Saturday, January 31, 2015

Party Games - QLD Accountability Edition

As most Queenslanders should know tomorrow is the state election. I've not gone crazy reviewing all the parties like the last federal election partly because I'm still a bit burnt out and partly because there's only 7 and that's not as impressive. But while I was thinking about this I found the LNP's proposed policies and costings from last election and became curious as to how much of what they said they'd do they actually did. This was a list that when combined totalled 84 separate items, which is more in line with the huge and daunting task that the Party Games posts are.

Now, I haven't managed to check up on everything, and with the election tomorrow I'm going to go through what I have done. If anyone can fill in gaps I'll happily include updates.

The first commitment the LNP made was to improve the overall budget position and get the net operating balance into surplus for 2014-2015. The 2013-2014 Budget Papers show that they have not achieved the improvements to the net operating balance that they had planned for, although they are still forecasting a positive net operating balance for 2014-2015, although one that is about a third of that promised during the 2012 campaign. Some of the causes for the lack of improvement in the budget position are damage done to the state by natural disasters such as cyclone Yasi and the south Queensland floods, reduced GST revenue from the federal government, reduced revenue from mining royalties (although if you're predicting revenue at a time of record high coal prices, shouldn't you factor in the likelihood that the price will drop?). I'm actually surprised they've come as close as they have.

Next were their 8 steps for cutting waste and inefficiency. The first of these was to cut advertising, travel, and consulting fees by 20%. The QLD Government Data website was helpful for this, although not as much as I'd have liked. Of the three, only advertising was presented as a collected whole across the government in a single source, for travel and consulting costs each department had their own separate file. Looking at advertising costs over the period of the Newman shows that while 2012-2013 was a big drop from 2011-2012 ($14.5 million vs $30.3 million), this was reversed in 2013-2014 when advertising jumped up to $36.8 million. Even averaging over the 2 years this doesn't reach the planned 20% cut (It's about $3 million over). I didn't have time to collate figures across all the departments for the others but I'm going to call this one a good start but they didn't keep it up.

Second was to abolish a number of state based environmental programs on the basis that the federal carbon tax made them redundant. This was carried out, but I'm very tempted to ask if there's any they think should be brought back now that the carbon tax is gone.

Third was sustainable public sector growth. This was initially done through major cuts to the public service, In the last year it has started growing again, but at about the average rate of the last 10 years including the major cuts. (Public Service Workforce Characteristics 2013/14)

Fourth was using additional GST revenue to pay down existing debt, as opposed to using it to do things as Labor was proposing at the time. This didn't happen, mainly because the GST revenue never actually came through.

Fifth was to increase the base penalty unit from $100 to $110. This was easily done by changing one line of the relevant act. I was initially a bit skeptical that this would bring in an extra $29.6 million a year but fines revenue is about $300 million a year so bumping it up 10% would be about that.

Sixth is imposing fees on defendants found guilty in criminal cases. This has been implemented.

Seventh was better collection of outstanding fines in the SPER system, including outsourcing to collections agencies. Looking at the figures SPER release, there has not been any major reduction in the amounts outstanding over the last few years.

Eighth was to stop acquiring land for the Cross River Rail project until the planning and funding was further developed and finalised. I wasn't able to verify this but I'm going to assume it was pretty easy to not make any further land purchases.

So of these 5 were achieved, 3 weren't, although I will concede one of those three as a victim to changing circumstance.

The bulk of the proposals, and where I couldn't get close to being comprehensive was the 75 point plan to build a 4 pillar economy. Of the 21 items I could find an answer to the only one not done was the proposed expansion of the payroll tax exemption from $1 million to $1.6 million. The first increment to $1.1 million was done in 2012, but further increases have been put off for the moment. Among the things promised and delivered including 2 new helicopters for the police, a new SES headquarters in cairns, smaller public transport fare rises (but it's still pricey), opening a new high school at Highfields, $10 million in scholarships for women studying in STEM field. Additionally, a number of the items were along the lines of "We'll spend foobar dept money doing foobar stuff" which is vague enough that you'll get a pass no matter what.

Overall, I have to conclude that the LNP government has for the most part done the things it said it would. Where it hasn't, there have usually been changed circumstances that a reasonable person would expect changes to plans to be made (for example Cyclone Yasi and the South Queensland floods made a huge dint in the plan to get the budget back to surplus, as did reductions in revenue from various sources). I may not like all the things they've done, but they've done a much better job than their federal colleagues at doing what they said they'd do.