland is very similar to Western Australia in that it has big revenues from mining activities which have, in the last few years, assisted the southern, 'less fortunate' states. We know the southern states get lots of subsidies for manufacturing industriessubsidies that are not repeated for the tourism industry, which is a significant industry in my state of Queensland, and yet it is suffering a crisis without much government support.

This year's report from the Commonwealth Grants Commission indicates that Queensland is again a recipient state. The summary of the report says:

Queensland has experienced a smaller improvement in fiscal capacity over recent years. However recent data show that the slowdown in its property market and the impact of natural disasters are now reducing its fiscal capacity.

That is, its capacity to provide the same level of services as other states. The Grants Commission is, of course, non-political. It could not say in its report that one of the other reasons Queensland is doing so badly is that the government of Queensland is, for all intents and purposes, broke. Senator Ryan mentioned this briefly in passing. It is a government which has now run up debt that exceeds the enormous amount of debt that the Keating Labor government left to the Australian public and to the Howard government to pay off. In Queensland we now have a massive government debt of over $90 billion and, as Senator Ryan quite rightly said, this is at a time when Queensland has been earning unheard of revenues from the mining boom in our state.

The Grants Commission could not sheet the blame home, and it very nicely said that it was a slowdown in the property market and the impact of natural disasters. Both of those aspects are true, but I suggest to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, and my colleagues in the Senate that the greater reason for Queensland's slowdown is incompetent government. Queensland has a Treasurer who simply does not understand. Queensland has lost its AAA credit rating and it is now in a position where it has to accept welfare from states like Victoria and New South Wales. We have problems in Queensland, and I think all Queenslanders now recognise that the only way to fix the financial and other problems we are experiencing is to get rid of a tired, old Labor government with no new ideas, no energy, no enthusiasm and no idea. This report from the Grants Commission is an interesting document, and one which all senators would do well to consider further.

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