If you (promise to) build it, they will come
Infrastructure investment was identified as a key priority for small business during this election campaign.
CCIQ was seeking policy commitments by the major parties to improve the stock of productivity boosting assets across the state. Investment in economic infrastructure was identified as a key to accelerate growth in key industries across the State.
Conversations with our members have highlighted the dire need for the development of water infrastructure across Northern Queensland. Businesses have expressed their frustration at the lack of access to water holding back growth.
Among the other infrastructure pieces critical to the small business community was congestion and the improvement of transport networks to improve the connection of workers with workplaces and suppliers with markets, reducing the costs of doing business.
The issue with electricity is not a lack of infrastructure, it is a matter of pricing, so this issue is treated separately in our Politics of Power 2 commentary. Telecommunications is another critical concern, but the issues related to the NBN rollout and coverage falls outside the scope of this state election.
Public spending on infrastructure (Federal, State and Local) has been trending downwards for much of the past decade. While infrastructure construction was previously inflated TC Yasi reconstruction and a substantial investment in water and energy utilities, infrastructure spending benchmarked to the size of the population and the economy is at its lowest levels since 2004/05.
Capital expenditure is one of the first budget categories to be cut when governments seek to reduce expenditure and balance the books. The reduced expenditure is not as visible as cutting operating expenditure because the impact is not visible for years.
Given the current budget constraints, it will be critical for the party who forms the next government to maximise funding sources whether it is from partnership with the Federal Government grants or the private sector through private-public partnerships or market-led proposals.
With less than a week to go in the election campaign, the ALP as yet has not released a complete policy statement or a set of unified guiding principles in relation to the strategy behind their infrastructure decisions. As it currently stands, the ALP has announced several transport projects worth under $1 billion with upgrades proposed for the M1, Bruce Highway, Gold Coast Rail Line and additional funding for local governments to pursue infrastructure investments.
The commitments announced thus far fall short of the claimed $21 billion spend on transport over the next four years. Presumably, this figure includes projects such as the Cross River Rail and others contained in the 2017/18 State budget.
The LNP infrastructure plan includes $2.7 billion of state funding to deliver $5.2 billion worth of projects which would leverage federal funding grants and private sector finances.
The policy is quite comprehensive and includes royalty for regions, a regionally focused roads and bridges program, and major rail and road project commitments for South East Queensland. It also includes upgrades for the Bruce Highway, investment in new dams and water infrastructure for Northern Queensland, funding for business case studies and an outline of the plan to attract private investment.
The policies put forward meet many of the areas CCIQ was seeking the parties to address through this election campaign.
The One Nation Party infrastructure platform seeks to increase funding for the inland roads network and improving resilience against natural disasters. This increased spending includes maintenance work which is often neglected. While detail is scarce on project particulars and the level of funding, the party is prioritising transparent publication of business cases to support infrastructure decisions. There is also the commitment to support the delivery of dams and water infrastructure for regional Queensland.
Katter’s Australian Party
The policies put forward by the Katter Party are focused on developing infrastructure in Northern Queensland, particularly road, rail and water. They argue this economic infrastructure is necessary to support and expand the mining and agriculture industries critical to the north of the state. The projects promoted under this policy would cost over $2.1 billion over three years (which includes the Galilee Basin rail line).
The Greens infrastructure policy is essentially a commitment to invest $10 billion over 5 years on schools, hospitals, green spaces, public infrastructure and mining communities as a stimulus program to lift job creation. The policy does not specify key projects and the method for funding is flawed.
The lack of detail and planning put forward by the parties is quite underwhelming based on the election commitments made to date. Neither party has put forward a visionary package to help modernise and revitalise Queensland, they are simply fixing the consequences of past neglect.
CCIQ believes the LNP delivers the best suite of policies for infrastructure when compared to the wish list the business community has put forward. That is not to dismiss the other parties whose plans have elements that we can support and should adopt.