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Closing Down Sale! Stephen Miles’ Queensland budget channels Rishi Sunak and his Tories

by Paul Syvret | Jun 12, 2024 | Government, Latest Posts

Steven Miles would blanch at the comparison, but there are some unfortunate parallels that can be drawn between the Queensland Premier and foundering UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Paul Syvret reports. 

On Tuesday, Stephen Miles presided over his first – and if the polls are to be believed, his last – state budget as Premier, ahead of the Queensland election on October 26. 

Towards the end of the carefully choreographed production – where almost every initiative of note had been buffed up and leaked to the media well in advance – his Treasurer, Cameron Dick, made a rather desperate plea. 

The looming election, Dick said, was “not a referendum on the last nine years,” and implored voters “not to express an opinion about the past”.   

Good government starts today … in heaven

Judge us not on what we’ve done (or not done), but instead look at what we’re going to do … and look at all the billions in handouts that will rain down over the next 12 months. Good luck with that – just ask Tony Abbott how the infamous “good government starts today” line went for him after narrowly surviving a leadership spill. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, a doomed Sunak was at the Tory Party campaign launch, announcing billions of pounds in unfunded tax cuts and all manner of other policy fixes which had somehow eluded the Conservatives for the past decade, with his Labour opposition describing the manifesto as the “most expensive panic attack in history”, and accusing Sunak of “cosplaying [failed former PM] Liz Truss”. 

Like Sunak, Miles’ relatively recently ascended to the big chair in Queensland following the resignation of Annastacia Palaszczuk in December. 

Like Sunak, he inherited a government that was looking tired and decidedly shop-soiled; in Queensland’s case facing major challenges on hot-button fronts such as public health, social housing, law and order and the ever-present cost of living crisis. 

Chin up chaps! Better than Rishi and the Tories

Throw into that mix some truly ham-fisted planning for the 2032 Olympics, and inept management of major infrastructure projects, and it’s easy to see why bookmakers have the Liberal National Party at un-backable odds to romp home in October. 

While the Tories in Britain are, according to the polls, facing an electoral wipe-out following 14 years of misrule (with five different Prime Ministers over that period), the Brexit debacle, crumbling public services, COVID mismanagement and a faltering economy, the prospects for Labor in Queensland are dire, but unlikely to be a repeat of the electoral Armageddon that removed the Bligh Labor government in 2012.

That bloodbath saw Labor reduced to just seven seats in Queensland’s 89 seat parliament. 

Save the furniture!

Miles and his Treasurer have in effect crafted a ‘save the furniture’ budget – a big-spending program where every voter wins a prize. There are stamp duty cuts, 50 cent public transport fares, $1000 power rebates, car registration reductions and a freeze on all government charges. Money is also going to food relief programs, law and order, a 10 per cent lift in health funding and $3.1 billion into public housing.

A case of fiscal anaesthesia for political pain if you like. 

Unusually for an Opposition in such a commanding position, the LNP said in advance of the budget that it would – in a clear attempt to neutralise Labor’s cost of living sugar hit – support every initiative. The scars from the Campbell Newman loss in 2015 – following three years of austerity, brutal public service cuts and an arrogantly libertarian approach to government – are still raw. 

Crisafulli, Miles and Dick

In this respect the “not Labor” (very) small target approach adopted by LNP leader David Crisafulli also has a fair bit of “not Campbell Newman” as subtext. 

This will tend to limit their budget attack lines to accusing Miles and Dick of short-termism – focussing on the next four months rather than the next four years. 

In short, while far from visionary, the budget does no real harm. Yes, the healthy surpluses – buoyed by bonanza coal royalties and stamp duty receipts – of the last couple of years will disappear, to be replaced by modest deficits. 

And a deficit (2024-25) of $2.6 billion in the context of a $500 trillion economy and annual receipts of $88 billion is not cause for alarm. 

But … for the consultants

These deficits are largely the result of an expected slump in royalty revenues and the absence of any real structural savings measures beyond cutting back on external consultants and contractors. 

Then there is the four year capital works program totalling $107 billion, with huge licks of money for energy infrastructure, new hospitals, transport investment, and of course the Olympic Games. This will push gross debt up to about $110 billion in four years’ time, which still represents only about 20 percent of GSP. 

Two things here: firstly Queensland is the only state in Australia to have fully funded its long-tail superannuation liabilities, and secondly it still holds an extensive suite of major public assets such as ports and power generation giving it a much stronger balance sheet than most. 

We are not they

Still, the budget is unlikely to be a panacea for the Miles government. For the average voter who pays scant attention to daily politics – let alone the intricacies of fiscal aggregates – it provides not inconsiderable relief, albeit short-term.  But the LNP has pledged to honour the largesse, so for cranky punters its winner winner mud crab dinner no matter which way they vote. 

Working in the government’s favour though is the LNP’s ‘nothing to see’ here camouflage campaign which, at least to date, has offered voters nothing in the way of vision or concrete policy beyond “we’re not the other mob” (and, don’t mention the war, but were not Campbell Newman either). 

As The Guardian put it on Tuesday night, the budget has all the subtlety of a “going out of business sale”.   At this point though it would be fair to say that while Sunak is presiding over a liquidation sale, Steven Miles is hosting more of an end of season stock clearance. 

The Palaszczuk ultimatum and the Miles ahead for Queensland, the “odd dichotomy” of Australian politics

Recovering former Murdoch columnist. Proud unionist, lover of cats, beaches, heavy metal, horror and Z grade films and cryptic crosswords.

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