It is common for political parties to promise more than they can deliver at election time. Even by the relative lax standards of Australian campaigns, the LNP Plan “Getting Queensland Back in Business” stands out for its unreality.
The Plan only promises to create 500 000 jobs through a fiscal policy that involves
* Cutting taxes;
* Increasing expenditure; and
* Improving the budget balance
These are all desirable objectives, but it’s a matter of simple arithmetic that all three can’t be achieved at once.
Reductions in revenue
The LNP plan proposes to:
* Increase the payroll tax threshold
* Freeze registration for 6-cylinder cars
* Write down the value of GOC assets in electricity, and increase competition to drive down prices. This must entail a reduction in the flow of dividends to the general government sector The LNP has criticised the current governments reliance on dividends from GOCs but has made no suggestion as to how this revenue source will be replaced.
Increased capital expenditure
The LNP Plan proposes a substantial increase in infrastructure spending. The strategy implies that spending will be increased by up to $3 billion a year. Explicit commitments of $1.3 billion for water projects and $500 million ‘Royalties for Regions’ are included in the Plan. The Plan commits to building a new coal fired power station at an unstated costs. It has also been suggested that the M1 will be duplicated at a cost of $2.4 billion
The LNP plan announces no cuts in current expenditure, other than symbolic targets such as the Safe Schools program and executive bonuses in energy businesses, which would yield minimum savings. The LNP has promised no forced redundancies and has advertised its intention to build schools and hospitals, though without a specific budget. The Plan includes expenditure commitments including a crime action plan, a youth employment plan and assistance for tourism.
Greatly improved budget balance
Following the recommendations of the Costello Commission of Audit, the LNP proposes to target a surplus on fiscal balance rather than, as at present, net operating balance. The difference between the two is net capital investment, currently around $3 – $4 billion. Proposed increases in infrastructure spending would make this difference even greater.
500 000 jobs
As for the 500 000 jobs promise, it turns out to be a simple statistical trick. In previous election campaigns, it’s been common to commit to employment targets for a three-year term in government. Nicholls has shifted the goalposts by promising to create the jobs over a period of 10 years, an annual rate of 50 000 jobs a year. That’s only marginally greater than the rate achieved during the term of the Palaszcuk government. The implied annual rate of growth is 1.9 per cent, again only marginally higher than the rate of growth under recent Labor governments. It would, however, be a significant improvement on the outcome under the Newman government, when less than 50 000 additional jobs were created in a three year term of government.
Despite Malcolm Turnbull’s recent suggestion to the contrary, the laws of arithmetic apply in Australia and, in particular to Australian governments. The promises made by the LNP can be delivered only through large, unannounced cuts in general government expenditure. This is consistent with the strategy adopted by the Newman government in 2012, and by the Abbott government in 2013.