Thursday, August 16, 2012

Newmania: Weasel Words

Steve Austin

This morning, ABC’s Steve Austin, asked his listeners to submit their questions – and presumably their comments – for Queensland Premier Campbell Newman. You can hear the interview, here.

I’ve also whipped up a rough transcript (E&OE), as I like to consider the words, get in there and experience them. Sometimes, just hearing them isn’t enough.

  SA: What are the cutbacks to the public service meant to achieve? What’s the bottom line aim?

CN: I’m glad you asked me that, and what I’ll give you is the most recent Moody’s Investor Service assessment of all the Australian states and their budgets, and I’ve tagged two pages there, including the deficits of the various states: Queensland’s deficit is, sadly, head and shoulders above all the other states. We will have this year an operating deficit of at least $4b, a fiscal deficit of around $10b, compared to NSW which is less than $4b. This state is in a terrible financial position. The other one is the level of debt. Queensland’s debt is just so much more than the other states in terms of debt to revenue ratio, which is the key indicator that the ratings agencies who set the interest rates, and the lenders, who finance the activities of this government, look to. So, we pay a higher interest rate than any other state on our borrowings and the reason is contained in this thing, so what we’re trying to do is balance the budget. We’re gonna do that in 2014-15; we’ve got to stop borrowing to pay wages and to keep the lights on. This government was elected to do that. We have a plan to sort the mess out that we inherited from Anna Bligh and Labor, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

SA: I understand that, and we know the causes of the fiscal position, and that is two cyclones, a flood and a Global Financial Crisis, and I’m asking you, what’s the aim of all these cuts.

CN: That is complete nonsense. The Federal Government imposed a levy on people and provided very generous capital subsidy payments over the last few years. Billions of dollars paid to Queensland to help rebuild. The reason for the huge operating debt is contained in this, and it says, the expenditure, the head count, went through the roof and the revenues didn’t increase at the same rate, so the expenditure in Queensland has gone up by 8.7% each year for the last 4-5 years compound, and we’re spending far more than we bring in. It’s like household budget – blah blah blah – mad uncontrolled fashion – then you end up with budgetary problem, and we have 20,000 more people than we can afford to pay, and we’ve been paying them by borrowing, and it has to stop and it will stop.

SA: I understand that, and the Moody’s Rating Agency does not run Queensland. You do. What’s the aim of the cuts?

CN: The aim is to stop the escalation of runaway recurrent costs; it’s about getting the budget back into balance, and that’s what we will achieve in 2014-2015.

SA: It looks like the aim of the cuts is to keep your pre-election promises. In other words, you made promises you couldn’t fund, prior to the state election, and now public servants are the chief victims of this.

CN: Well Steve, that’s what the Labor Party says, but it’s not true. The bottom line is that we’re gonna have an operating budget deficit of at least $4b this year. Our promises didn’t add up to anything like that. It was around the $2b mark, and they’re all fully costed and built in to the way forward. We’ve found savings to pay for our promises, as we said. The problem is, we have too many people. If you look at the numbers of the public service in Queensland, it just exploded over the last 4-5 years, when Anna Bligh – it’s particularly Anna Bligh, although a lot of people like to blame Peter Beattie, I don’t – it was the Bligh Government who absolutely threw away the rule book, the sensibility of running the budget properly, and hence we’ve got the problems we’ve got, and that’s what we have to do, so it’s very hard, it’s very tough, but we have a plan to get back in the black, and you know what? I’m heartened by the feedback I got yesterday. I spent all day at the Ekka, seven hours walking around, and the overwhelming sentiment was “Premier, we know these are tough times and tough decisions, but please keep doing the right thing. We understand that you’re getting the state back in track.”

SA: When you spoke with me last time, you told me that this is what most people were saying; that most people were saying that we know it’s a tough thing, but that we want you to do it, and that no-one was complaining. I’ve been given an email from someone who emailed your office in July, where they complained directly to your electorate office, expressing their real concern about what you did. Not only were they expressing concerns about your actions, but that they didn’t even get a reply from you or anyone in your office. This is a clear example, in writing, of someone who was complaining; about what you were doing, what you are doing, and have either been ignored, or simply not responded to.

CN: Well Steve, I respond to every letter, every email, every phone call that comes into my office. People get a response. Now usually it takes about 3-4 weeks for a reply to be turned around -

SA: This was in early July…

CN: I’m more than happy to take that person’s feedback, actually get back to them and find out why they haven’t got a reply already. But we get thousands of emails, phone calls, letters, every month, and people all get a reply. Now -

SA: And none of the people complained about what you’re doing?

CN: Now, Steve, I did not even say that last time. I’d be happy to pull the transcript out. What I said to you last time was that I was reflecting that I’d been out on the weekend, in my electorate, at various activities, and across that period of that weekend, I’d had a very clear signal from people that they understood the tough decisions that were being made to get the state back on track, so let’s make sure that we’re very clear on what happened on that day when I came and talked to you. The bottom line is, look, we need to be grown up about this. What do we keep doing? Do we keep borrowing more money? The debt is $65b today. If we don’t sort this out, it will be $100b. These ratings agencies are totally independent of Government, but the most critical thing is, what they say in this is whether we can afford to build schools, and hospitals and put police on the beat, because the international investors, the bankers that lend us money, and keep this state going at the moment, look at these reports, and if these people say that the right things aren’t being done, the tough decisions aren’t being made, we get marked down, and we get hit with even higher interest rates. Right now, if NSW had the same level of debt as Queensland, we would be paying $100m extra a year in interest because they’ve got a better credit rating, so try that one. $100m.

SA: So Moody’s Ratings Agency has more influence on the government of Queensland than do the voters of Queensland?

CN: Steve, the voters of Queensland understand that we’re making tough decisions to get the state back on track. That’s why I mentioned the Ekka. The people who don’t like this are the people who are losing their jobs, and that’s understandable, but they’re also the union officials, that you have interviewed in recent days, who have their own vested interests. Look, we’re gonna make the right decisions for all Queenslanders. Lemme put it another way -

SA: We’re going to hear from more Queenslanders in just a moment –

CN: Let me put it another way. If we were to raise money to cover a $4b operating debt, and it will be more than that this financial year, that would mean that every man, woman and child in Queensland would have to cut off $1000. That’s $4000 this year for a family of four, just to try and balance the budget. That’s how bad it is. Now look – other politicians will come in and weasel words and won’t tell the truth. I’m telling it to you straight and to your listeners straight. We have to act. It’s not popular. It’s not easy, for those we’re hurting, and we’re sad about that, but it has to be done.

SA: That’s how bad it is. The Opposition tried to get a briefing, directly by the three audit commissioners, headed by Peter Costello, and they were rejected. Why is it, that the Opposition is not is allowed to speak to the independent auditors?

CN: Steve, frankly that’s totally spurious.

SA: They were offered a briefing by Tim Nicholls.

CN: They were offered a briefing on that, and at least one of the commissioners would’ve been there.

SA: They’ve put it in writing to me that their request was rejected, that they were offered a briefing with Tim Nicholls, but not with the independent auditors.

CN: They can have a briefing any time they like with Tim Nicholls and the commissioners, and I’ll just say, these are the people who got us in the mess. The Leader of the Opposition was a member of the Cabinet. Tim Mulherrin was a member of the Cabinet. Curtis Pitt was a member of the Cabinet. These people are deficit and debt deniers , I’m afraid. They seek to pretend that these reports aren’t true. How many bits of paper do they want? There’s the State Treasury, there’s the Independent Audit Commission Report, which is a public document, and now I’ve got this Moody’s report here. It was their own Mid-Year Review that they handed down before the election that said that the debt would be $85b, up from $65b now. I mean, these people need to hang their heads in shame. They’re the ones that created the problems that we’re now sorting out.

SA: Let’s take some calls. Wendy, from Murrumba Downs, you’re speaking with the Premier.

Wendy: I’ve got three questions that I’d like to ask... I believe that all members of Parliament who live outside the Brisbane electorate, the Brisbane City Council Area, get a fully funded apartment in the Annex.

CN: That’s true.

Wendy: And do they also get Living Away from Home Allowance?

CN: I’m not sure about that, actually.

Wendy: - and I’m assuming that you’ve now cut out all subsidised meals in the Dining Room, and subsidised Alcohol in the bar. It’s very easy, and you do it with such a look of glee on your face, to hit at the most vulnerable and the poorest in this state. You appointed 19 Assistant Ministers to your staff when you were elected – I know you don’t have Parliamentary Secretaries any more, but there were never 19 Parliamentary Secretaries – Do those 19 Assistant Ministers get staff, cars, and what is the extra salary that we are paying? I think you should start at the top. The 2.5% payrise that you got, when you look at how much it is on the salaries that you earn, could’ve helped keep some of these very poor charities going for quite a long time.

SA: Let me summarise Wendy’s question. Why don’t the cuts start at the top, rather than at the bottom?

CN: Well, they do Steve, and –
SA: So you’re cutting these allowances?

CN: No.No. No…Steve, just let me answer the question, please. Firstly, politicians had a 2.5% pay rise in August last year, but have had no pay rise while I’ve been the Premier. And any pay rise that politicians get will be commensurate with the core of the public service. In relation to accommodation and meals et cetera, that is set by the Committee of the Legislative Assembly, which is a bi-partisan committee. The Opposition and the Government are on it, and I make the point that politicians are in there when Parliament is sitting, usually til eleven o’clock or midnight, and that’s why they get accommodation because those that are outside the Brisbane local government area have a long hike home – blah blah blah – and others from places like Townsville. In terms of the overall costs of the Ministry, I’ll be tabling those expenses in the next week of the Parliament, and people will be happy to know that there’s a significant reduction on when Bligh, what the Bligh Government spent. So watch this space next week. It will be tabled. The full figures will be there, and it’s significantly less than Anna Bligh and the Labor Party spent, and indeed we have saved a LOT of money , since we became the government, through a whole range of initiatives, and I reject the suggestion that we’re hurting vulnerable people and deliberately cutting programmes to hurt vulnerable people. Indeed, we’re about putting more money back into the front line. I don’t want to spend money on the back of house; I wanna make sure the money is spent on front line services.

SA: Have you actually cut any MP’s allowances?

CN: No I haven’t, Steve, but I’ll just, again, those matters are dealt with by the Committee of the Legislative Assembly, which has Government members, and the Leader of the Opposition. And you know what, I could come on again like all politicians do, and I could sort of do the silver tongue thing and the weasel words, and I’m not gonna do that. Politicians have bills to pay, they have families, and politicians who run around saying they’re gonna cut this and cut that are being quite fraudulent about it. Politicians should work hard for their money, and they will on my team; I assure people of that.

SA: Michelle of Ashgrove, you have a question for the Premier.

Michelle: Mr Newman, to use the caller’s word previously, you have gleefully announced the closure of three caravan parks in Queensland because they have been costing $1m over the last, $1m a year. Two hundred and twenty families live in this. Now, your justification is that you want to sell these and supply more public housing for the 30,000 families that don’t have it. It doesn’t make an economic sense to… If you want to rehouse these people, most of them are again, the most vulnerable, they won’t be able to afford…they’re just one step above homeless, these people in caravan…

SA: So Michelle, your question is what? Where will they be housed?

Michelle: And if you wanna build, even at $300,000 a houses for these 220 families, that’s $66m dollars. It only works out to $5445/year for each of those families to be housed in stable, clean safe accommodation. How can you justify booting them?

CN: Well, Michelle, I’m glad you asked me the question, because it allows me to talk about the state of public housing in, and you reflected a figure. We’ve just had pretty much 20 years of Labor, and yet there are 30,000 families on the waiting list. So much for Labor caring about, er, people who are disadvantaged. I’ve got a Housing Minister, Dr Bruce Flegg, he’s been a successful businessman, I’m proud that he’s done that; I’m proud that he knows how to actually deal with this issue and solve the problem, and he will. What he’s doing, is he’s selling the caravan parks. He’s not closing them down, and I have to correct what Michelle said. There will be a moratorium on any change of use of those caravan parks for 18 months, and I’ve asked him to consider at least 2 years, so they’ll be put on the market, and new owners won’t be able to change their use. The new owner, by the way, might choose to keep them as caravan parks, but we don’t think the government should be in the business of owning caravan parks or specifically running caravan parks, nor do we even want to really be in the business of running public housing. We want to create public housing, create affordable housing, we want to create lots of it, and we’re gearing up to do that.

SA: Even though it’s an efficient way of housing people who are just one step away from homelessness?

CN: I don’t understand your point.

SA: If caravan parks…the caller’s point was that if people in caravan parks are one step away from being homeless, and this is an efficient way –

CN: Steve, Steve, I’ll have to say it again. We’re selling the caravan parks; they’re not being shut down. There’ll be at least a two year moratorium on their use, and it remains to be seen whether the actual caravan parks end up being closed. In the meantime, the money from those caravan parks will by “hypothecated” – in other words, will be spent directing on creating new, quality, public housing for Queenslanders in need, and again, Dr Flegg –

SA: Seems like a lot of uncertainty for one million dollars –

CN: Well, no, see, um, hang on. They’re worth a lot more than a million dollars. They’re worth several million dollars.

SA: All right.

CN: Well. What’s the uncertainty? The pledge is that they won’t be closed down for 2 years, the pledge is that the money will be spent on creating proper public housing, to deal with the absolute train wreck of a mess we’ve been left, because we do have a plan to create proper public housing for people. The other thing and I’ve pledged this already, that every single one of those two hundred or so people will be looked after, as an individual, and found alternative accommodation, should those caravan parks be shut down. I said all that a few weeks ago. I’m frankly happy to talk about this til the cows come home –

SA: We don’t have that much time –

CN: Buhbuhbuhbecbuhbedbugs but this really goes to the point. The Labor Party had 20 years to give us Public Housing Nirvana, and it’s a train wreck. Bruce Flegg, as Minister, has a plan to sort this out, and he cares passionately about every one of these people and he’s gonna provide quality accommodation for them. That’s what he’s gearing up to do, with the private sector in partnership.

SA: Michelle from The Gap, you have a question for the Premier?

Michelle: Mr Newman, you said that these cuts aren’t about ideology, but I think if you have a bit of a look at the list of people effected – the unemployed, women in the criminal justice system, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, tenants, people with disabilities, caravan park dwellers – and then on the other hand, look at the people where you have found some money to support: the gambling industry, the white picnic, graffiti removal, a High Court Challenge to the Mining Tax, moving your backbenchers onto committees which effectively gave them an $8000 pay rise. My question is, why are the cuts aimed at the least resourced in our community while you continue to support the most resourced in our community?

CN: Well, I’m sorry, but again, I don’t believe that’s the case. You could throw in other things, like Corporate Boxes going, the Literary Awards, y’know, I’m happy to talk about the Literary Awards going. Across the board, we’ve made all sorts of cuts that aren’t popular. They’ve been done wherever we think a programme has not generated value that it needs to, ultimately, with the tax payers. Another thing which we, er, I think we’ve sorted out now: we cut the Fanfare School Band programme, but we then found Corporate Sponsorship from the people that run the Convention Centre and we’re very happy about that, to keep the thing going, so y’know, that’s money that’s been saved. Across the board, the Government is making cuts that we need to make so that we can get the budget back in black. You made a comment about disabilities. Well, my position is very very clear. We want to spend a whole lot more assisting people with disabilities, and their families, and the only way we can do that, is to get the Government’s budget back in the black. In the 2014-15 Financial Year I’ve signalled, that at that stage, if we’ve achieved what we need to, we’ll be putting a lot more money – and a lot more money means hundreds of millions of dollars extra a year – as we gear up and then participate in the NDIS. So look, that’s where we’re coming from. There are plenty of examples of cuts that people can throw up. The bottom line, again, is the Government needs to do this, and we have a plan to get us back on track financially.

SA: Noel from Yeerongpilly, you have a question for the Premier?

Noel: How do you justify exaggerating by about $20b the level of debt by including Government owned corporations debt when the Government –owned corporations debt is just part of the general operational activity? The Government pays none of the interest on that debt and have no real responsibility for it, and the fact is that there’s no other government in the country, including the Federal Government that does this, and as the Mayor of a Council for many years, even Councils do not include the debt of their business enterprises in their general debt, so how do you justify it?


CN: Well, I hate to be disagreeing with callers, but I have to disagree. I was the Mayor of Brisbane for seven years, and the debt in things like Brisbane Water, Brisbane Transport, even though the standalone business units was incorporated in the overall debt picture, and the overall debt picture that we’re presenting is no different to the Government that just left. So, just again, let’s just look at it: Prior to the election, a thing called the Mid-Year Financial and Economic Review was released by Andrew Fraser and Anna Bligh. It said, the debt by the end of the 2012 Financial Year would be in excess of $62b, and it was; it ended up being $64b - $65b. It also said, so these are the Labor Party figures, that the debt would go to $85b by the 2014-2015 Financial Year. And guess what? It will, even though we’re making these cuts, it will, because they presented things in the most attractive and sunny-side-up way that they could. If we had no taken the action that we’ve been taking, the debt would end up being $100b. That’s what Mr Costello is saying. And that’s what Moody’s are sort-of saying in their report. It’s implied within the pages of this if you sort of look at all the information. So the numbers are the numbers are the numbers, and I urge all Queenslanders to have a good look at the Commission of Audit Report, look at Andrew Fraser’s Mid Year Review that was out some months ago, and the facts are exactly as they’ve been stated. That’s why these tough decisions have to be made. Look. The Government’s got a plan to sort this out. We’re very positive about being able to do that. We’re sorry about the people who are losing their jobs. We’re doing everything we can to keep that down to the minimum, sorry, the maximum number so that we don’t see anything like 20,000 going, but it’s pretty hard.

SA: Are you picking up the anger in the caller’s voices?

CN: Steve, I’m quite happy to acknowledge the callers you had this morning, but as I say, I spent…

SA: It’s pretty consistent.

CN: Yeah, quite consistent, but I spent seven hours at the Exhibition yesterday, and I can tell you that I had one person come up to me and express some negativity. For the rest of the 7 hours, I had people coming up, shaking my hand, saying “we know it’s tough, please keep doing what you’re doing, we admire the strength of you and the Government, and we know you’re doing the right thing for Queensland. Seven hours, Steve. I’ll, um, take heart from that because it has to be done.

SA: A couple of quick questions before you -

CN: I mean, no-one’s offering an alternative. No-one has said this morning, “we wanna pay an extra thousand dollars tax this year”. No-one’s said that. And it’s time that as Queenslanders, as Australians, we recognise that we have had a culture of, where we just say, we keep spending, and I’m afraid the music has stopped. It’s the morning after the party, and I’m afraid Campbell Newman and this Government, as a team, we have to deal with the hangover. We’re very positive about sorting it out. I know we’re gonna get through this, and by the end of this year, no, certainly, we’ve gotta get through the budget, but by the end of this year, I think we’ll have the finances tracking along very nicely, and one thing that’s really exciting is that I think we’re seeing some great signs in terms of our economy, great announcements by businesses and airlines about supporting Queensland, another one today coming from Etihad Airlines, we saw Qantas the other day into the Gold Coast, so I’m very positive about what’s happening in Queensland, going forward.

SA: Can I ask you, have you spoken to Anna Bligh since becoming Premier?

CN: Not since the night of the election, no.

SA: How do you feel about the news that she and her husband are leaving the state and moving to New South Wales to chase work.

CN: Well, that’s her call. We haven’t run them out of town; I know some people would like to. A lot of people I met at the Ekka yesterday would’ve liked to. But that’s all I’ve got to say on it.

SA: Final question. Does your Government have a communication problem? In other words, you’ve told me a great many things. You’ve heard the listeners call us, and I take your point about you have to deal with the real world of how you raise money to run the state, but it’s quite clear that the message is not getting through to the people who voted for you.

CN: Steve, it’s hard when you’re making tough decisions, but I sort of put it like this. At the end of the day, we’re in political office, and we know that it would be great to run around, cut ribbons and kiss babies and hand out money and just look good. That’s what we had in Queensland for 20 years. What you’re hearing this morning is fair dinkum, the truth. Nothing but the truth. The real reality we face, particularly at government, that has the guts to get in, deal with it, make it happen, sort it out, that’s what you’re hearing. At the end of the day, it’s not about us, about whether we get to be elected officials or whatever, it’s about whether we do the job to sort the state out. I just say to people, think about that. When was the last time you heard a politician, let alone a Premier actually telling you straight, tough stuff, unpalatable stuff, horrible stuff, but stuff that has to happen. I’m proud to do that, and I will keep doing that because that’s what we promised Queenslanders, that we’d sort out the mess, and that’s what we’re doing.

SA: Thanks for coming in once again.


  1. Wow Sal you nailed it.

    Great work

  2. Brilliant work Sal, thanks so much for doing this. I missed the interview this morning because of classes. A bit of denial there in CN's responses I see. Thanks again.

  3. He's sounding even more ridiculous the more I hear / read his comments. Excellent job.

  4. Campbell can never be accused of letting the truth get in the way of a good story