What’s your plan?

Analysing the opening moves of #qldvotes

by Jacob Deem


In the cut and thrust of an election campaign, it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters: the hopes and plans of each party if it manages to form government. The policies put forward during an election campaign are crucial to any party’s ambitions for electoral success.

Sure, there will be name-calling, mud-throwing and general politicking, but ultimately it is the policy agendas established by each party that set the tone for the election.

So where do — Queensland Labor, Liberal National Party of Queensland, the Queensland Greens and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party — stand on some of the key issues affecting Queensland?


Jobs and the Economy

Job creation and economic management are key issues in any election, and this one is no exception. Queensland Labor is campaigning on the basis that it represents a familiar and steady hand on the tiller, which promotes economic certainty and will be conducive to increased investment. Labor has also committed to maximising public sector employment, and has been keen to remind voters that the Liberal National Party Queensland (LNPQ) cut thousands of public service jobs when it was last in office. Additionally, Labor has announced that it will employ an extra 3,500 nurses and midwives, and will continue its Skilling Queenslanders for Work program.

The LNP has approached the issue differently, with a pledge to create 500,000 new jobs over 10 years. At this stage their policy is not clear how they have arrived at this figure, but the provision of a number may resonate strongly enough with voters that they will forgive the lack of detail. While some of these jobs will come from proposed infrastructure and development (for example, 1500 jobs from the M1 duplication), it is clear that the LNP is hoping that a lot of the heavy lifting will come from small business. To that end, it plans to make life easier for these businesses by increasing the payroll tax exemption by $25,000 every year for 10 years, effectively reducing the amount of tax small businesses will have to pay and providing them with the opportunity to hire more staff. However, such an approach may come with its own problems.

While payroll tax only makes up a small portion of State revenue, reducing small business payroll tax in an era where State budgets are increasingly tight and increasingly reliant on federal funding may not be ideal. While any increase in employment will be good for the economy as a whole, it will shift the revenue generated from State-based payroll tax to Commonwealth-based income tax, with a hope and a prayer that this revenue will find its way back to Queensland in the form of tied grants.

Additionally, the LNP may face difficulties from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party (PHON) in the event that it doesn’t hold a governing majority. While PHON also wants to ease the burden on small businesses, their plan is to introduce a five-year moratorium on payroll tax for new and innovative start-up businesses. This plan is not incompatible with the LNP’s, but if the LNP came to rely on PHONs support in government, it is not clear whether PHON would accept the LNP’s policy, or push hard for their version, although given that Steve Dickson’s announcement of five ‘deal breaker’ policies did not include the payroll exemption, it is very possible they would back the LNP on this policy.


‘Buy Queensland’

In September, the government announced a new procurement policy emphasising the use of Queensland suppliers and contractors wherever possible. While the benefits (and costs) of putting this policy into practice are yet to truly emerge, it is clearly something that the other parties felt the need to respond to: both the LNP and PHON have listed their own versions of the ‘Buy Queensland’ policy. On balance, the LNP has probably done the best job of marketing its particular approach, both in the sense that it is the most specific in practical terms, outlining a ‘price match’ option for local contractors applying for tenders to make them more competitive, and by reinforcing the ‘Buy Local’ implications of its many proposed infrastructure developments. Labor may therefore have some catching up to do in outlining how its principled vision translates to real policy, however they might be able to regain ground by marketing their ideas as the giant on whose shoulders the LNP’s version stands.


Adani Coal Mine

One of the Palaszczuk Government’s most controversial decisions has been its approval of the new Adani coal mine in the Galilee Basin. This may have put swinging Labor voters offside, and has already been the focus of several disruptive protests for the Premier on the campaign trail. However, aside from registering a protest vote with the Greens (who are staunch opponents of the mine), disgruntled voters will find little solace elsewhere; the LNP supports the mine, as does PHON. Thus, while there is some chance it could tip the balance in seats where the Greens hope to do well (such as South Brisbane), overall it is unlikely to hurt Labor’s chances against the LNP. Additionally, the reintroduction of compulsory preferential voting at this election means that Labor will probably miss out on any votes they might have picked up from unhappy LNP voters registering a protest vote with the Greens under the previous optional preferential system.


Renewable Energy

In terms of other environmental issues, the parties differ greatly in their commitments to renewable energy targets. In government, the Labor party set the tone for the debate, setting a goal that 50% of Queensland’s energy will come from renewable sources by 2030. For the Greens, this isn’t good enough; they want 90% renewables by that time. On the other hand, the LNP is convinced that pushing to meet Labor’s target is driving electricity prices up, and plan to scrap the target if elected. Instead, they are proposing to move ahead with the national target of 23.5% by 2020. Handily for the LNP, as this is a national goal, Queensland can allow other States to do much of the heavy lifting.


Regions

Regional Queensland will be a key factor in determining the winner of this election. Not only is this an important chance for parties to prove that they are not ‘city-centric’ and only focused on South-East Queensland, this time around the threat of PHON gaining ground in regional areas has made the LNP and Labor especially keen to please. Labor’s main regional drawcard is the continuation of its ‘Works for Queensland’ program, primarily designed to facilitate infrastructure development in regional areas. It has also promised increased investment in agriculture, and tourism for the Great Barrier Reef. The LNP are clearly watching their backs against PHON, announcing a ‘New Deal for Regional Queensland’, which includes building a new coal-fired power station in northern Queensland, reinstating the $500 million Royalties for Regions program, a commitment to maintaining and upgrading regional roads, as well as several infrastructure projects in Cairns.

They will have to compete with PHON’s region-focused agenda of decentralism. Naturally, Bob Katter’s Australia Party (KAP) will continue to have a presence and influence in the northern regions. In order to succeed in regional Queensland, the major parties will therefore have to work hard to highlight both what they can do for citizens, and why they should be preferred to a minor party.


Overall Policy Perspectives

The way the main parties approach these specific policy areas reveals a lot about their strategy for this election. However, it also reveals a curious mismatch between the policy agendas adopted by these contenders and the criticisms levelled at each of them.

POLICY POSITION

Jobs/Economy

  • Emphasis on stability to attract investment
  • Maximise public sector employment
  • Increases in health sector employment

Buy Queensland

  • Focus on ‘value for money’ in buying locally where possible
  • Requirement that projects worth > $100 million use locals where possible

Adani Coal Mine

Renewables

  • 50% by 2030

Regions

  • Support payments for eligible jobseekers in regional Qld
  • Continuation of Works for Queensland program
  • Focus on agricultural and tourism centres

The LNP has accused Labor of being a ‘do-nothing government’, a label that has resonated with the electorate. After the very busy term of ‘Can-do’ Campbell Newman, voters responded well to Palaszczuk’s measured and considered approach to governance, however nearly three years after the 2015 election, voters are demanding something more. In light of these concerns, Labor’s campaign of delivering ‘more of the same’ (evidenced by their promise to continue programs such as Skilling Queenslanders for Work and its Nurse Navigator), Palaszczuk’s statement that she is ‘not going to promise the world’ is an odd one. While this kind of approach is usually a safe strategy for an incumbent government, voters’ concerns about what Palaszczuk’s team have actually achieved may make it a decidedly riskier tactic.

Instead, Labor needs to showcase its new and action-oriented plans for government, in order to avoid accusations of its ‘do-nothing’ approach. It needs to convince voters that its cautious first term in office has laid a solid, research-based foundation on which it can now build a successful government in a second term.

POLICY POSITIONS

Jobs/Economy

  • Pledge to create 500,000 new jobs over 10 years
  • Cuts to payroll tax for small business
  • Major infrastructure projects

Buy Queensland

  • Price match guarantee to make local tenders more competitive
  • Government targets for local procurement
  • Projects over $100M must show how they will increase local capacity

Adani Coal Mine

  • Supports

Renewables

  • 23.5% by 2020 per national plan

Regions

  • Construction of coal-fired power station in Nth Queensland
  • Reinstate Royalties for Regions program
  • Infrastructure plans in Cairns and regional Queensland

Conversely, the LNP’s very long list of policies and plans on its website suggests that they have not learned important lessons from their last stint in government and the election upset in 2015. The Newman government’s unpopularity at the last election — in part — stemmed from perceptions that it was trying to do too much. So far in this campaign, the LNP has done little to allay those fears, and it will have to be careful not to spook voters with memories of Newman’s term. In particular, LNP needs to demonstrate that it can adopt all these ideas in at a more measured pace, and that it is more willing to listen to different perspective while putting its plans into practice.


Policy Positions

Jobs/Economy

  • 5 year moratorium on payroll tax for new and innovative start-up businesses

Buy Queensland

  • Commitment to ‘buy local’ policy for government

Adani Coal Mine

  • Supports

Renewables

  • No policy available

Regions

  • Commitment to decentralised government and regional models of governance
  • Supports infrastructure projects in regional areas

PHON will certainly be the party to watch this election. While its strong showing in Queensland in the Australian Senate election last year has led some to believe PHON will do well in this election, there are several hurdles it will have to overcome on the policy front.

Most importantly, its signature policy of resistance to immigration is an issue for the national government, with very little relevance to the States. This poses a problem with voting for the party — short of proposing a ‘Border Wall’ to keep New South Welsh-people out, PHON needs a policy agenda that demonstrates it can be a serious player at the State level.

Steve Dickson’s five policy deal-breakers suggests that the party would seem to be struggling to find its place in at the State level. To compensate, it has largely jumped on issues where it thinks it can pick up votes, such as in the Taxi/Uber conflict, and by rejecting the Safe Schools program. Its policy agenda for regional Queensland is more coherent, with attention given to agricultural issues, firearms legislation, and decentralised regional government. However, while PHON poses a threat in these areas, especially to the LNP, many of its positions on these issues are similar to the LNP’s; in order to gain votes, the party need to convince LNP voters that they will gain more by voting for a minor party rather than a major one.

POLICY POSITIONS

Jobs/Economy

  • Emphasis on small and medium business as crucial elements of the economy

Buy Queensland

  • No policy available

Adani Coal Mine

  • Opposes

Renewables

  • 90% by 2030

Regions

  • Resists CSG
  • Development of a forty year Sustainable Food and Agriculture Strategy

Finally, the Greens agenda largely seeks to capitalise on the Adani controversy and environmental issues on the Great Barrier Reef. While these issues have gained significant traction in the Queensland electorate, the difficulty for the Greens is that outside South Brisbane, its supporters may be too dispersed win seats. The Greens have their work cut out for them to highlight some of their other initiatives (such as cheaper public transport and house vacancy tax) if they are to succeed.

Every election presents the temptation to make personal attacks and scare campaigns. However, in an era where voters are increasingly disenchanted with political parties, it is important that all sides avoid such temptations. Instead, this election must be decided on policy.

Disclaimer: These are summaries of key aspects of party policy on certain issues, not the full policies.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

JACOB DEEM

Jacob is a PhD student in Griffith University’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy. His thesis examines public attitudes towards federal institutions and the principle of subsidiarity, both in Australia and overseas. Jacob works as a research assistant on the ARC Project ‘Confronting the Devolution Paradox’, and teaches several undergraduate courses, including Australian Politics, and Political Leadership.

Follow @Jacob Deem