Campbell Newman is conning The Courier-Mail and the Brisbane Times – and their readers – with the budgetary equivalent of the pea and thimble trick.
The story that should have led both media today was the Liberal-National State Government had broken one of the five major promises which helped it win a landslide majority in 2012.
Instead – and all journalists should gag at this – the single-column “exclusive”story on page one of The Courier-Mail started with the statement that:
"Households will not be forced to pay a levy to fund flood- proofing infrastructure after the Newman Government
ditched the plan during final Budget deliberations.”
Only then is it mentioned that the Government has scrapped plans for a rebate on electricity bills – which would have delivered on a key election promise.
The fact is that householders were never going to be hit with such a levy.
For months the Liberal-National Queensland Government has known that it would be unable to deliver on one of its core
The second of five major promises to persuade voters to elect a Liberal-National Government was:
“We will freeze family car rego for the first term of an LNP Government, reduce water prices and reform electricity tariffs to save families up to $330 a year.”
Note that this saving of was not going to be a one-off reduction.
The promise was to save families up to $330 every year.
And it wasn’t going to be a matter of funding the reduction in electricity prices from the budget (as the Government is saying
now). The saving would be made possible by “reforming electricity tariffs”.
The Premier told Parliament at the end of March that about 1,238,000 customers had saved an average of $120 on their
electricity costs, after Tariff 11 was frozen for 12 months.
Again, note that this freeze was only for a year.
But Queensland Competition Authority says that far from saving money, any household using more than around 6,500 kilowatt hours a year has been worse off on the frozen Tariff 11 than it
would have been without it.
And the Australian Energy Regulator’s official figures show that an average household of three – let alone four – uses more than 6,500 kilowatt hours a year, which casts doubt on the Premier’s figures.
It wasn’t even a reform of the tariff that led to this mess – it was an unsustainable and costly temporary slashing.
Now, the projected electricity bill for a family with two parents and two children is likely to rise by $328 in the next financial year, says the competition authority. That’s a 20 per cent increase.
Ironic, isn’t it, that the rise in price is almost exactly the same as the saving promised by the Libs and Nats.
Worse, because of a quirk in the system, a “frugal, single, elderly” person is faced with an increase of 26%.
Worse again, this is only the start of increases because the Newman Government has refused to let prices return to “normal”
immediately. The recovery from the single year’s price freeze for tariff 11 residential customers will result in two more price rises.
State Treasurer Tim Nicholls says a rebate to keep electricity prices down would have cost up to $600 million over two years.
OK – I know that the promise included the words “up to” $330 a year but I suggest that voters were expecting a saving of that order.
And there was nothing to suggest that it was going to be massively less.
There were warnings at election time that the Government had made ridiculous promises which it would be unable to afford.
Unfortunately, many people were gullible enough to believe Campbell Newman’s wild promises.
The Government has already announced it would break another core promise, to raise the tax-free threshold for payroll tax, which was due to start on July 1.
And it has broken a second core promise, by failing to reach a fiscal surplus in two years.
There would have been a degree of panic in the Government’s inner sanctum. How to break the news to the public that it couldn’t deliver on a third core promise?
What has to be remembered is that government budgets are not fashioned in a few weeks. Budgetary planning starts immediately after one has been delivered. It would have been apparent months ago that the promise to cut electricity bills by tariff reform and deliver savings of up to $330 a year could not be met.
How could it manage the news?
It would need to suggest that the public was gaining something else – but what, bearing in mind the deteriorating financial
situation which the State Government has added to with its disastrous policies?
It had to create the myth of a major new tax which it could then announce triumphantly it would not go ahead with.
That’s why, less than a fortnight ago, the Government told The Courier-Mail it was considering a levy to flood-proof the
rebuilding of infrastructure damaged by flooding.
By then the budget (with its damaging news of the scrapping of the savings of up to $330 a year) would have been finalised.
Campbell Newman was promising a dialogue with the people of Queensland about the possibility of the rebuilding levy. Some
conversation. It’s over in less than a fortnight.
But, then again, in reality there never was going to be such a debate.
And last night the State Government played its pea and thimble trick on The Courier-Mail.
The newspaper even advertised the story as an exclusive, as if it had uncovered the news after extensive journalistic effort. In fact, it was almost certainly a handout.
There’s no mention in the story of the failure of the Government to deliver on its promise of savings of up to $330 a year.