Why regions should stop whinging about funding
IT'S an unqualified truism throughout regional Queensland that when it comes to State Government infrastructure spending they get ripped off.
Almost every day it's reported in the regional press and peddled by certain politicians.
They point out some dodgy road or dilapidated school in their area and compare it to whatever shiny boondoggle is being built in Brisbane - the current favourite is Cross River Rail.
I was in Townsville recently and a local newsagent picked me for "southerner" and out of nowhere she complained fiercely "Brisbane gets everything".
This week in State Parliament, Whitsunday MP Jason Costigan, who has launched a one-man party with a single platform to complain about the supposed rip offs occurring in the regions, was beating the drum about the new Byerwen coal mine.
Costigan reckons at least half of the royalties from this mine and other new resources projects should be reserved for the regions.
Deputy Premier Jackie Trad was as diplomatic as she could be about this very prickly political topic.
"Whether it is in mining, whether it is in stamp duty, whether it is in payroll tax, whether it is in making sure that regional communities get a helping hand by differential payroll tax, we are there to help everyone," Trad responded.
I suspect Trad would have really liked to say something far more colourful to Costigan.
However, her response just showed how hard it is to pierce the pervading view in the regions about rip offs.
Personally, I'm sick of this argument.
I'm tired of hearing it repeated because it's just not true.
Sure, more of the total infrastructure money is spent in Brisbane and its surrounds.
But that because there's more people. Many more.
However, if anyone should be complaining it's some areas around the south-east corner.
Here are some facts. Make of them what you will.
Queensland Treasury figures show infrastructure spending per capita in the south-east corner will be $2155 this financial year.
In regional Queensland the per person figure is a whopping $3692.
What was that about ripped off?
Dig down a little and the disparity gets even more stark.
In outback Queensland the per capita figure is $7793, in central Queensland its $4971, Townsville $3692 and in Costigan country around Mackay and the Whitsundays it's $3566.
Compare that to some of the figures for the south-east corner, such the lowly $1298 for the Gold Coast, a miserly $1335 for Moreton Bay and $1443 for Logan.
This is not a new phenomenon either.
The average for the previous four financial years was $3256 in the regions compared to $1745 for the south-east.
I'm not, however, quibbling with this clear disparity. We're a decentralised state and that comes with extra costs.
And in the long term it will be in our interests to have strong, liveable regional cities.
But the complaint about the regions getting ripped off is utter clap trap.
The problem here is not favouritism for one area over another, as the snake oil salesmen of this issue are selling.
The problem is that the State Government has not been able to spend enough on infrastructure anywhere.
For the last six years, infrastructure spending as a proportion of the economy has been bumping along at the lowest levels seen in our state for a generation.
The opportunities for this to be improved will be extremely limited while the state's budget remains lumbered with record debt approaching $83 billion.
The interest bill on this debt might make up less than three per cent of total expenses - a tiny amount compared to the 42 per cent for employee costs.
However, that equates to around $1.7 billion a year that is being diverted from the state's building budget.
Just imagine what this extra money could do each year.
There is currently no solution in sight for this problem.
Both major political parties have retreated from the idea of asset sales after they both previously advocated for such a strategy.
And while these interest payments are affordable now while borrowing rates are low and the economy is growing, it won't be that way if there's a global downturn.
It is understandable that regional Queensland feels aggrieved about the amount of building going on.
But governments aren't the only issue.
Private sector capital spending across the country has been subdued for several years and the decline has been more acute in regional areas.
This lack of activity, of course, then feeds into what governments can afford.
Regional Queensland is struggling and governments at all levels have not had the answers.
But peddling falsehoods about funding favouritism doesn't help anyone.
SPEAKER Curtis Pitt who delivered an eloquent speech during the 30th anniversary event for the Fitzgerald Report at Parliament.
ATTORNEY General Yvette D'Ath who was forced to fend off accusations from Acting Legal Services Commissioner Bob Brittan.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"Just go and have a glass of strawberry milk while the grown ups talk about restoring integrity to the Queensland electoral system," the LNP's Jarrod Bleijie to Labor's Duncan Pegg on Twitter.