Could jobs boost get our regions back on track?
A BOLD jobs promise to address the "stark” contrast between regional Queensland's ailing communities and its thriving south could decide the future of the state's Labor government.
The regional recovery plan mapped out by Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt at Tuesday's release of the Mid-Year Fiscal Economic Review paints an idyllic picture of the "lion's share” of a $365 million funding boost going to cities that are coming off the resource boom or that have low numbers of jobs.
Speaking to a room of reporters in the government's recently completed Brisbane skyscraper, a jubilant Mr Pitt announced an alignment of good fortunes - bumper agricultural crops, revenue from Central Queensland's completed LNG plants and above all, an unprecedented spike in coal prices - had led to a revised budget surplus of $2 billion.
From that, $160 million in new money has been allocated to the $200 million jobs and regional growth package that targets areas with the highest unemployment rates and offers training in manufacturing and tourism as well as support for challenged youths and job-seekers.
A $200 million Works for Queensland program will support local councils in undertaking job-creating maintenance and minor projects.
As promised in this year's budget, the increase of the First Home Owners Grant from $15,000 to $20,000 will remain in place until July 2017 and a $180 million boost to the existing electricity rebate package will ease bill pain for a further 157,000 households with Commonwealth health care cards.
Mr Pitt said the MYFER announcements were proof the state government was delivering on its promise to reverse the unemployment rate and grow Queensland's economy.
Those claims were met with some scepticism and in the case of the State Opposition, glaring insults as shadow employment minister Jarrod Bleijie insisted Tuesday's announcement would "not go anywhere near repairing the damage Labor has inflicted”.
He said youth unemployment in particular had "skyrocketed” on Labor's watch - rising to 33.7% in Outback Queensland and 33.7% in Wide Bay.
"Curtis Pitt used an array of big words in his MYFER speech but at the end of the day they were just empty words, there was no mention of the 18,000 lost jobs or any improvement to the unemployment rate,” Mr Bleijie said
"This government has had nearly two years to act but has failed Queenslanders that are looking for work.”
The jobs plug also drew criticism from minor parties who had recently enjoyed a groundswell of support from disfranchised voters.
Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party Queensland candidate Damian Huxham, who is running for the seat of Hervey Bay, said Labor's plan would only drive Queensland further into debt.
The former miner said he knew well the value of the coal industry but also its volatile nature and insisted infrastructure was what was needed to sustain any potential job and population growth.
"The Labor Party are dead ducks in the water and the only way to claw back the votes is to promise jobs, jobs, jobs,” Mr Huxham said.
"The coal prices could come down tomorrow. The tap could be switched off and then what?”
Mr Pitt rejected claims an inevitable drop in coal price would lead to an unravelling of the government's plans, insisting the bright outlook was fuelled by "sound financial management” and capitalising on international visitors, agriculture and its $10.7 billion infrastructure roadmap.
He also claimed the numbers had been crunched without factoring in Adani's proposed Carmichael mine that he said would bring in welcome but not necessary revenue.
Queensland Resources Council CEO Ian Macfarlane chose not to be critical of the government and instead expressed relief that a substantial portion of the $1 billion financial windfall delivered to the Queensland government had for once been returned to the resource regions it came from.
He said the announcement served as a reminder that when the natural resources sector was doing well, the entire Queensland economy benefited.
"An increase in coal prices delivers more revenue to Treasury. Those extra revenues pay for the extra teachers, nurses, police and doctors that our growing economy needs,” Mr Macfarlane said
"No one is saying that coal prices will stay this high forever, but Queensland should make hay while the resource sun is shining so brightly.”