Cyclone Marcia far from Premier Palaszczuk's only challenge

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New Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk can claim a magnificent victory in defeating the Newman Government. Steve Bishop examines how she has failed her first test and sets out some of the challenges she must conquer.

NEW QUEENSLAND Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk faces a critical trial early on in her reign with Cyclone Marcia threatening "calamity". We can only hope she demonstrates a sure and steady hand as winds and rains batter and flood the central and south-eastern part of the State.

However, Marcia has not been her first test. Her first challenge, after winning the unwinnable election, was selecting her own Cabinet. Her own words show she has failed this test, with her admitting accepting MPs chosen by the factions.

Of the Cabinet selection, she told Brisbane Times

“I have put my rubber stamp on it.” 

How is “rubber stamp” defined?

Cambridge Dictionaries Online: 'To approve an idea, project, law, etc. without examining it carefully first.'

Dictionary.com: “To give approval automatically or without consideration.”

Collins English Dictionary: 'To approve automatically.'

Having rubber stamped the names given to her, the best she could say in terms of ‘ownership’ was:

'I have allocated the portfolios.'

Ms Palaszczuk must assert herself if she is to emerge as a leader of vision and decisiveness. She should have insisted on her choice of ministers for Cabinet.

What would the faction leaders have done if she had refused to accept the names put forward? They could hardly sack her after she had led them to victory.

So where to from here?

Ms Palaszczuk must insist on leading. In Cabinet, there will be times when she should steer a submission through to a positive decision despite a majority of ministers having reservations.

There is a widespread perception that the election result was a matter of ABC – anyone but Campbell – so very soon she needs to enthuse voters with a landmark speech setting an ambitious but achievable target for the Queensland of tomorrow.

She must also enunciate the problems her Government faces, announce how it intends to deal with them and commit to regular reports on progress or failure.

For instance, the premier must obtain demonstrably impartial advice – no Costellos or party hacks – about the true state of the Health Department and make it public in the near future, so that voters can see what progress, if any, the government has made in dealing with waiting lists and other problems.

Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg is trying to convince the electorate that he left the Health Department in perfect condition, despite the fact that the number of people waiting to get on the waiting list was put at 411,283 by the Sunday Mail in November last year.

Now it is claimed the figure is 229,737 and that 411,283 'mistakenly referred to the increase in the number of waiting list appointments offered'.

Government land and buildings present a major headache. They are assets and the Government has said it will not sell assets.

The lengthy 'Our state, our assets' policy makes no reference to land or buildings. 

So the building of the totally unnecessary and unwanted $653 million, 44-storey "Newman's Folly" next to Parliament House presents the Government with a major headache.

The developer has been granted a 99-year lease and a guaranteed 15-year government lease for 60,000 of the 75,000 square metres of office space. So what does the Government do with the perfectly adequate Executive Building at 100 George Street and its office buildings on either side (all assets) once the Folly is completed?

What does it do with the two dental buildings in Turbot Street, advertised as Brisbane’s largest development site, for which Hong Kong listed company Wuzhou International Holdings Limited has apparently offered nearly $70 million? One of the buildings is already empty and the other has a lease which will expire in two years.

In the red section of the Monopoly board, Queensland House in the Strand is for sale for an estimated $38 million.

And a Government website (dated 4 February 2015) lists seven properties (assets?) for sale.

The ALP agreed to abide by Tony Fitzgerald’s four principles of good governance.

They are: 

  1. Govern for the peace, welfare and good government of the State;
  2. Make all decisions and take all actions, including public appointments, in the public interest without regard to personal, party political or other immaterial considerations;
  3. Treat all people equally without permitting any person or corporation special access or influence; and
  4. Promptly and accurately inform the public of its reasons for all significant or potentially controversial decisions and actions.

The Labor Government has agreed to all four, but in particular to make all decisions and take all actions, including public appointments, in the public interest without regard to personal, party political or other immaterial considerations.

Ms Palaszczuk must now demonstrate that appointments to boards are made on merit. Should they go to a parliamentary committee for approval? What other transparent method, if any, is available?

Whatever the chosen method, it must be created before any appointments are made and be well publicised.

We should keep a check that “where possible” summaries of Cabinet documents are pro-actively released within six weeks after Cabinet considers the matter — another commitment of the Government.

A major problem facing the Government is the recruitment of first-class, experienced ministerial advisors to support its ministers. People with the required expertise may have severe doubts about applying for such positions due to many pundits suggesting the political climate is so volatile the Government many only last three years.

However, after the rejection of the first-term Borbidge Government in 1998, the minority Beattie Government was successfully re-elected in 2001, 2004 and 2006.

With good governance and the public’s memory of the Newman Government’s failure to learn from the disasters of the Borbidge Government, there is every reason to believe that the Palaszczuk Government is in a good position to win again in 2018.

The Premier will also need a team of first-class directors-general. Justice and Attorney General D-G John Sosso should start packing his bags immediately if he hasn’t left already.

He was deputy director-general of the premier’s department which helped shape the disastrous Borbidge Government and he, with Minister Bleijie, was responsible in the Newman Government for neutering the corruption watchdog, raising the amount of party donations which could remain secret, the deeply unpopular appointment of Tim Carmody as chief justice and introducing the controversial bikie legislation.

Only the appointment of the chief justice can’t be remedied.

Debt: Government figures show the general government debt has risen from $29.513 billion in 2012 to an estimated $46 billion this year.

The annual budget and mid-year reviews will keep us in touch with how the Government is dealing with the problem.

Jobs: the four pillars of the Newman Government’s employment strategy were never enough to support the jobs of the future. 

The need for a plan to create new-age jobs, the successor of the Beattie Government’s successful Smart State strategy, is Advance Queensland

Deputy Premier Jackie Trad will chair an expert panel, including the chief scientist, which will develop policy measures to support the creation of an export-oriented renewable energy economy.

Advance Queensland will provide $50 million over three years to reinvigorate science and innovation to help create the well-paid, knowledge-based jobs of the future.

There will also be a Queensland Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow program to support education in computational science and business development and help stay-at-home parents to develop home-based businesses.

The Government accepts the scientific consensus on climate change and is committed to a long-term plan to support job-generating renewable energy industries in Queensland.

And it has committed to do all in its power to reduce carbon emissions and will take appropriate action to mitigate and adapt their consequences. 

But will it reinstate the last Labor Government’s Office of Climate Change, the Queensland Climate Change Fund, the Renewable Energy Fund, the Smart Energy Savings Program, the Waste Avoidance and Resource Efficiency Fund, the Local Government Sustainable Future Fund and Solar Initiatives Package?

It must reform planning regulations which have resulted in local neighbourhood plans being rendered worthless. At Kangaroo Point in Brisbane, for example, planning permission for a 22-storey block was granted despite a zoning for a maximum of 10-storeys. Residents who objected were handed a bill for $120,000 when their objection was turned down by the Planning and Environment Court.

A plea: Queenslanders do not want parliamentary debates which resemble schoolyard taunts rather than a sensible debate about serious issues.

The premier and her ministers must set an example with their speeches and answers to questions. Let the television cameras record dignified debate instead of churlish stupidity.

Finally, Tony Fitzgerald provided the ABC with a long list of Newman Government decisions that need to be reversed.

Premier Palaszczuk has a long list of challenges and obstacles in front of her, but let's allow her to deal with the threat posed by Cyclone Marcia first.

You can read more by Steve Bishop at stevebishop.net.

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