Time for the Queensland Government to Invest

Sunshine Coast shortchanged by State Labor budget

Time for the Queensland Government to Invest

In determining the fate of the nation at the Federal election, Queenslanders chose optimism and reward over pessimism and risk, and they opted for a positive future.

For South-East Queensland (SEQ), that future may include hosting the 2032 Olympic Games and a fast rail network connecting Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast, and to Ipswich and beyond. It may also include an SEQ City Deal that brings together the three tiers of government to map a 20-year vision for the region.

But none of this is possible without adequate investment in infrastructure.  

With SEQ’s population set to reach 6.3 million by 2050, it should come as no surprise that the Federal Government is investing nearly $9.7 billion on infrastructure in Queensland over the next four years, representing 26 per cent of overall spending, which compares favourably to the State’s population of 20 per cent.

We have a problem, though. The Queensland Government is massively under-investing in infrastructure. Demographer Bernard Salt presented at an event on the Sunshine Coast earlier this month where he compared infrastructure spending in Queensland with New South Wales, based on an analysis by Infrastructure New South Wales (INSW).

I procured the analysis undertaken by INSW and it tells a dreadful story. In the current financial year, for example, the Queensland Government’s expenditure on infrastructure is less than a quarter of New South Wales’. Queensland’s capital expenditure as a percentage of State Revenue is half of Victoria’s and a third of New South Wales’, and as a percentage of Gross State Product it has the lowest spend of all jurisdictions, except ACT.     

It would be one thing if the State’s poor performance was due to unconscious incompetence but the Queensland Government knows exactly what it is doing.

Take the $780 million upgrade to the North Coast Rail for example - a stretch between Beerburrum and Nambour owned and operated by the Queensland Government.

For the first time in history, the Federal Government committed funding to this stretch of rail by announcing a gift of $390 million to the State over a year ago – that’s a 50% contribution that would effectively halve the cost of construction.

Instead of starting the project, the Queensland Government has run delay and diversion tactics ever since, demanding an extra 30% from the Federal Government. Well, their excuses are now null and void because only two weeks ago their own Federal Labor colleagues confirmed that a 50% contribution was fair and reasonable, leaving the State Government isolated.  

Another case in point is a $301 million upgrade of pressure points on the Bruce Highway - the Maroochydore Road and Mons Road Interchanges on the Sunshine Coast. This project was initially costed at $187 million, with the State and Federal Governments agreeing on the long accepted funding split for Bruce Highway projects of 80/20.

However, when the Queensland Transport and Main Roads Department recommended additional funding for an expansion in scope, everything stalled. To move forward, the process ordinarily requires the State Minister to write a letter to the Federal Minister requesting funds, but month after month passed and no letter came. The Federal Government decided to move ahead anyway, committing $91.4 million in last month’s Federal Budget, and still the Queensland Government remains silent on its contribution.*

Delay and diversion is business as usual for the Queensland Government. It’s no wonder investment in infrastructure is lagging. But, there’s still a chance for them to amend their ways and it starts with the Queensland State Budget due on the 11th of June. Here’s hoping…

Ted O’Brien
Federal Member for Fairfax

This Opinion Editorial (Op-Ed) appeared in The Courier Mail (on-line edition), 2 June 2019 (LINK HERE)

* On 11 June 2019 in the State Budget the Queensland Government did finally commit to fully funding its 20% share of the $301million project to upgrade the Bruce Highway interchanges at Maroochydore Road and Mons Road.