Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Newmania: Ticked Off

Last week, after the last of the turkey had been curried and the News Years hangovers had subsided, King Campbell’s Deputy the Honourable Jeff Squeemey and the media team released a statement trumpeting a successful six months during which the Newman Government had ticked off every item in their Six Month Action Plan. In the statement, the Honourable Mr Sqeemey said

“We promised Queenslanders that we would be a Government that acted on its commitments,” Mr Seeney said.

“We said we’d grow a four pillar economy, lower the cost of living for families, deliver better infrastructure and revitalise front-line services.

“Now the proof is there for Queenslanders to see that this is a government that actually does what it says it will do."

The media statement claims that there were 149 actions included in the original Six Month Action Plan, yet lists less than twenty of them, plus special mentions for the Bruce Highway upgrade – which has its own Action Plan – and the construction of 1 William Street, a gleaming new CBD high rise office tower also known as King Campbell’s Folly Mk III. (For interstate readers, his first two follies were the shunned Clem7 Tunnel and the mock-worthy City Cycle scheme, two of the visible scars of King Campbell’s years as Lord Mayor of Brisbane.)

Now King Campbell and his majority might be satisfied with a list of items ticked off a list. I’m not, so let’s take a look at a few of the items on the list in more detail.

Delivering a once-in-a-generation budget to set Queensland’s finances back on track

The Newmania Budget 2012 appeared to satisfy the Government’s need to get the state “back on track” but will ultimately fail due to a shortfall in revenue and a lot of crazy talk about a $100 billion dollar debt which doesn’t exist. Furthermore, the budget will be forever associated with the termination of 14,000 jobs from the Queensland Public Service, leaving many people and many departments bleeding. We can only hope that this was a once-in-a-generation budget; a repeat in 2013-14 would not be tolerated.

Attracting new aviation business and routes into Queensland from overseas

Supporting the Tourism industry is part of the infamous Four Pillar Economy, and in this area, the Government has been successful. Hawaiian Airlines are flying direct into Brisbane from Honolulu*, China Southern are flying into Brisbane ex-Guangzhou, and Etihad has increased the frequency of its flights from Brisbane to Abu Dhabi.

It’s not all good news in Brisbane’s aviation news though: Virgin Australia is considering relocating its headquarters away from Brisbane. Why? Because Virgin Australia has been locked out of tendering for Queensland regional air routes by the Newman Government who has supported renewing existing QantasLink contracts. This single decision may force a business employing thousands of Queenslanders to move interstate; at worse, it’s stopped the business from being able to grow here in its home state.

Amending the Racing Act to restructure Queensland’s racing industry

By mid-June 2012, two directors of Racing Queensland Limited had announced their resignation as a result of changes being proposed by the new Government. As with all restructures, some senior positions are being replaced with other positions with more buzzwords in their names. In the end, the work still needs to be done.

Planning has started on a $35.4 million dollar upgrade of the Gold Coast Turf Club, accounting for around one third of the Government’s $110 million dollar budget to upgrade racing across the state. This is not new money for the racing industry: former Premier Anna Bligh made the commitment on January 11 last year.

Expanding the Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme from 1 January 2013

King Campbell and Lawrence of Springborgia doubled of the Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme (PTSS) for to assist Queensland patients who are living in rural and remote areas and need to travel for medical treatment. As well as an accommodation subsidy, the mileage subsidy has also been increased from 15 cents per kilometre to 30 cents per kilometre.

By the way, the standard mileage allowance for government employees last year was between 66 and 71 cents per kilometre.

Encouraging construction growth by amending the Sustainable Planning Act

What used to be the IPA (Integrated Planning Act) became the SPA (Sustainable Planning Act) in 2007 to bring consistent sustainable planning practices throughout Queensland. King Campbell’s amendment, passed in November 2012, is to remove the minimum dollar value from the process, making it easier and more attractive for the construction industry to operate in Queensland. Construction is another one of King Campbell’s four pillars

Construction is doing well in Queensland, but despite the Marine Industrial Estate in Maryborough, the Sarina Barracks, Masters Everton Park and Costco at Northlakes, it is the tower at 1 William Street that keeps drawing focus. It’s big, it’s seen as frivolous, and it’s costing over $650 million dollars – an amount of money which seems impossible to justify when so many necessary programmes are being cut.

Delivering a 10 year strategy to upgrade the Bruce Highway

A strategy is important. Without one of those you don’t know where you’re going. In all fairness, it’s just a strategy and the Bligh Government released a comprehensive 20 Year Masterplan for the Bruce Highway in July 2011.

King Campbell did however commit almost $400 million to fast-track works on some of the worst areas of the Bruce Highway. The Federal Government met that funding commitment with another $400 million to enable work to commence.

Transferring responsibility for South Bank and Roma St Parklands to Brisbane City Council

I can’t help but wonder if, as Brisbane Lord Mayor, King Campbell was always a bit peeved that the South Bank precinct and the Roma Street Parklands weren’t his playgrounds to control. In any case, he’s transferring responsibility to his then 2IC Lord Mayor Quirk, along with millions of dollars to cover the additional costs to Brisbane City Council. King Campbell and his team believe that “local councils are best placed to determine what is right for their local communities.” King Campbell has promised to have the same close working relationship with each of the other 72 local councils in Queensland. He'll be busy.

A note to those other councils: be careful. Never forget the Clem7. Always remember those City Cycles.

Reforming the Local Government Act to empower local councils

In 2008, when the previous Beattie Labor Government forced through its plans to amalgamate close to 70% of local councils, you’d think the world was ending. Playing on lingering bitterness over the amalgamations, King Campbell and Jeff Squeemey promised to de-amalgamate communities that wanted their old councils and old identities back. It’s a long, complex process of recommendations and hearings and consultations and polls, but ultimately, local residents will make the decision.

Of the 73 existing councils, only four will vote on whether to de-amalgamate. Congratulations to King Campbell for re-opening the door on this issue; Congratulations also to former Premiers Beattie and Bligh and their teams for forming such a stable local government structure.

But King Campbell’s Local Government Legislative Reforms are far wider reaching than the single question of de-amalgamation, and covers a range of subjects from Rates, Charges and Fees to Council Transparency and Accountability to major new powers granted to the Local Government Minister and to the State Government. How is it possible that I didn’t know about any of these changes before now?

Introducing a trial for self-directed funding for people with a disability

“Your Life Your Choice” is a great slogan. It’s King Campbell’s choice for his trial of “self-directed funding for people with a disability. Basically it means that people who have a disability will be able to choose the disability services they prefer and pay for them. Just keep in mind that this is a trial only, participation is voluntary, and it’s only one component of the Federal Government’s National Disability Support Scheme.

Queensland spends less per head of population on providing support to people with disabilities than any other state in Australia, and King Campbell's reluctance to commit to the NDIS is both wrong and embarrassing.

Completing the Skills and Training Taskforce and delivering the Government response

The Skills and Training Taskforce was established by King Campbell as a way of using vocational education and skills training to support the Four Pillar Economy. The Government has responded to the Taskforce’s Report, accepting 35 of 40 recommendations, many of which referred to fixing the TAFE system and bring their buildings and equipment up to date. That sounds sensible. It’s important to note that this is just a response to findings – it’s not an action plan, a commitment of funds or a strategy. Important things like details, costings and timing will be released some time during the first half of this year.

The same day as the Government Response was released, it was announced that 13 TAFE campuses will be closed, and another 12 campuses will become part of the merged Central Queensland University/Central Queensland Institute of TAFE.

Furthermore, months before the Taskforce presented its recommendations, King Campbell de-funded the Skilling Queenslanders for Work Initiative, which was an programme of grants-based projects for local community groups, councils and others to deliver training tailored to the needs of job-seekers in their area. Much of this work was with long-term unemployed, and people from groups that traditionally find it hard to gain work: older workers, people from non-English speaking backgrounds and ATSI jobseekers.

Amending the Weapons Act to introduce tougher sentencing for illegal firearms offences

This move is overdue, and possibly still too soft. In response to a wave of shootings in the South East corner of Queensland, King Campbell proposed tougher penalties and sentencing without any impact on the rights of firearm owners who abide by the law.

Finalising the recruitment of 300 new police officers

“Finalising” something tends to suggest that it’s not finished. It’s not done yet. As part of King Campbell’s commitment to bolster frontline services, 300 shiny new inexperienced police officers sounds like a good call – until you remember last week’s revelations from the new Police Commissioner Ian Stewart. An internal review has recommended axing 143 senior police officers (ranked Inspector or better) while balancing that with 300 new recruits. In addition, the current regional structure of eight policing areas will be redrawn and reduced to five areas. It will cut administrative staff requirements, but will it get more police into the community? Time will tell.

Amending the Proceeds of Crime Act to crack down on unexplained wealth

The Criminal Proceeds Confiscation (Unexplained Wealth and Serious Drug Offender Confiscation Order) Amendment Bill 2012 is a no-brainer is respect to criminal activity and an imposition when applied to lawful behaviours, but if it means that drug dealing scum doesn’t get to spend their lives floating up and down the Queensland coast on the squillion dollar yacht that they bought with the money they made from ruining lives, I can live with that.

Engaging service providers for boot camps to commence in 2013

Boot camp? Is Newmania raising an army to repel the cashed-up pale-skinned southerners from Schoolies’ Week? No? Then it must be King Campbell’s scheme to run early intervention programmes to work with young people and hopefully, reduce the incidence of youth crime in Queensland. It’s an idea that has been stolen from America, and it’s worth trialling, to see if it can be effective in Queensland. It’s a shame about all the other programmes for kids that this government has axed, from defunding the Queensland Youth Orchestra to axing the Volunteer Cadets programme that fed young volunteers into the SES, QFRS and QAS.

Commencing operation of hospital and health boards across the State

Restructuring Queensland Health and handing responsibility for health services to regional health boards comes under King Campbell’s drive to restore accountability in state government. It’s not so much restoring accountability as it is moving accountability. It’s as much as obfuscation as it is about transparency. There are seventeen Hospital and Health Service areas (HHSs) reporting into one central office which will co-ordinate the ‘shared services’ aspects of the department.

I’m not convinced that this structure is the right structure in terms of health service delivery, or managing costs. In fact, it looks needlessly complex. Having said that, after the parade of disasters befalling the Queensland Health Department over the last decade, from Jayant Patel to the Payroll fiasco, perhaps the best solution is to be seen to be making radical changes.

Beginning to address the health payroll disaster left by the previous Government

Ahhh yes, the Health Payroll Fiasco. In the land of Project Management, there are certain things that must be done, and done to death, particularly when working with new technology solutions. At the top of that list is something known as UAT: User Acceptance Testing. When the IT wizards have built and installed the new gizmo – a new version of Windows, a new control panel in the on-air control room, a new point-of-sale system, a new payroll system, an upgrade to a website – you call in a group of people who are subject matter experts, and you get them to test the system. In the case of Queensland Health and their new SAP Payroll system, the people who actually process payroll should have tested every single scenario they could think of and compared the results to what they expected to see. When any errors appear, these are sent back to the IT wizards to fix and that process continues until there are no more scenarios and no more errors. Then, and only then, does the business accept the finished product.

From what I understand, Queensland Health did not test the payroll system, or did not test it well enough, and the results are costing the state billions.

If after 9 months in Government this fiasco is just starting to be addressed now, I ask what took them so long. My approach would be to find an LNP member – and there’s no shortage of them – and make her Special Minister for Queensland Health Payroll Solutions. She’ll need four teams, including the UAT group.

1. A team to document what is really required by Q-Health on a day to day basis

2. A team of forensic payroll experts to calculate and document who’s been paid what, and the variances

3. A team of forensic IT gurus to unravel the SAP mess that currently exists

4. An IT development team to build the new system

Whoever is to blame for the decision to deploy the system without adequate testing and sign-off is already irrelevant. The priority should be in getting it fixed, and the fact that it’s taken nine months to even start on that is as unacceptable as the fiasco itself.

King Campbell must be aware that not all of these items deserve the tick he’s given them – and that’s just the sixteen items listed in his press release. Don’t you wonder why the communications team picked these sixteen achievements to highlight? Why are they more media-friendly than the other 130-plus points of the Six Month Action Plan?

Like Tony Abbott, King Campbell needs a new message for his people, because while he’s busy ticking off his six month miracle, the rest of us are just ticked off.


  1. This series is a good check on just how strong the construction industry is at present. I think you have been far too kind to the LNP in Queensland on that point.


    1. Because I am such a lefty, I made the effort here to give the LNP Government the benefit of the doubt, so as not to be accused of anti-Newman bias. I think you're right, though. Thanks for reading, and for your comment.

  2. How deep can this continue to grow before Queensland drowns??? It is all soooooo depressing & infuriating, and to think that it will be merely the preview of what will happen Australia wide if Abbott & Libs get in. On that note, a stiff Scotch is needed.